For the last decade or so, we have had gnocchi for dinner every Thursday night. It’s a family ritual/bonding/comfort kind of thing. Any suggestion of change on my part has met with heated resistance from our children. 'Get back in your box you Gnocchi Grinch' is the subtext of their more vocal protestations.
People often ask if we make our own. We don’t. Mostly, we buy a ubiquitous brand from the supermarket. At best, we buy it freshly made from our local market. Slathered in passata, it’s passable.
In keeping with our newfound Make Pasta, Not War motto over the holidays, we invited our neighbour’s kids over to make gnocchi. The idea was that their parents would visit to taste the results later that night. I imagined eight people happily tucking into homemade gnocchi, perhaps with a salad and baked vegetables as a side. A no-frills dinner party.
The day before we executed this brilliant plan, I spoke to a friend of Italian background, whose mother makes gnocchi. I was somewhat perturbed to find that making gnocchi is a hit-and-miss exercise, as it often disintegrates at the boiling stage. And this was coming from a seasoned nonna. Should I have a back-up plan? Yes. Did I have time to shop for and cook an alternative meal for two families? No.
That night, my daughter and I looked up numerous cookbooks for a recipe. It was decision time: Eggs or no eggs? Semolina or flour? Baked or boiled? I was astounded at how such a deceptively simple little dumpling could be so complicated.
We went with the recipe for dummies. Stephanie Alexander’s had only flour, potatoes and salt. The process seemed simple too: just boil potatoes, run then through a potato ricer or food mill (read grater for those of us whose kitchens are gadget poor) and mix with flour and a sprinkling of salt.
The next day, with eager young charges by my side, I read more closely: ‘With one hand, sprinkle potato with some flour and, using the heel of the other hand, work it in. The skill is to be as deft and quick as possible.’ I look at the kids. Could they be deft and quick? Maybe ‘cute and clumsy’ was more within their skill set. My daughter doesn’t help: ‘Mum, this isn’t going to work’, she says with conviction as we start mixing the flour in.
‘I need a little bit of positive here’, I snap back. Is it too late to get to the supermarket to implement plan B? We persevere. The kitchen turns into a sticky potato/flour zone but the kids are having great fun.
We manage to turn out four trays of ill-formed dumplings. Later that day, our neighbours come over. While the adults have a glass of wine, the two older kids cook the pasta in batches. We watch proudly from the couch. The verdict? ‘Absolutely scrumptious,’ says this Gnocchi Grinch.
You too can create such light and velvety gnocchi from Stephanie's recipe (we didn't use the burnt sage butter sauce, but this also sounds delicious). Bon appetit.