Everyone! It's a gnocchi party!
Gnocchi is part of the group of dishes that hang out with the little girl who had a little curl right in the middle of her forehead, as when it is good it is very very good, and when it is bad it is horrid. This quality makes it quite a scary undertaking, and there seems to be a lot of people who have put it in the too-hard basket. I was one of them until Penny of Jeroxie (Addictive and Consuming) decided to throw a Gnocchi Party, inviting all interested parties to conquer any fears, make gnocchi and all post about it on the same day.
There were a choice of possible themes, with the options of 'flavour', 'colour' and 'word', and 'flavour' won by two votes (I voted for "word" turned out to be the clear loser of the options, but I wasn't going to let this psych me out... I was determined to be a gnocchi winner). Penny suggested the flavour of umami, the fifth taste, and we were away.
Umami is an interesting beast, and by looking through a few lists of umami rich foods I started having a crazy idea to make a Japanese style gnocchi with sweet potatoes and things like nori, soy, tuna, edamame and dried bonito. Although I'm still taken with this idea, I thought it best to stick to normal potatoes for my first gnocchi adventure, given that sweet potatoes have a higher water content and thus can be more troublesome for gnocchi endeavours (due to this it is apparently a good idea to use part sweet potato part normal potato when making sweet potato gnocchi).
So I kept thinking, thinking, thinking about umami, and I had a brainwave - stinging nettle gnocchi! I haven't cooked with stinging nettles before, but apparently they have a very nice umami flavour, and I figured any stings might distract me from the fear of buggering up the gnocchi. As I tried to source stinging nettles however, my excitement soon faded. Luckily for those of us who like to wear shorts, Perth isn't exactly the stinging nettle capital of the world, and although I discovered that some people grow them here (and they make good food for butterflies) it is really not nettle season right now. Bad news for hungry butterflies and wannabe gnocchi makers alike. I do now have a few sources up my sleeve for later in the year though so expect some nettle creations in winter.
So the thinking continued, until I came across a recipe for Tuna and Anchovy Sauce in Manna from Heaven by Rachel Grisewood, which my friends C and L got me for my birthday and I am currently reading in bed. Yep. Tuna and anchovies both have umami, and I'd not made a sauce like it before so it got me interested.
The dish needed some more components to really round out the flavours and add extra umami, so I decided to add some asparagus, slow roasted tomatoes and parmesan for extra umami, some rocket and capers just for the hell of it, and serve it with a lemon wedge for a nice bit of optional acidity to finish it off.
Umami Gnocchi with (not too) Fishy Sauce is probably one of the dishes I've been most proud of creating during all my cooking challenges over the past year or so. I somehow managed to make soft pillowy gnocchi, slightly tweaked Rachel's recipe to make an incredibly flavoursome umami-fishy sauce without being too fishy, and also managed to add other bits and pieces to construct a dish around these main elements that seemed perfectly balanced in flavours. I am not sure when I'll achieve this feat again, but it gives me confidence that I am able to step away from the safety of just following recipes to get interesting, delicious results.
This makes a lot, enough to feed a dozen or so people, but I figure if you're going to go to the trouble of making gnocchi, which freezes very well, then you may as well make a lot at once.
As I said, gnocchi making can strike fear into the hearts of seasoned cooks. There are apparently so many things that you can do wrong at each step of the way, so I've documented my fears through the process.
1.8 kg starchy potatoes (I used Royal Blue)
FEAR 1: am I using the right potatoes??? Different sources suggest different varieties, and I finally decided I wanted to use Nicola potatoes. NOWHERE sold Nicola potatoes, and a man at Coles tried to convince me "washed" was a variety. I finally settled on Royal Blue.
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp salt
Around 2 cups sifted plain flour (or use pasta flour if you have some)
FEAR 2: I am going to use too much flour and they are going to be stodgy and heavy and horrible.
1. Preheat oven to 200 degrees C (400 F).
2. Scrub and wash your potatoes if necessary, then give them a good prick all over with a fork. Place them on a baking tray lined with baking paper and bake in the oven for around an hour, until they feel tender when you stab them with a fork. I also turned mine over halfway through cooking.
