When I see gnocchi fatta in casa (home made) on a menu in Italy, it’s almost certain that I’m going to order it. Although they do freeze well, I think potato gnocchi taste best the day they are made. At many of the trattorie around Rome, Thursday’s are the day for potato gnocchi made in house , also known as Gnocchi Giovedi (Thursday). For gnocchi lovers in Rome this can be a weekly festa.
Today, being Thursday, I’m throwing my own little Gnocchi Giovedi party and have made a batch of gnocchi. 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 are petite potato pillows that hug, in between each ridge, a little bit of sauce.
Gnocchi go well with many other 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, I’ve seen them served with clams in a light sauce from the clam juice. They also go well with a simple brown butter and sage sauce or a heavier creamy cheese sauce.
Although any day can be a gnocchi day, I’m celebrating Gnocchi Giovedi today with a plate of gnocchi and my mom’s meat ragu.
(Makes about 2 pounds of gnocchi)
28 ounces (3-4) russet potatoes
About 1 1/3 cups flour, plus more for rolling out the gnocchi
1 Tablespoon kosher salt
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 (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!
NOTE: Traditionally the potatoes for gnocchi are boiled in water, some leave the skin on (to prevent water from getting inside), some don’t. I’ve made them all three ways and have found that their texture is the lightest when the potatoes are roasted.
Mamma’s Meat Ragu
(makes about 1 quart)
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
1 can (15 oz/170 g) diced tomatoes
1 small can (6 oz/415 g) tomato paste
2 tablespoons dried Italian seasoning (oregano, parsley, basil)
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
1/2 cup (105 ml) red wine
1 large can (28oz/794g) crushed tomatoes
About 3 cups (625 ml) chicken stock
1 tablespoon salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Brown the ground beef in a heavy-bottom saucepot. Remove and drain off any excess water; 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 to toast. 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 pasta.
What sauce do you prefer with your gnocchi? When in Rome, where do you go for Gnocchi Giovedi?