My Love-Hate Relationship with Gnocchi
Frankly, my feelings toward gnocchi can be summed up in one sentence:
I hate them.
No, I suppose that’s not quite accurate. They MAKE me hate them. There we go.
Gnocchi are one of those foods of which I maintain a few memories of perfection. These memories then instill cravings for future re-enactments: “let’s go for gnocchi! how hard can it be to find some?.” These re-enactments usually are met with utter disappointment at being served either floury piles of mush, or chewy wads of instant-potato-flake garbage. They’re too small. Or they’re too big. They’re gluey, pasty, squishy, hard, or covered in so much wool-thick sauce that they may as well be nonexistant. So, resulting from these disappointments, I think “well hey, I’ll make them! How hard can that be?”
For some reason, it has taken me a long time to figure it out.
It’s not that I’ve tried to make them often, it’s more that the few failures I’ve had in making them were so DEFINITIVE in their level of failure, that I never try to make them again. I remember the first time I made them, you had to use a knife-and-fork to eat them. One time, they puffed so big and soaked up so much water that they took on the texture of eating a shower poof. One time the potatoes weren’t riced smoothly enough, so there were crunchy chunks of cooked potato studding the dumplings like small tumors. My favorite example was they time they all melted while cooking, and the pot of boiling water became a homogenized pot of wallpaper paste.
I’m not going to say we’ve reached a friendship yet, but I am slowly warming up to the idea of making gnocchi.
In fact, I’ve come up with a great recipe for a reliable ricotta cheese gnocchi (with a little bit of a secret ingredient) that I’ll share with you here. Light, smooth, and delicate, these beauties are a perfect foil for your summer vegetables sauteed in a little butter with some fresh herbs. Keep it simple.
2c fresh Ricotta (the best you can muster)
8oz cream cheese (secret ingredient!)
about 4 cups lightweight flour (I like White Lily. Use AP if you don’t have anything lighter, just be more careful not to overadd/overmix)
Beat the cheeses until smooth. Beat in the eggs and salt. Add *just* enough flour to make a soft dough. This is where most people go wrong. Too much flour and they’re tough. Too little, and they’re squishy. You want just enough flour so you can smoothly and comfortably roll it into a long 1inch-thick snake that will reasonably hold its shape, but still feels very tender. Don’t overmix it, but make sure you don’t have clumps of cheese or flour in the dough. Give it a knead or two for good measure. Without overworking the dough, roll it into your snake, and cut it into 1inch-long pillows. Drop them in GENTLY boiling water, and boil for 7 or 8 minutes.
Note: DON’T throw them in a roiling boil– the action will tear them apart.
Note: Some people say “they’re done when they float”. NOT TRUE. They’re done 3 or 4 minutes AFTER they float, depending on thickness. Pull the first floater out, cut it open, and eat a half. Use its doneness to guess how long the others should stay– was it really cool and raw on the inside still? Or is it pretty close?
When they’re cooked, fish the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon or a spider, and slide them into a pan of sizzling butter (I don’t recommend doing the colander-dump; you risk smashing them all to bits). Give ’em a toss, top them with parmigiano and a pinch of nutmeg. Or some sauteed vegetables. Or some plums, poached in wine, and topped with crushed amaretti (yes, dessert gnocchi!). A great recipe to have on hand.