FEAR 3: I actually didn't realise this step was scary (apart from the possibility of stabbing yourself with a fork) until I was almost at the end of it. I was up on my computer watching youtube videos of people making gnocchi while my potatoes baked, when the oven timer went off. I decided to just watch one last video before going down to check on the potatoes, and the very first thing the man said on the next video was "the number one mistake that people make when making gnocchi is to overcook the potatoes!!". I didn't hear what the next mistakes were because I was too busy flinging myself downstairs.
3. Peel the potatoes (I used a combination of a paring knife and burning fingers) and then pass them through a potato ricer, food mill or metal sieve. I used a metal sieve, squashing it through with a spoon. I then let it cool a little before mixing through the salt and egg.
4. Add the flour to the potato mix a little at a time, only adding enough to create a dough that is not too sticky to work with. You may find this easier to do on a worktop rather than in a bowl. Once you are happy with the texture, knead the dough very lightly to bring it all together.
5. Form the dough into a log shape and chop it into a dozen or so pieces. For each piece, roll it out on a lightly floured surface until you have a potato rope around 2cm thick (start your hands in the middle and roll, moving your hands outwards towards the ends). Cut the rope into roughly 2cm pieces.
6. The gnocchi is fine to cook as it is now, but traditionally gnocchi has ridges to help capture the sauce. Hold each gnoccho over the tines of a fork and roll gently but firmly across with your thumb to create ridges across one side, and a little thumb dent in the other. If the gnocchi stick to the fork, just use a little more flour on the outside.
7. Place the gnocchi on a tray lined with baking paper, making sure they DO NOT touch each other. They can be overly friendly with one another and like to kiss. Chaperone them.
8. They are fine to cook from this point, but I decided to freeze all of mine immediately after making them. I would recommend you do this even if you are planning to eat them hours later in the same day. Various sources said that refrigerating them until you're ready to use is fine, but others said this makes them soggy, and some even said that they all relaxed into one another in the fridge and formed a gigantic mass. The gigantic mass fear seems to be recurring.
So, once they are on their trays, not kissing, place them into your freezer for a couple of hours until they are fully frozen. You can then remove them from the trays and place into ziplock bags, returning them to the freezer until you are ready to cook them.
9. When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a lot of salted water to the boil in a large saucepan. If you are cooking a lot, it is a good idea to use two pots. Once boiling, add your FROZEN gnocchi to the water and put the lid/s on to bring it back to the boil as quickly as possible. After a few minutes the gnocchi will rise to the surface. Leave them to cook on the surface for around a minute (no more if you can help it) before removing with a wire strainer or slotted spoon, draining well.
I added the gnocchi straight into a pan of warmed sauce, but apparently you can place them into a dish with some oil/butter to prevent them from sticking if you are doing something else with them.
10. Enjoy. Fresh gnocchi is amazing.
As I said, I served mine warmed through the Tuna & Anchovy Sauce with blanched asparagus sections, and served with freshly cracked black pepper, capers, grated parmesan, slow roasted truss tomatoes, rocket and a wedge of lemon.
The roasted tomatoes really complemented the sauce beautifully, with the warm juice adding a delicious sweetness.
This dish was a real hit with my friends. I will definitely be making it again.
I was in very good company at the gnocchi party, as you can tell by my fellow guests' creations:
- Penny - Jeroxie (Addictive and Consuming) - Gnocchi gnudi
- Divina - Sense & Serendipity - Braised Beef Short Ribs Adobo on Potato Gnocchi
- Christine - Christine's Recipes - Gnocchi in creamy mushroom sauce
- Mardi - eat. live. travel. write. - Pan-fried pumpking gnocchi with truffle paste and basil
- Trix - Tasty Trix - Malfatti a la Al Di La
- Mellie - tummyrumbles.com - Gnocchi di patate con funghi e salvia
- Agnes - off the spork - Potato gnocchi with blue cheese sauce
- Shirley - Enriching your kid! - Gnocchi chicken tikka
- Natasha - 5 Star Foodie - Sweet potato gnocchi with nori butter
Big thanks to Penny for being our gracious host and making me face my gnocchi fears!
I can't believe we didn't have a food fight though. Gnocchi would be the perfect ammunition.