Gathering Together Farm at the Hillsdale Farmers Market
The calendar says “Spring”. Nature’s signs are showing – the light does linger longer than late afternoon. And I did make it out to the garden to commence ground preparations for planting this week…but I was chased back inside by brisk breezes and a chilling rain shower. As I shook off the shiver, I turned my focus to dinner. A tidy bunch of grassy green sorrel found its way into my Farmers Market basket this past weekend, and today seemed fitting to make use of it. I could use a reminder of spring in my supper!
Only, the day’s wintry weather triggered a craving for comfort food – something warm and soothing. Potato soup with sorrel – a classic, and certainly a lovely combination of flavors. But I’m the only member of my family that gets jazzed up when soup’s for supper. Darn…potatoes with sorrel sounds perfect; the bright, chlorophyll-lemony flavor of the sorrel with soft, satiny-textured earthy potatoes, each a canvas for the other. But wait!! There’s the answer – GNOCCHI!
Gnocchi, puffy potato-pillow dumplings, may be an intimidating undertaking, especially for weekday dinner preparations. But a nippy Sunday afternoon may bid you into the kitchen, and with a bit of effort (enjoyable effort, I think), you can have enough gnocchi for Sunday supper plus some to stow away for a busy weeknight. Just 4 potatoes yielded enough for more than 2 meals for our family of 3 (2 adults, 1 child). Speaking of family, invite the kids to help – little hands and nimble fingers are just right for rolling the pads of dough across a fork to shape the gnocchi.
And the sorrel sauce is a breeze – the warm spring kind that we’re waiting for!
I don’t use a recipe for gnocchi. I simply boil potatoes in their jackets (skin), then peel, sieve onto a parchment-lined baking sheet, & let them cool. Add beaten egg, enough to moisten the whole without making it overly wet, and a good pinch or two of salt to season. Perhaps a small grating of nutmeg. Perhaps not. Then a handful or two of flour, feeling the dough as I go and kneading lightly to bring the whole into a manageable mass. There should be enough flour to bind the potato, egg, & flour together so that they are not sticky, but not so much flour that the dough is weighted down. It’s a feeling, and with practice, you will get to know what “good” dough feels like.
Almost every gnocchi recipe that you read talks about leaden gnocchi due to a heavy hand, either in adding the flour or in kneading the dough, or from too-wet potatoes, or from letting the dough sit to long before forming it into gnocchi. This can all be true, yet with care and mindfulness, all this can be avoided fairly easily. Just keep in mind that even with utmost care, you are eating dumplings of potato & flour – it is a substantial dish!
Once the dough comes together, knead it lightly with the heals of your hands no more than 10 times. Roll and form your gnocchi right away, then cook them as soon as possible after shaping. I like to start a large pot of water so that it comes to a boil as my gnocchi are ready to cook. The gnocchi that will not be eaten that evening are frozen on parchment-lined baking sheets, then transferred to sealable storage bags once they are firm.
It is my belief that more people would make things such as gnocchi and homemade pasta more often if they are not chained to a recipe. Recipe reading requires additional prep time, and can be distracting from the process. That said, a recipe is a good place to start – to get a handle on the technique, then, when you are confident of the procedure and know-how to achieve success, you can ditch the written word and just get at the cooking!
Here is a very good gnocchi recipe from Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s wonderful book,
La Cucina Di Lidia.
Lidia Matticchio Bastianich’s Gnocchi
serves 6 (this recipe halves easily)
6 large Idaho or russet potatoes
1 tsp. salt
dash of freshly ground white pepper
2 eggs, beaten
4 cups unbleached flour
Boil the potatoes in their skins about 40 minutes, until easily pierced with a skewer. When cool enough to handle, peel and rice the potatoes, and set them aside to cool completely, spreading them loosely to expose as much surface as possible to air (to allow as much evaporation of moisture as possible to avoid the need for additional flour).
On a cool work surface (preferably marble), gather the cold riced potatoes into a mound, forming a well in the center. Stir the salt and white pepper into the beaten eggs and pour the mixture into the well. Work the potatoes and eggs together with both hands, gradually adding 3 cups of the flour and scraping the dough up from the work surface with a knife as often as necessary. Incorporation of the ingredients should be a quick process – the longer the dough is worked, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become.
