All about Gnocchi
Oh, pasta! I guess we could refer to it as the "uniter of people," but the dictionary says it is a dish originally from Italy consisting of dough made from durum wheat and water, formed into various shapes and typically cooked in boiling water.
What's not to love about it? So soft, chewy and versatile. It can be served hot or warm with endless combinations of sauces, toppings, textures and colour. And for those with dietary restrictions, you can combine or substitute different flours to get the same heartwarming effect.
This time we'll talk about one of the simplest forms of pasta, gnocchi. Some say they originated in Northern Italy, where the colder climate was better for growing potatoes than grain. Some others say they come from the Middle Eastern and were quickly adopted by the Italians since Roman times. What matters is that thanks to our smart predecessors, we can now enjoy one of the most versatile and satisfying foods of all on a regular basis.
Also described as small, puffy and soft dough dumplings. The dough for gnocchi is traditionally made with potatoes, flour and water. It is then rolled and cut into small pillow pieces before pressing with a fork to create ridges. The gnocchi dough is so adaptable that it can be made from different flours like semolina, cornmeal, milled grains or even bread crumbs, various vegetables including beets, spinach or pumpkin for changing colours, fresh eggs and a wide range of cheeses, one of the most popular ones being fresh ricotta. Some cooks prepare them poached in salted water, baked, fried or a combination of the above. As you can tell, there are endless variations to satisfy the traditionalists and also the adventurous and creative.
A LITTLE BACKGROUND
Gnocchi are usually eaten in the first course, but they can also be served as a side to some main courses. While you may be used to the traditional tomato sauce, the most common way to serve them in Italy is dressed in a light brown butter sauce with fresh sage and nuts.
Certain varieties are considered more "traditional" than others. The potato gnocchi is widely the most popular, but there's also the Roman-style or Gnocchi a la Romana, which is made with semolina, first cooked on the stovetop, then rolled flat, cut into disks, layered into a baking dish and finished in the oven. The Sardinian gnocchi or Malloreddus, also made with durum wheat semolina and a pinch of saffron. The Lombardian Malfatti, which translates as “malformed” since they are made from leftover ravioli filling and roughly shaped into big balls of ricotta, spinach and Parmesan bound together with semolina and egg. Similarly, there's Florence’s Strozzapreti, made from a combination of spinach, ricotta and flour.
In other countries like France, you can fin Gnocchi à la Parisienne, made from the French pastry dough used to make profiteroles and cream puffs. And countries like Croatia and Argentina also have a special place for the puffy dumplings. There's a tradition in Italy of serving gnocchi on Thursday as the special of the day, and in Argentina, every 29th of the month is "Dia de Ñoquis" or Day of Gnocchi. A tradition that started during the recession, when money was tight. The 29th was the day before payday and potatoes and flour was the only thing left to eat at most modest households. The modern celebration also includes putting money below the plate for prosperity.
A GOOD REASON TO EAT GNOCCHI
Just like most recipes, it's all about the ingredients! If you prepare them with the right ingredients, gnocchi can be a good source of nutrients and a great way to get in a daily dose of veggies. Choose whole wheat instead of refined white flour, you can also make a blend of heritage grains and even add some ground nuts or seeds. As long as you substitute similar ingredients and maintain the same proportions, your imagination can go wild! Try incorporating different root vegetables and herbs, and serve them with a healthy choice of sauce. You can serve them with a traditional tomato sauce to get a good boost of Vitamin A, C and Iron, or try a vegan cauliflower alfredo sauce with almond milk and nutritional yeast. Top them with grilled asparagus, Brussel sprouts, arugula and pistachio. Possibilities are endless, you just have to be a little creative when balancing nutrition and flavour! That's right! This way you can eat them all and feel good about it!
Now onto cooking business, we gathered four of the gnocchi recipes in the cookbook for you to play in the kitchen. We recommend trying them all and choosing your favourite, then experimenting with different vegetables, flours, herbs, nuts and sauces to develop your family's signature recipe. One that you can prepare with your kids and that they would proudly pass onto your grandchildren and so on! Challenge is on, let's get to work! Have fun and eat them all!
BABY ARUGULA GNOCCHI
by Shauna Versloot from THE LIVE WELL CO.
2 russet potatoes
2 cups flour
pinch of salt and pepper
1 tbsp 35% cream
1 cup baby arugula, packed
Preheat the oven to 375F. Poke the potatoes four times with a fork and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 1 hour or until tender. Allow to cool enough to handle, peel the skin off the potatoes and shred with a grater.
Sift 3/4 of the flour on a work surface. Place potatoes on top of the flour and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Mix and create a well with the potato and flour mixture. Place egg and cream in the centre of the well. Using a bench scraper or your fingertips, incorporate all ingredients and knead for 2-3 minutes. Add remaining flour and knead until a soft dough forms. Allow to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Divide the dough into four even pieces and roll out into long logs ‘tubes’ (they roll easier once they have rested). Cut the logs in half and roll out again into 1/2 inch thick logs. Cut each log into 1/2 inch pieces. Gently press each piece into a gnocchi paddle and roll to create ridges. Place on a baking sheet until ready to cook. Bring a medium pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add gnocchi in batches and cook for 4-5 minutes until they float to the surface. Strain and serve with your choice of sauce.
CHEF NOTE: You can skip the rolling part on the gnocchi paddle for smooth pieces.
SHEEP’S CHEESE RICOTTA GNOCCHI
by Chad Stewart from FIELD TO TRUCK
2 cups firm Shepherd’s ricotta
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 cup flour
In a medium bowl, gently incorporate ricotta, parmesan, eggs and flour. Flour a work surface and knead the dough for 1-2 minutes until smooth. Do not overwork. Form into a ball and divide into four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a log and cut 1/2 inch thick pieces on a bias. Slide each piece over a gnocchi paddle to create ridges.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi in batches and cook for 10-15 seconds until they float to the surface of the water. Remove with slotted spoon and place on a baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil to prevent from sticking to each other.
CHEF NOTE: This is a great recipe to make in advance. You can pan fry the gnocchi without boiling, store in the refrigerator covered for 3-4 days or freeze in individual portions for future use.
by Luke Gauvin from SMOKESTACKS FOOD TRUCK
2 russet potatoes
1/2 sprig of rosemary, minced
zest of 1 lemon
2 cups flour
Preheat the oven to 350F. Wrap potatoes in aluminum foil and roast for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and peel off the skin. Place potatoes in a bowl and mash with a fork or potato masher. Add rosemary and lemon zest and stir until evenly incorporated.
In a dry work surface, create a well with the flour and add potato mixture and egg in the middle. Start incorporating the flour into the centre of the well and knead until a soft dough forms. Do not overwork. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Flour a work surface and roll the dough into 1/2 inch thick logs “ropes.” Dust with flour and cut into 1/2 inch pieces. Roll the pieces with a fork to create ridges and keep them dusted with flour to prevent from sticking to each other.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi and cook for 3-5 minutes or until they start floating to the surface of the water. Strain and serve with your choice of sauce.
FOIE GRAS GNOCCHI
by Carla Cooper
2 1/3 cups flour
4 potatoes, cooked, mashed
1 whole egg
1/4 cup cured foie gras
1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp salt
Place the flour on a dry work surface and create a well in the centre. Add mashed potatoes, egg, foie gras, parmesan and salt in the middle of the well. Using your fingertips, incorporate the flour with the potato mixture until a soft dough forms. Knead until well combined and smooth. Do not overwork. Roll into a log and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi and cook for 1-2 minutes or until they float to the surface of the water. Strain and serve with your favourite sauce.