Last night, I made mashed potatoes. For what I’m doing in this post, I’m sure any mashed potatoes will do; as long as there’s nothing strange about them. Mine were peeled, boiled russets with butter, milk, and salt. Mashed with the traditional hand mashing tool. Basic, but delicious! So, I wound up with some leftovers and did a little searching, and I realized that I could make gnocchi. I really like potato gnocchi.
I found a basic recipe that called for two cups of mashed potatoes, 1 cup of all purpose flour, 1 egg, and a pinch of salt. I found that the flour component was a little less than I required…the dough was way too sticky! The amount of flour really depends on how much moisture is in the potatoes and the humidity in the room. I just kept adding a little at a time, until I could handle the dough and knead it, without it sticking to my hands.
First, I put 1/2 cup of the flour on my board with a pinch of salt, and added the mashed potatoes on top.
I created a well and added the egg, and another pinch of salt.
Then, I topped that with the rest of the flour and mixed together. This was the messy part. Until the egg starts getting absorbed, it’s just a sticky mess on your hands. Have extra flour on hand that you don’t have to get out of the bag…it will save some time and wasted flour. Add a small handful of flour at a time, until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your hands or the work surface. Do not overwork the dough, though…you’re not making bread! You want light little pillows of pasta!
Since I hand-mashed the potatoes, there were bits of potato visible in the dough; however, they were never noticeable when cooked. Anyway, I divided the dough into four pieces and rolled out a rope, about the thickness of a soft pretzel. Maybe a tad thicker.
Using the dough divider, I cut the rope into pieces. They don’t have to be perfect, but roughly the size of the the first digit on your thumb.
Now the tricky part! Make sure your gnocchi are not too sticky. Turn a fork with tines facing down on your work surface. Take each gnocchi and, beginning on the top of the slots on the back of the tines, gently roll the dough down the hill and release.
You can use the tip of your pointer finger or the side of your thumb…whatever works better for you. Ideally, your gnocchi will have ridges on one side, and a finger dimple on the other. These features will help hold sauce on the pasta.
Handle the gnocchi carefully and place them on a parchment-lined tray…or something that you can spread them out on, without them sticking. If you are not going to cook immediately, the pasta should be refrigerated or frozen. I prefer freezing. They can be cooked directly from the freezer and freezing helps them keep their shape. After they are frozen solid, they can be removed from the freezer and transferred to a zip top bag, and put back in the freezer until ready to use.
When you are ready to cook your gnocchi, bring plenty of salted water to a boil. Do not add oil! When you have a rolling boil, add the gnocchi and gently stir. Bring back to a boil. The pasta cooks very quickly. When they are floating, they are ready. I like to remove them with a skimmer, so I can handle them carefully. You can pour into a colander, if you are cautious. I like to drop mine into a saute pan with a little melted butter. This is about 7 ounces of the total yield, which was about a pound and a half.
One of the traditional recipes for gnocchi calls for them to be tossed in browned butter and flavored with sage. It could certainly be served with a nice ragu sauce, but cream sauces are a popular choice. I really like an alfredo style sauce flavored with Gorgonzola cheese.
This time, I prepared a basil pesto cream sauce. I happened to have some in the fridge that I made with basil and garlic grown in my garden, but there are good pesto sauces available fresh in some gourmet groceries, and bottled pesto sauce in the grocery aisles of most stores.
A little goes a long way. I added probably a tablespoon and tossed it a couple times for it to loosen up and start coating the pasta. Then I added enough milk to cover the bottom of the pan. I did it by sight, but I’m guessing about 1/3 cup. Tossed the pasta in the pan (or carefully stir), to combine the pesto and milk and coat the pasta. Bring to a simmer and thicken a little.
Off heat, toss in a quarter cup(-ish) of grated parmesan cheese. Transfer to a serving dish add some toasted pine nuts, to taste. (This made one serving…easily doubled.)