Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Gnocchi Giovedi Bolognese

In many of the trattorias around Rome, Thursdays are the days for making potato gnocchi, known as Gnocchi Giovedi (Thursday). These doll-sized fists or knuckles can be tricky to make and can easily become heavy, tough, or mushy. Too much water left in the potato, too much flour in the dough, a tough dough from overworking it, or mushy gnocchi from overcooking them are main causes of bad gnocchi. If made well though, they're little potato pillows of heaven. 

Gnocchi go well with many sauces. In Rome, you’ll usually find them in a simple tomato sauce or a ragu. In Liguria, Gnocchi al Pesto is most popular. In the Campania area around Sorrento, they’re served alla Sorrentina. In Italian coastal towns, they're often served with clams in a light sauce. They also go well with a simple brown butter and sage sauce or a heavier creamy cheese sauce. The first time I ever tasted gnocchi was with two dear friends at a small Italian restaurant along the Kingsway in Toronto, many years ago. They were served in a delicate Rosé sauce and seemed to melt in the mouth. They left a lasting memory ever since. Rosé sauce, pesto or bolognese — whichever way you prefer Gnocchi Giovedi, these little pillows of heaven are much too delicious to wait until Thursdays to enjoy. Carpe Dium.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi
Makes about 2-pounds of gnocchi

28 oz (3-4) russet potatoes
About 1 1/3 cups flour, plus more for rolling out the gnocchi
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 egg

Heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the potatoes, whole and in their skin, for 60-70 minutes, until fork tender. As soon as the potatoes come out of the oven, halve them, scoop out the center, and put through a food ricer. Spread the riced potatoes in a single layer onto a working surface and let cool completely, about 25 minutes. Once the potatoes have cooled, sprinkle 1 cup of the flour and the salt over the potatoes. Gather the mixture together to form a well. Add the egg into the middle of the well, and lightly knead the mixture together just until all ingredients are combined and it forms a ball. If the gnocchi are too wet, add the rest of the flour a tablespoon at a time only until the dough comes together and doesn’t stick to your fingers easily. This should take no more than 2-3 minutes. It’s important not to overwork the dough, as this will make the gnocchi heavy and tough.

Divide the dough into six pieces. Roll each piece out into a rope about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Give each piece a quick roll into a ball. Create ridges in the gnocchi by rolling them onto a fork, or if you have a wooden “gnocchi board,” use this instead. Cook them right away or freeze them: If you’re freezing them, place them in a single layer on a baking sheet and place into the freezer. Once they are individually frozen, you can place them together or on top of each other in a bag or container.

When you’re ready to cook them, bring about 8 cups of well-salted water to a boil. Gently place the gnocchi, only a few at a time, into the boiling water. It’s important to keep the water at a boiling temperature, otherwise, the gnocchi will sink to the bottom of the pan and stay there too long, absorbing too much water. As soon as the gnocchi float to the surface remove them from the pot and drain off the water. Serve with your preferred sauce. Buon Appetito!

Bolognese Sauce
Makes about 4 cups

1 1/2 pounds ground beef
About 1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, diced
1/2 carrot, finely diced
7 cloves of garlic, finely diced
15 oz can diced tomatoes
6 oz can tomato paste
2 tbsp dried Italian seasoning - oregano, parsley, basil
1/4 tsp red pepper flakes
1/2 cup red wine
28oz can crushed tomatoes
3 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Pecorino cheese, grated for sprinkling over pasta

Brown the ground beef in a heavy-bottom saucepot. Remove and drain off any excess liquid; set aside.

Heat the olive oil and add the onions. Sweat the onions until they are translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrot and cook another 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste, Italian seasoning, and red pepper flakes if you want a little spice to the sauce. Cook about 1 minute. Turn the heat to high and add the red wine to deglaze, scraping any bits from the bottom. Add the crushed tomatoes, chicken stock, 1 tablespoon of salt and pepper to taste.

Bring to a boil, then lower to just a simmer. Cook uncovered on simmer for 3-4 hours, stirring about every 30 minutes. The heat should be set at a simmer so that the sauce bubbles only every few seconds. Serve with your homemade gnocchi or your favourite pasta with a generous bowl of grated Pecorino cheese on the side. A sprig or two of basil would be very nice too!

Rosé Sauce
Serves 4

1 cup home made or store bought tomato sauce
1 cup whipping cream
2 cloves of garlic, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup grated Pecorino

Heat the tomato sauce and garlic in a small saucepan. When it starts to boil, stir in the cream and heat through, being careful not to let the sauce burn. Season it to taste and turn off the heat.

When the gnocchi's cooked, drain it and transfer it to a bowl. Stir in the sauce and the cheese, and serve with some more pecorino on the side.