Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Photo of the Week: Making Gnocci

I am finding that I love love love making pasta. Perhaps this is unsurprising given my fondness for all things carbohydrate, but still. Pasta! By hand! How cool is that?! And it's surprisingly simple, if labor intensive. The pasta dough itself comes together pretty quickly. Combine ingredients. Knead knead knead until smooth and uniform and, if you cut into it with a knife, you don't see any air pockets.

And then comes the Shaping of the Pasta--your tortellini, your ravioli, your gnocci. Yes, it's a jolly time...for the first ten minutes or so. You think to yourself, "Oh! Look at that little ball of dough! How much pasta can that cute little ball actually make? This will be a snap." But really there's a whole car-
full of clowns in that ball, tell me you.

It's best to get a group of willing and/or unsuspecting volunteers to help you out. With everyone jabbering away, only half focused on the dough in their fingers, it's easy to imagine that you're actually in the Italian country side, the scent of basil drifting through an open window, perhaps a bottle of wine or three brought up from the cellar just for tonight. Words like "soothing" and "community" and "let's move to Italy" drift through your mind.

Still. There's a lot of pasta to be made. I guarantee there will be a moment when you all fall silent and find yourself hypnotized by the motion of your hands, reaching for the next nub of dough, smooshing it into shape, tossing it onto the floured sheet pan without looking to see where it lands. To hell with uniformity, NEXT NUB! Let's go people, NEXT NUB!
But push on, I say! There's good pasta ahead!

Take gnocci, for example. I love the chew of gnocci between your teeth. I love spooning out just one and letting it roll on my tongue for a second before I bite into it. Yes. That's bliss.
Gnocci Di Patate Alla Piemontese
courtesy of CSCA, copyright Roberta L Dowling 2004 (with modifications by EmmaC)

2 lb. 4 oz potatoes (Maine or All-Purpose)--scrubbed, skins left on
Salt and white pepper to taste
1 egg, beaten
7 oz. flour (approximately--you will likely not use this much unless you live in a rain forest, but have there if you need it)

Cover the potatoes with cold water, bring to a boil, and cook until they are soft and can be mashed. Drain and peel them as soon as you can handle them (it's easier to peel them while they're hot). Puree them through a food mill or ricer, or mash them very very very well. Add the salt and pepper and egg. Mix well. Add a little of the flour at a time, gathering the dough into a ball and--when able--kneading until the mixture is soft, smooth, and no longer sticks to your hands. Add additional flour as necessary.

Lob off a chunk of the pasta (somewhere between a golf ball and a tennis ball size) and roll it into a thick pencil-like stick the size of a cigar. Cut into 3/4-inch pieces. Hold a fork (tines down) in your left hand (this is for right-handers; switch if you're a leftie). Place a nub of dough on the back of the tines and press down on the lower half of the nub with your thumb. Using the palm of your hand, Roll the thick, top part of the nub over the flattened part, and roll it off the fork. (See the topmost picture above) You should have a little pill-bug shaped piece of dough (yum!).

Keep the gnocci on a floured sheet pan and (when you're finished shaping aaaaall of them) freeze them until you're ready to cook.

Bring a very large amount of salted water to boil. The more water the better, as a) it will come back to a boil more quickly after you add the pasta and b) it will help the starch disperse so your pasta is chewy without being gummy. The salt just flavors the pasta.

Cook the gnocci in the water for a few minutes until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain.

Serve with any sauce or simply with some Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and melted butter. Mmmm...butter.

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