Sunday, August 14, 2011

How To - fluffy gnocchi

The word gnocchi may derive from the Italian word nocchio, meaning a knot in wood, or from nocca, meaning knuckle...and it's easy to see why, because that's exactly what these tasty little potato dumplings look like. For years I have been purchasing pre-made vacuum packed gnocchi at the grocery store, and it's so silly! Gnocchi are fairly easy to make, and taste a hell of a lot better when made with your own two hands, and not vacuum packed, to sit on a shelf for god knows how long. Although I try not to think about it, I do wonder how many chemicals it takes to keep the egg in them from going bad while sitting on said shelf. Hmmmmm....barf.

Gnocchi are often the served as an alternative to soups or pasta in some Italian eateries. I prefer them to be the star of own soups, which then enable those soups to become more of a meal of substance.

Contrary to popular thought - and what the Food Network has been pounding into my head for years, which is why I've never made them before - you DO NOT NEED a potato ricer. A fine strainer and a spoon will do the job quite nicely, and since most home cooks have them at their disposal already, there's no need to take a trip to the local kitchen supply store. Who has that kind of expendable income now-a-days anyway?!

I think it's pretty amazing that you can take 3 simple, everyday ingredients and transform them into something new and exciting.

Little cute pillows of potato GNOCCHI!

Basic Gnocchi

2 large potatoes
2 cups of flour
1 egg
salt, to taste

Peel and dice the potatoes into bite sized pieces, add to a medium pot and fill with water until potatoes are just covered. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook until potatoes are tender. Drain into a fine strainer for 5 minutes, or until potatoes have lost their moisture and are cool to the touch. Set strainer over a large bowl and mash cooked potatoes into the strainer, until your potatoes are "riced" into the awaiting bowl. It should look something like this:

Combine your "riced" potatoes with two cups of flour and one egg and combine using the paddle attachment of your mixer until the dough just comes together, about 1-2 minutes. Do not overwork the dough, as the gnocchi will then become tough.

Collect a handful of dough and roll into a long log, about 1/2 inch in diameter on a slightly floured surface. Cut into 1 inch pieces, then using the tines of a fork, flick each dough piece off, creating the shape and texture of the gnocchi. Place pre-cooked gnocchi in a single layer on a cookie sheet, and repeat until all the dough is used.

Don't worry if your gnocchi don't look uniform...homemade cooking should be rustic!

To cook: place handful of gnocchi in salted, boiling water until it floats to the top. Serve immediately in your favorite gnocchi application! (You can also store your homemade gnocchi for several days in an air tight container, or freeze them for later use.)

Like I said before, I like to beef up my soups with gnocchi, and since I recently dined on soup, salad and bread sticks from a chain that shall not be mentioned - I was inspired to whip up my own version of creamy chicken and gnocchi soup.

Creamy Chicken and Gnocchi Soup

2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp butter
3 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 large celery stalks (leafy tops included), diced
1 large onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
2 cups pre-cooked chicken - your choice of diced or shredded white and/or dark meat
2 quarts of chicken stock
16 oz. of prepared gnocchi
1 cup of heavy cream
1 tsp each: dried parsley, oregano and thyme
1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
salt and pepper, to taste

Melt oil and butter in a large stock pot over medium heat. Add onion, garlic, carrot and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender. Add parsley, oregano and thyme - then add chicken stock and bring to a boil. Drop chicken and simmer for 1/2 hour until the liquid reduces slightly. (You can add more stock if your soup reduced too much.)

Right before service, add gnocchi. When the gnocchi floats, turn off the heat and add the cream, salt and pepper and grated nutmeg. Spoon into shallow dishes and serve with grated Parmesan cheese, if desired.

The texture of this soup is to die for...between the tender chicken and the fluffy, pillow'y gnocchi...I was in heaven! I also baked up some homemade bread to go along with this, so I could dunk the bread into the broth, which was so flavorful.

Truth be told, not only was this dinner - but also breakfast the next morning.