Saturday, September 10, 2016

Always Fluffy Gnocchi

Making pasta has always been one of those things I "get into" once or twice a year. I love the whole process, and the rolling of the dough through the machine is oddly soothing - it's always magical to me how the mixture turns from ragged, flimsy shreds to silky, supple sheets after a few passes through the rollers. However, the excitement only lasts until the dough is cut, when I realize that I definitely don't have enough counter / drying space for any sort of quantity, and while I may be content to have baking sheets of linguini drying on the kitchen counter and dining room table, I know that the rest of the household is very much not

Gnocchi day...

Then I discovered how easy (and fun) gnocchi is to make, and since the homemade version is (unlike standard pasta) best frozen before cooking, storing a batch of it is as simple as freezing layers of the dumplings on sheet trays before transferring them to a freezer bag. For me, gnocchi is also a double-winner in the sense that it's something I make that my Italian stepfamily will actually eat! One of the things the extended clan has lamented over the years is the quality of most storebought gnocchi. While I'm sure there are various respectable brands out there, we only have one common option in the grocery store - and it comes shelf-stable in vacuum packs. It's not bad, per se, but they do tend to be a bit on the dense, leaden side and don't soak up sauce very well. If they were matzo balls, they'd be the sinkers. The one truly good thing I've managed to use them for was a baked "mac and cheese" type of pasta and broccoli dish, where their heft managed to bulk up the mixture and add enough texture to be interesting. However, the family here likes gnocchi that float in the pot when they're cooked through, or better yet, sauté to crisp, golden perfection before slipping into a simple pan sauce or meat ragu. It took me a couple tries to get my formula right, but that's one of the great things about gnocchi - it's cheap and filling, and even "failures" are pretty darn good (take it from me: lightly pan-fried with rosemary, garlic, mushrooms, smoked paprika and/or bacon, nothing potato based tastes bad). 

This final batch, though, is way better than anything you'll find in the store! The secret, I find, is adding a mixture of potato starch and baking powder to the flour and egg normally found in the dough - one binds without making the works "doughy" and tough, while the other ensures they puff with the heat of boiling water or a sizzling pan. The other trick, which I use when I make potato candy or waffles, is to either bake or microwave russet potatoes in their skins, then peel and mash. They have to be russets - a floury potato - otherwise the mash is like working with slightly melted crayons (white and red potatoes are called "waxy" for a reason!), and for these purposes moist cooking methods like boiling are not your friend. Exposed to water, the flesh sops it up, making it mushy, not fluffy, and unable to properly absorb the egg and flour without unduly making a tuberous paper maché paste.

It sounds like a lot of fuss and bother, but once you see the recipe you'll notice how simple the components truly are. You can even do what I'm doing this year in class and getting my groups of Home Ec students to work together on batches - they love being ale to "play" with their food by making snakes with the dough, and making the fork ridges appeals to the artists in the group too. 

Have you ever made your own pasta? What was your experience? 

Always Fluffy Gnocchi
Makes ~ 1450g, 10 servings
2 ½ pounds russet potatoes (about 5 small), baked and peeled
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
¼ cup potato starch, plus more for dusting
½ tsp baking powder (some say it’s cheating, I say never-fail, fluffy gnocchi)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
  1. Pass potatoes through a food mill or ricer into a bowl and cool completely.
  2. Sprinkle potatoes with salt, measured flour, measured potato starch and baking powder, then top with egg.
  3. With your hands, work flour and egg into a dough, kneading until smooth.
  4. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.
  5. Combine flour and potato starch (to avoid over-developing the gluten) and dust a surface very well with the combination.
  6. Divide dough into 8 pieces, and working one piece at a time, roll each into a rope ½” thick.
  7. Cut each rope into ½” pieces (I use a bench scraper).
  8. Gently press each piece with the back tines of a fork to make ridges and arrange in a single layer on greased baking sheets. 
  9. Let rest at room temperature for 30 minutes (if cooking immediately), 2 hours if freezing*.
To boil:
  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In batches, add a few handfuls gnocchi and cook until most have floated to top, 2 minutes. 
  2. With a wire-mesh spider or a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi immediately to a sauce and stir to coat.

* To Freeze: After resting uncovered for 2 hours, freeze raw gnocchi on baking sheets until firm, then transfer to freezer bags and freeze up to 3 months. Do not thaw before boiling or sauteing.

Amount Per Serving (~145 g)
Calories: 200.4
Total Fat: 1.0 g
Cholesterol: 18.6 mg
Sodium: 249.7 mg
Total Carbs: 41.7 g
Dietary Fiber: 3.4 g
Protein: 5.8 g

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