Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Recreating the Memory of My Nonnie's Gnocchi

I have high standards for gnocchi- perhaps impossibly high because of the fond memories of my Nonnie's "melt in your mouth" gnocchi.

Even though I don't look like it, I have an Italian-American heritage! In fact, my mom's family is from Weed, a small town in northern California that has a significant Italian population. I have many happy memories of my Nonnie and Nonno and great-aunts and great-uncles preparing large family meals at the Weed Sons of Italy hall. From homemade salami to fresh ravioli, the food was handmade and wonderfully delicious. And I am on a quest to learn how to recreate these family traditions.

Last night, we attempted to make gnocchi- the kind that melts in your mouth just like my Nonnie made. I have attempted this before with terrible results and lots of folklore about how to make the best gnocchi so I decided to consult the Cooks Illustrated Italian classics book. I chose this book because Cooks Illustrated approaches recipes very scientifically, testing every variable and I was tired of fooling around. For this gnocchi recipe, they tested:

• potato variety- they recommend russett
• method of cooking the potatoes- they recommend baking not boiling
• method of preparing the potato dough- they use a ricer
• amount of flour- not too much
• the value of adding an egg- they say no egg

So I took their advice and followed their tested recipe using two very special tools: my Nonnie's ricer and her gnocchi board.

Basically, I baked the russett potatoes, peeled and riced them.

I made a dough by gently working in about one and half cups of flour to two pounds of potatoes. This part is key and I had to guess about how much flour was appropriate because the recipe has a variable flour addition. Because the dough rolled together and wasn't too sticky, I assumed this was enough flour. I didn't want to overwork the dough or add too much flour. All of the dough was rolled into 3/4 inch rolls and cut.

I used my Nonnie's gnocchi board to roll and add the ridges to the gnocchi. This board was handmade by my Uncle Mario, one for each of his sisters. I am not really sure I have this part of the technique down yet. I ate the reject ones though and the dough tasted lovely!

We selected the gnocchi for us to eat for the night and froze the remaining gnocchi- first frozen on the cookie sheet and then once frozen, I put them in a tupperware in the freezer.

We decided to have this gnocchi with a sage butter sauce and fresh parmegiano reggiano.

After a quick boil, (gnocchi only need a minute or two and they float to the top when they are ready!), we topped them with the sage butter and fresh parm. And they were... DELIZIOSO! They were light and melt in your mouth and by far the best gnocchi I have ever made. I think my Nonnie would have been proud. I can't wait to make this with my mom when we get home.