Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Making of Duck Gnocchi: Part IV - The Gnocchi

Now that we we’ve made the foundation (chicken stock), the cornerstone (marinara), and the rock star of Gnocchi con Anitra in Guazzetto (the Duck guazzetto), it’s time to make the final component of this amazing dish.  At last we are making the gnocchi.  While it may not be the star that the duck guazzetto is, or the foundation / cornerstone the stock / marinara are, the gnocchi is the possibly the most indispensable aspect of this entire dish.

Gnocchi, literally means lump, but often referred to as little pillows, is dumpling pasta.  There are a number of different ways gnocchi can be made, but in Italian cooking this usually means potatoes.  Most historians believe that the roots of gnocchi trace back to the Middle East, but Italian cuisine made most of the world know what they are. 

When made properly Gnocchi are light and fluffy and while they should be firm you should be able to bite through them easily without needing to chew them repeatedly.  If they are too hard and chewy then most likely you’ve incorporated too much flour into your dough.  Conversely if your finished Gnocchi disintegrates or is too mushy that often means you have overcooked your potatoes. 
Potato Gnocchi
3 pounds baking potatoes
1 ½  teaspoons salt
2 large eggs, well beaten
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
Cooking the Potatoes

In a pot boil the potatoes until tender when you stick them with a knife being careful not to overcook them to the point their skins split open. Drain the potatoes and set them aside until they are cool enough to handle.  Once they can be handled, peel the potatoes and run them through a potato ricer or vegetable mill.  Spread out the shreds onto a sheet tray and sprinkle with salt.  Then let them cool and dry for at least 20 minutes.

Forming the Dough

Mound up the potato shreds and press down slightly in the middle to form a small indention.  Pour the beaten eggs into the indention along with 2 cups of the flour.  With your hands, gather the potato/egg/flour mixture together and begin to knead the dough.  Add additional flour as necessary to hold the mass together, keeping in mind the more you work the dough the more flour you have to add, making the gnocchi heavier and drier. As Lidia used to tell me, a good measuring stick for telling if your gnocchi dough is ready is to slice it in half and examine the texture.  When the dough is ready it should like cookie dough with small holes throughout.

Forming the Gnocchi
Divide the dough into 4 equal sized portions.  Roll each piece until it’s approximately the diameter of a broomstick and about 20” long.  Cut the broomstick into ¾ inch long pieces, tossing them in flour before shaking off the excess.  Lightly press each Gnocchi, with your thumb on the cut side, onto either the tines of a fork or cheese grater before letting it fall onto a lightly floured baking sheet.  Once completed each gnocchi should have an indention from your thumb on one side and the bumps of the cheese grater or ridges from the fork on the other.  Do this will all of the pieces and you’ll have approximately 150 gnocchi when you’re finished. 

Either cook or freeze immediately.  
Cooking the Gnocchi
On the stove bring a large pot of water to a boil and season liberally with sea salt.  Add the gnocchi four to six at a time and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until they float back to the surface.  Once cooked fish the finished gnocchi out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and transfer immediately to the waiting sauce.

Editor’s Note: The larger the pot of water and the fewer gnocchi you add at a time the quicker the water will return to a boil and the better they will cook. 

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