Gnocchi is a food dear to my heart. Very nearly, but not quite, as dear as risotto and for many the same reasons.
I first learned to make gnocchi from scratch in the brick-domed cellar kitchen of the school I attended in Florence, four years ago. While I would by no means call myself an expert, since the first moments of instruction upon an immense, rough-hewn Italian table, I have taken great pleasure in making these little starchy pillows.
There are many acceptable variations on the classic gnocchi recipe, and numerous regional breeds. Therefore, though this recipe comes from my instruction in Italy by an Italian it is not necessarily the definitive recipe. Gnocchi is a notoriously temperamental mistress, changing with the weather, the humidity, the altitude. My two words of caution: do not overwork the potatoes, and add the flour slowly, using as little as possible. If your results are less than desirable the first time, try try again, as they say.
As the recipe itself is rather extensive, I won’t expound on my obsession with these fluffy morsels much more than that. I will, however, say that hands down, this is my favorite way to prepare them – with fresh pesto finishing a close second.
As noted below, I’ve adapted the oven-roasted tomatoes from the lovely Heidi‘s new book, Super Natural Everyday, which I’ve had glued to my nose since I laid my grubby paws on it a few months back. I cannot recommend it enough, but more on that later I’m sure.
For now, I hope you enjoy this meal, and please do let me know how you get on with it! Baci a tutti!
Gnocchi with Sage, Browned Butter & Oven-Roasted Tomatoes
Ingredients for the Topping:
- 8 Tbsp. (1 stick) butter
- 3 generous Tbsp. capers
- 8-10 large sage leaves, roughly chopped
- Fistful of chives, chopped fine, plus blossoms for garnish (optional)
Ingredients for the Oven-Roasted Tomatoes:
(Adapted from Super Natural Everyday)
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 Tbsp. cane sugar
- Scant 1/2 tsp. sea salt
Ingredients for the Gnocchi:
- 2 lbs russet potatoes (about 2 large)
- 1 small egg (about 1/4 cup), beaten
- scant 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- scant 1/4 cup pecorino romano or parmesan, plus more for garnish
- fine grain sea salt
Method for the Topping:
Melt the butter over medium-low heat in a small, heavy bottomed saucepan. After a few minutes, the butter should have separated into three layers: foam at the top, milk solids at the bottom, and clarified butter in between. Gently skim off the foam and discard. Allow the butter to brown, stirring occasionally, until it has become fragrant and attains a nice chestnut color. You can control the flavor by adjusting time – the longer it cooks, the nuttier it becomes.
Once the butter is to your liking, remove from heat and add in the sage and capers. The residual heat of the butter should cook them a bit as you make the gnocchi.
Method for the Tomatoes:
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or use a non-stick sheet. In a small bowl, stir together the olive oil, sugar, and salt. Working into a larger mixing bowl, gently slice eat tomato in half. Once you’ve gone through the entire pint, pour the oil mixture over the tomatoes and toss with your hands to coat thoroughly. Evenly distribute the tomato halves, cut side up, onto your prepared sheet. Roast in the oven for 45-60 minutes or until the tomatoes have shriveled a bit and the edges have begun to caramelize. At this point, you can store the tomatoes in the remaining olive oil mixture for use in the days to come. For this recipe, we’ll use them immediately, so simply set them aside for now, as they are.
Method for the Gnocchi:
Cut the potatoes in half and place in a large stockpot filled with cold, well salted water. Bring the water to an active boil, reduce heat slightly and allow to boil until the potatoes are completely tender when pricked with a fork. This will take about 45 minutes or slightly longer.
Strain the potatoes out of the water and place on a large cutting board or wooden work surface. As soon as you can stand touching them, peel the potatoes with a small paring knife. If you have a ricer, use it for this next step. Working quickly so the potatoes remain hot, run the potatoes through the ricer or gently run a large fork through each piece to create a fluffy, rough base. It is important not to over-mash the potatoes here as that will affect the consistency of the gnocchi. Essentially, you want to simply deconstruct the potato until there are no longer any large lumps.
Distribute the potato mash evenly on the board and allow to cool for about 15 minutes. Once it is cool, use your hands to form a soft volcano shape, as you would when making pasta. Pour the egg into the center hollow and sprinkle on most of the flour. Working with your hands, or ideally a pastry scraper, gently lift and fold the mixture until combined. Sprinkle on the cheese and with as soft a touch as possible, gently knead the dough a few times. If it is still sticky, add in the rest of the flour. The dough should be moist, but shouldn’t stick to your hands. It should feel light and cloud-like.
Dust your work surface with a bit of flour, placing a little mound of it off to one side. Divide the dough into 8 pieces and working one at a time, roll the pieces into a snake, pressing with your hands from the center out. Using a sharp knife, cut the snake into small pieces, roughly 3/4 of an inch. Working with a wide-pronged fork, shape the gnocchi by pressing a piece of dough against the prongs of the fork using your thumb and fore-finger, cut ends out. (I like to dip the fork in the mound of flour between each piece.) This takes some practice so don’t be discouraged. Use a light but confident touch. The gnocchi I made in the photo above were actually with the left over dough the next morning, making it even less manageable, and thus less pretty. I’m sure yours will look much better! The idea is to create little line impressions with the fork, which capture the sauce nicely. Don’t worry if your gnocchi aren’t picture perfect, they’ll still taste delightful.
Prepare a large platter or serving dish with a slather of the browned butter. If your butter mixture is stone cold by now, warm it up a bit over low heat.
Fill your stockpot with water again, salt, and bring to a rolling boil. Plop the gnocchi into the boiling water in small batches. Traditionally, they are cooked once they float to the top. I’ve found that depending on the salt content of you water (and thus the temperature) it may take just a few seconds (but no more than 1 minute) longer. Do a test batch, fishing them out with a slotted spoon, taste and adjust your timing as necessary. The cooked gnocchi should taste light, but not glutenous (undercooked) or soggy (overcooked). Place the gnocchi into your serving dish as you fish them out, continuing to cook until all of them are ready. Drizzle the butter mixture over the top, sprinkle on the roasted tomatoes and chives if using (reserving the blossoms for garnish), and gently toss to combine. Sprinkle on a bit of the pecorino if desired and top with the chive blossoms. Serve and enjoy immediately!