I was first introduced to gnocchi about ten years ago at Salumi, a tiny storefront and deli in Seattle owned by Armandino Batali, Mario’s dad. Salumi sells sandwiches filled with artisanal cured meats made in-house and other Italian foods. Once a week, at a counter in a small nook at the front window, Izzy, Armandino’s older sister, made gnocchi from scratch. She made it look so easy. I would watch in fascination as her weathered hands deftly shaped the little dumplings. She would roll the perfect pieces of dough effortlessly on a gnocchi paddle and flick them right into a sheet pan a few hundred or, maybe, a thousand, times a day. She stood there, mostly silent, yet always smiling, for she knew the secret of making light and tender pillows made of potatoes and flour.
Back then I realized that a key to making gnocchi is practice! I would venture to guess that Izzy wasn’t always the zen master of gnocchi. Sure, it helps to have your family’s secret recipe from generations ago handed down to you, but it takes a lot of practice to know how the perfect dough should feel in your hands. Every time I see Giada di Laurentiis or Mario Batali make gnocchi on television and make it look easy, I have to remember that it wasn’t their first time. They’ve had lots of practice.
With that mantra in mind, I set out to make my very first batch of gnocchi. Surprisingly, I found it easy to make! Beginner’s luck, maybe? Since it was my first attempt, I chose a recipe that contained an egg to help bind the potatoes and flour together. The gnocchi came together fairly easily as I slowly sprinkled the flour and kneaded it into the potatoes. Surprisingly, this recipe called for the potatoes to be boiled, so I made sure to drain the potatoes well. Next time, I will bake the potatoes to eliminate the water retained from boiling. Nevertheless, they came out just as I had hoped – light and delicate. The pillowy potato dumplings were full of earthy flavor from the flecks of porcini mushrooms that were incorporated into it. The simple brown butter and sage sauce with parmiaggo-regiano cheese is a classic accompaniment.
Porcini Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage
Yields 2-3 first course servings
For the Gnocchi
2 cups boiling water
1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms (about 1 cup)
2 medium Idaho potatoes (about 1-1/4 pounds), skin on and scrubbed
1/3 cup Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, grated
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 tablespoon black pepper
1 cup flour
For the Sauce:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
10 small sage leaves
2 ounces prosciutto, chopped
Freshly ground pepper
Steep dried porcini in the boiling water for at least 15 minutes to reconstitute. Drain mushrooms and strain liquid through a coffee filter to remove any grit. Squeeze mushrooms until dry and purée to a smooth paste in a food processor.
Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until tender. While still warm, peel potatoes and pass through a ricer onto a sheet pan. Move the ricer around over the pan so the potatoes fall in an even layer. Do not stir potatoes; the less they are handled the better the texture of the gnocchi. Cool for 20 minutes in refrigerator.
While still in the sheet pan, heap cooled potatoes in a mound and form a well in the center. Add the porcini purée, cheese, and egg. Season with salt and pepper. Use your fingers to combine ingredients to form dough. Sprinkle flour over dough and knead until smooth, elastic, and only slightly sticky, about 8-10 minutes.
To shape the gnocchi, form dough into a rectangle, approximately 8″ x 4″ and slice into 8 pieces. Dust the work surface and your hands with a little flour. Roll one piece under your hands into a thick cylinder, about 18 inches long and 2/3-inch thick. With a sharp knife or the bench scraper, slice the rope crosswise into 1-1/4-inch lengths.
To form the gnocchi, use a fork or a gnocchi paddle. Hold the fork or paddle with the tines or grooves, if using a paddle, at an angle against your work surface. Press the pieces of dough against the tines/grooves, and at the same time, push it off the end of the fork or paddle and onto a floured board. The gnocchi will be hollow and curved one side and ridged on the side that rolled off the tool. Press and roll the other cut pieces. Dust them with flour, and set in a single layer on a floured tray. Refrigerate on a sheet pan until ready to cook.
Cook gnocchi in boiling salted water. The gnocchi will be ready to remove from the boiling water once it rises to the top.
To make the brown butter and sage sauce, combine the butter and age in a medium pan until the butter is fragrant and nutty, about 3 minutes. Add the simmered gnocchi and cook for 1 minute. Add the prosciutto. Sprinkle the gnocchi with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and freshly ground pepper.
Adapted from Union Square Cafe Cookbook, written by Danny Meyer and Michael Romano, Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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