Monday, 9 November 2009

The Ultimate Comfort Food: Gnocchi

If it’s comfort food you are after, there are few better options than gnocchi.

These little pillows of deliciousness deliver satisfaction in ways that a mound of pasta could only dream of. They have a dense chewiness and a slightly sticky texture that holds onto whatever sauce they are coated in making each one a ferocious nugget of flavour.

They almost invite you into the bowl like tiny carbohydrate Sirens, their sweet song beckoning you further and further to the bottom of the pile until you inevitably collapse in a misty fug as the last one makes its way down your throat.

Cue belly rubbing, sighs of satisfaction and the inability to move as 90% of your body’s blood rushes to your stomach as it begins fighting its way through the wheat/potato onslaught that has just descended.

The only option is to sit very still, sip the final inch of red wine that was sitting innocently in the bottle – a chianti would suit nicely – and fall into a merry doze on the sofa as mindless brain candy plays its way across your television screen. Happiness descends. Winter isn’t that bad after all.

Potato Gnocchi with tomato, chilli and oregano

Like bread baking, the secret to successful gnocchi is instinctive. Play around with the dough and I guarantee you will just ‘know’ when it’s ready. Not too sticky, not too dense and easy to roll. Make the sauce whilst the gnocchi are resting in the fridge.

Precise measurements rarely work for this type of cooking, it’s better to think in terms of ratios and various flours and potatoes behave very differently. As such there is no recipe here, merely a rough method.

Bake a large potato for an hour or so until the insides are light, steaming and fluffier than Paris Hilton’s bedspread. Scoop out the innards and let it cool in a bowl.

Weigh out how much potato you have and add 20% by weight of plain flour (example, for the dunces, if you have 200g potato, use 40g plain flour). Keep some aside for dusting and rolling.

Add an egg (roughly one egg per two potatoes)) and some salt. Mix well with your hands and knead into a pliable dough. If it’s too sticky just work more flour into it but go easy.

For rolling out the gnocchi, I find the easiest way is to divide the dough in two and roll until it becomes unmanageably long. Divide again and continue rolling, repeating the process until your dough sausage is about as thick as a plumber’s forefinger. Split into half inch sized pieces and place on a floured tray. Cover with a damp towel and refrigerate.

For the sauce, heat a generous sluice of olive oil in a frying pan, add a clove of garlic, gently biffed with the side of a knife (leave it whole so you can fish it out later) and a finely chopped chilli, heat dependent on your preference. Allow the two to flavour the oil then pour in some passata. Season with salt, pepper and oregano and allow to bubble away for 15 minutes.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the gnocchi. Rather helpfully they will rise to the surface when cooked so you can easily fish them out with a slotted spoon straight into the waiting sauce. Stir, serve, eat and sleep.

Oh, and keep those potato skins…(recipe to follow).


Hollow Legs said...

I LOVE gnocchi, but was always under the impression you needed a ricer to make it? I guess not. I know what I'm doing this weekend...

Alicia Foodycat said...

Oh how lovely! One of my favourite, favourite things. And your sauce looks so lovely and deep!

Laura said...

I hate to disagree, but better comfort food than potato gnocchi are squash gnocchi in sage butter. Divine! Great pictures, and great job Alessandro.

Alex said...

I like the idea of baking the potato to keep it dry. My mum always boils the potatoes (skin on) with them only just covered with water - and it's always a massive performance to make sure they don't get wet!

QGIRL said...

Good to see you blogging again!
Gnocchi is something I've only ordered at a restaurant, a treat because I didn't know how to make it. Looks like it is all in the technique.
You make it look so easy.
A great recipe to try on a rainy day.