Clean your hands of stuck-on dough. Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with flour and cut the dough into six equal parts. Continue to dust the dough, your hands, and the surface as the dough feels sticky. Use both hands to roll each piece of dough into a rope ½ inch thick. Slice the ropes at ½ inch intervals. Indent each dumpling with a thumb, rolling it along the tines of the back of a fork to produce a ribbed effect.
Drop the gnocchi into boiling water a few at a time, stirring gently with a wooden spoon. If you are cooking the entire recipe of gnocchi, do so in batches so that the water temperature does not drop too much during the cooking process. Cook for 2-3 minutes – about a minute after they rise to the surface (don’t let them boil too rapidly once they float or they may break apart). Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer to a warm platter. Serve immediately.
Below is a step by step picture tutorial of the gnocchi-making process. For the sorrel sauce, scroll down….
Potatoes (Not Idaho or Russet, but Acceptable Non-Waxy Type Potatoes from the Farmers Market)
Peel the Hot Cooked Potatoes Using a Paring Knife
Ideally Rice the Potatoes with a Potato Ricer - Alternatively, Gently Mill Them Through a Food Mill
"Riced" Potato, Spread Out on a Parchment-Lined Sheetpan to Cool & Let Off Steam
Transfer Potato to a Bowl (or Mound on the Work Surface) - Note the Condensation on the Baking Sheet that was Under the Parchment Liner
Using Your Fingers Like a Whisk, Gently Incorporate the Beaten Egg
Potato with Egg
Add a Handful or Two of All-Purpose Flour
Gently Incorporate the Flour
Bring the Dough Together
Begin Kneading the Dough
Knead No More Than 10 Times, or 10 Pushes with the Heals of your Hands - More May Make the Dough Heavy
I Use a "bench scraper", Used in Bread Baking, To Divide the Dough Into Manageable Pieces
Roll the Dough Pieces Into Ropes, Using Gentle Pressure (Don't Squish the Dough! Compressing it will Make it Heavy)
Cut the Rope into Pillows Using a Bench Scraper or a Knife
Roll the Pillows over the Tines of the Back of a Fork While Indenting Them With Your Thumb
Add The Gnocchi to a Pot of Salted Boiling Water - Stir Very Gently with a Wooden Spoon
Simmer the Gnocchi for About a Minute After They Float to the Surface, 2-3 minutes Total Cooking Time
makes about 1 cup (enough for about 2 servings)
1 bunch fresh sorrel (about 2 cups chopped)
2 Tbsp. butter (plus another tablespoon of butter for finishing the sauce if desired)
½-3/4 cup heavy cream
fleur de sel sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
Wash and chop the sorrel. Melt the butter in a sauté pan or small saucepot. Add the sorrel to the butter and cook gently, stirring now and again, until the sorrel wilts then melts into the sauce (about 4 or 5 minutes). Pour in the cream and season the sauce with the salt and pepper. Let the sauce bubble gently for a minute. Taste the sauce. It will be quite lemony. Stir in a pat of butter if you want to enrich the sauce, right before saucing the gnocchi.
If you’re thinking that the sauce sounds really easy, but you don’t want to delve into gnocchi making, you can always use the sauce on a baked potato, filet of broiled, grilled, or baked fish, or piece of seared chicken.
Pour in the Cream
Finishing the Sauce
Stirring the Cooked Gnocchi into the Sauce
Gnocchi with Sorrel Sauce
Gnocchi with Sorrel Sauce & Smoked Salmon
The finished dish, albeit tasty, could use further embellishment, I thought as I savored the sauced gnocchi – and then I remembered that the perfect accompaniment was no further than my refrigerator – smokey, salty-rich salmon from The Smokery. Michael Jacob’s craft is smoking & curing salmon, and the results are divine. Find this local treasure at the Portland Farmers Market on Saturdays & at the Hillsdale Farmers Market (check the site for the winter schedule).