I recently had the opportunity to attend a tasting event that was catered by some Rochester area eateries. One of the menu items was a decadent hand-rolled gnocchi in a three cheese cream sauce that was out-of-this-world delicious. Well worth the extra calories… I had three servings!
Enjoying that dish reminded me of the Potato Gnocchi we served at Lista’s. As I mentioned in an earlier post (6/18/17) my family often ate dinner at the restaurant on Friday nights, and most the time we ate a meatless meal, and my personal favorite choice was the gnocchi.
Gnocchi (pronounced NYAW-kee or NYO-kee) is the plural form of gnocco literally meaning “lump” in Italian. The word is most likely derived from nocchio (meaning a knot, as in wood) or nocca (meaning knuckle) — obviously a descriptor of the gnocchi’s appearance.
Gnocchi is a type of dumpling typically made with semolina or wheat flour and egg, with other ingredients that may include cheese, potato, and sometimes breadcrumbs or cornmeal. Dumplings are found in many cultures and in many forms — gnocchi, being an “unfilled” dumpling, is probably more akin to kluski (Polish “lazy noodles”) or Knödel (German potato/bread dumpling) than say, ravioli, pierogi, or jiaozi (Chinese “pot stickers”).
At Lista’s, gnocchi was one of those menu items that only the true Italian food lover would order. In the course of a busy night at Lista’s, for every 100 potions of spaghetti or rigatoni served — we might only serve 1-2 portion of gnocchi. Still, for those of us who love these little “lumps” of soft dough, the Lista’s preparation was delicioso! Still, I must admit that combining the gnocchi with the famous Lista’s Sauce and then folding in smooth, creamy mozzarella along with sharp Pecorino Romano may have been what I really liked… but to this day even if they are dressed in basic aglio olio or even a simple brown butter… I love, love, love gnocchi!
Potato Gnocchi (alla Lista’s)
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
Serves: 4-6 dinner servings
4 medium sized Russet Potatoes – unpeeled (about 2 lbs)
1 large Egg – lightly beaten
1 1/2 cups All Purpose Flour (more or less)
1 tsp Salt
4-6 cups Prepared Pasta Sauce (Lista’s or any smooth variety)
4 oz Fresh Mozzarella Cheese – cut into small dice
1/4 cup Pecorino Romano Cheese – grated (plus more for garnish)
1. Place the unpeeled potatoes in a large pot and cover with cold, salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until potatoes are just fork tender but not over cooked (about 15 minutes). Remove cooked potatoes with a slotted spoon and cool slightly.
2. Peel the potatoes, and then press them through a potato ricer; grate them with the large holes of a box grater, or simply mash with a fork in a large bowl — let cool. Add the lightly beaten egg and the salt to the potatoes and mix well with a wooden spoon.
3. Add the flour to the potatoes a little at a time, using only as much as you need so that the dough comes together; is not sticky, and all the ingredients are evenly incorporated.
4. Dump the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface. Knead the dough as you would bread dough for about three or four minutes.
5. Form the dough into a rough disk and then divide it into 6 smaller pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out one of the six pieces using your fingertips into a long rope about 3/4 inch thick. Cut the dough rope into 1/2 inch pieces. You can cook the gnocchi as it is now (I usually do) but traditional gnocchi has ridges that hold the sauce — this takes some time but if you want to create the ridges:
Press each piece of dough against the tines on the back of a fork. With your thumb, make a small indent and gently roll the pressed dough back off the fork leaving the traditional ridges. This takes a little practice. If you find the dough sticking to the fork, dip the fork in flour before you press the dough against it. (Grandma Lista used to do this and she was fast! I could never really get the hang of it — or more likely I’m just not patient enough to perfect it. Besides the gnocchi taste just as good without the ridges.)
6. Place the gnocchi in a single layer on a lightly floured or parchment-lined tray until ready to cook. (If you want to freeze them for later use, leave them on the tray and pop them in the freezer. Once they’re frozen put them in a freezer bag and store frozen for up to 3 months.
7. To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of heavily salted water to a boil, place about a third of the gnocchi into the pot and give a gentle stir to keep them from sticking together. After a few minutes the gnocchi will float to the top. Continue to cook for one more minute then remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Cook the other two batches in the same way.
8. While you are boiling the gnocchi, heat the prepared sauce in a large skillet over medium heat. When heated through, add the diced mozzarella and cooked gnocchi and gently fold them together until mozzarella is melted. Just before serving, add the Pecorino Romano and fold it into the gnocchi and mozzarella. Serve immediately topped with more Pecorino Romano if desired. Yum!
There you have it, Potato Gnocchi just like we served at Lista’s. Making homemade gnocchi isn’t difficult, but it can take time and patience to perfect the technique. With a little practice you’ll be producing light, fluffy dumplings that people will rave about.
Gnocchi are terrific as a main course, but also work well as an appetizer or side dish. I wrote this recipe with tomato sauce because that’s the way we served them at Lista’s and the way I remember enjoying them growing up. But for variety try mixing the cooked gnocchi with some basil pesto or sage butter… or as I mentioned above pan saute them with some garlic and olive oil (aglio olio) until slightly browned and top with some grated cheese and fresh chopped basil. Delicioso!
I hope you give Potato Gnocchi a try and hope you love them as much as I do.
Until next time remember, “The Sauce Makes the Difference!”