Last night Jakob and I decided to make homemade gnocchi. We still had plenty of red potatoes from Colfiorito and gnocchi, little potato dumplings, are a favorite ‘pasta’ dish of all the kids. They are not necessarily hard to make, but there are several steps involved and forming each dumpling by hand is time consuming. We started the process, boiling the potatoes for 40 minutes, at 4:00 pm. Dinner was ready by 8:00 pm (a respectable hour by Italian standards). It was a good thing I had Jakob to help me or I would still be cutting little bits of dough and shaping them into the gnocchi.
The effort was worth it. We made gnocchi alla sorrentina, a classic dish from the Bay of Naples that combines the fluffy gnocchi with a smooth tomato sauce and melted cheese. Everyone agreed that these were the best gnocchi we have ever had.
Step 1: Boil the potatoes whole for about 40 minutes:
When they have cooled off slightly peel the skins away.
Step 2: Prepare the flour by creating a well in the center. Add eggs and salt:
We used just over 2 kilos of potatoes and about 500 grams of flour (note: I kind of weighed the potatoes and this is just a guess on the flour based on how much was left in the bag afterwards – if you need exact measurements, there are plenty of recipes available online). We started with 2 eggs, but decided to add another as we mixed in the potatoes. We soon realized that the cutting board was too small for the amount of potatoes we had, so we moved everything into a large bowl.
Step 3: The trick to making light and fluffy gnocchi is the consistency of the potatoes. It is best to run them through a potato masher or ricer (fortunately there was one in our apartment).
Step 4: mix the potatoes, flour, salt, and eggs together until the dough is no longer sticky (add more flour if necessary) and can be formed into a smooth ball.
Step 5: Cut the dough into strips, roll each strip until it has an even diameter, and then cut the strips into 2-3 cm pieces. Shaping the gnocchi should be done with a rigagnocchi, a wood paddle ridges specifically for making gnocchi. You want your gnocchi to have ridges or they will not hold the sauce. We don’t have a rigagnocchi (although, I am thinking I might need to get one), so we used the back of a fork.
Step 6: To make gnocchi alla sorrentina, the little dumplings need to be cooked first in boiling water. Make sure the water is salted and boiling rapidly. The gnocchi only take a few minutes to cook and will float to the surface when they are done. You want to use a wide pot for this so that the gnocchi are not crowded at the surface; you will probably need to cook them in batches. Transfer them to a baking dish and toss lightly with olive oil.
Step 7: Layer the gnocchi with tomato sauce (we skimped on this part and used store bought passata – smooth tomato puree – to which we added basil and garlic), grated parmesan cheese, and fresh mozzarella cut into small pieces.
We used mozzarella from Colfiorito – it seemed like the right thing to do.
Step 8: Put the baking dish under a broiler for 8-10 minutes until the the cheese melts.
I am not sure how many gnocchi we made (we ended up with two baking pans worth), but they disappeared pretty quickly. Tonight, we finished off the leftovers. Even after a day in the refrigerator and reheating in the microwave, they were light and fluffy. It will be hard to go back to eating store-bought gnoochi, which are always too dense and a bit sour from the flour. The Colfiorito potatoes lived up to their reputation. Given the limited variety of potatoes available in our grocery store at home, like so many things in Italy, this dish will be hard to recreate.