CASA GRANDE -- Like lots of area residents, I have a little extra time on my hands lately as we muddle through the extended social distancing and lockdowns due to the coronavirus.
Trying to avoid unnecessary trips to the grocery store these past few weeks, I’ve turned to making from scratch some of my favorite weekday standbys, including gnocchi.
Gnocchi, petite potato dumplings, are great in soup or eaten as a pasta dish topped with sauce, pesto, butter or cheese — or a combination.
Under ordinary circumstances, we tend to buy gnocchi in the pasta aisle at the store, but they’re also easy and inexpensive to make at home.
Gnocchi has only two main ingredients — potatoes and flour. Equally important as the potatoes and flour is time, which should probably be the key third ingredient. From boiling the potatoes, mashing them, mixing the ingredients, rolling the dough and cutting the pieces, gnocchi takes a few hours. But if you have the time, the effort is worth it.
Homemade gnocchi are far better than any I’ve ever purchased in the store. And you can cut them and shape them any way you want. While the store-bought gnocchi are delicate little pillows, I make mine a bit larger and rustic looking as I tend to use them in a chicken and dumpling soup.
There are a few different recipes for making gnocchi. Some include an egg as binder (but it isn’t necessary and most vegan gnocchi recipe omit the egg). Some use more or less flour. I’ve found that the ratio of using four large russet potatoes to 2½ cups of flour works best for making hearty and dense dumplings.
The amount of flour used in making gnocchi is a guide. The key variables in any gnocchi recipe that can change are the size of the potato and how moist the potatoes are when the flour is added. The more moist the potato, the more flour that will be needed. Some gnocchi-makers bake the potato rather than boiling it to keep the moisture and flour levels lower.
Below is the recipe that I use, which produces the chewy, dense texture I prefer in a gnocchi.
4 large russet potatoes
2¼ to 3 cups of all purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
Boil the potatoes in the peels. Allow to cool. Press them through a potato ricer or mash them with a fork or potato masher, ensuring that no lumps remain. Mix in salt.
After mashing the potatoes, I tend to move the potatoes to my KitchenAid stand mixer to slowly incorporate the flour, about one cup at a time. Add enough flour so that the dough can form a ball. The dough should not be too sticky to handle.
Move to floured surface and shape into a ball. Section the dough and roll each section into a long thin roll.
Cut each roll into bite-sized pieces, about ½-inch in size.
Use a fork to make traditional indentations into each gnocchi piece.
The gnocchi can sit, covered, at room temperature for a few hours. To freeze, place a single layer of gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for about three hours. When frozen, transfer them in a freezer bag.
To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil with about ½ teaspoon of salt.
Add the gnocchi to boiling water and boil for about two to three minutes. When they float, they’re finished.
Gnocchi can be topped with favorite pasta sauce, sautéed in butter (after boiling) or dropped into a soup.
One of my favorite ways to eat them is sautéed in butter, then topped with a hearty dollop of pesto.
2 cups lightly packed fresh basil leaves
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan-Romano
1/3 cup pine nuts
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Add basil to food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add other ingredients and process until smooth.
This recipe, designed after the popular chicken-gnocchi soup at Olive Garden, is from the website copykat.com. But gnocchi can also be a great substitute for noodles in any chicken noodle soup recipe.
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion
½ cup finely diced celery
2 garlic cloves, minced
¼ cup all-purpose flour
1 quart half-and-half
28 ounces chicken broth
½ teaspoon dried thyme
½ teaspoon dried parsley flakes
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (optional)
1 cup carrots finely shredded
1 cup spinach leaves coarsely chopped
1 cup chicken breast cooked and diced
16 ounces package ready-to-use gnocchi
Melt the butter into the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion, celery and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally until the onion becomes translucent.
Whisk in the flour and cook for about 1 minute. Whisk in the half-and-half. Simmer until thickened.
Whisk in the chicken broth. Simmer until thickened again. Stir in ½ teaspoon salt, the thyme, parsley, nutmeg (if using), carrots, spinach, chicken and gnocchi.
Simmer until the soup is heated through. Before serving, season with additional salt if necessary.