Potato Gnocchi with Cherry Tomato Sauce
Gnocchi is a generic Italian word that roughly translates as dumplings in English. It includes a variety of different recipes and ingredients, often typical of one specific region.
The concept of gnocchi exists since the time of the Romans; a recipe still in use in our days – “gnocchi alla romana” – is testimony thereof. It was made with semolina flour however, as potatoes became available on the European continent only after they were imported from the American continent in the 1500s.
Today we are preparing potato gnocchi: they are much easier to make than what it looks like at first sight. They are an utterly delicious comfort food.
Potato gnocchi are a typical dish in Rome, and they are traditionally served on Thursdays. The reason: they are very filling and nutritious, and people need to prepare for Fridays, when Roman Catholics (used to) only eat fish and vegetables. Fridays are called “giorni di magro”, literally translated as “lean days”.
Thus, we have once more a perfect example of the Italian peasant food: simple, economic and nutritious. The good thing is that Gnocchi are vegetarian and possibly vegan (if you omit the egg in the dough and if you don’t sprinkle them with parmigiano cheese). Also, this is a great dish for persons suffering from celiac disease, potatoes being gluten free. Moreover, potatoes are a good source of vitamin C and B, potassium and antioxidants.
But the most striking characteristic is that potatoes contain resistant starch – a kind of starch that is not broken down and absorbed until it reaches the large intestine, where it feeds the beneficial gut bacteria. In this process it is transformed in butyrate, a component linked to colon cancer prevention. Resistant starch also helps keeping blood sugar under control. Potatoes are high in carbs, but not as much as rice or pasta.
Today we pair the gnocchi with a cherry tomatoes sauce made from scratch, that will add more nutritional value to the dish.
For the Gnocchi:
Approximately 450 grams (16 oz) baking potatoes or red skin potatoes = approximately 400 grams / 14 oz. cooked and peeled
100 gr / 3.5 all-purpose flour (1/4 of the weight of the riced potato)
1 beaten egg
A couple of tablespoons of Semolina flour for sprinkling
For the Sauce:
1 pound cherry tomatoes (or half cherry tomatoes and half homemade marinara sauce)
3-4 tablespoons Italian Extra Virgin Olive Oil
2-3 cloves of garlic
Salt & pepper, crashed hot red pepper if you like spicy food
1/2 cup grated authentic Parmigiano Reggiano + some shaved for decoration
1. Wash and pat dry cherry tomatoes, peel garlic, wash and dry basil
2. Cut cherry tomatoes in 2 or 3 slices, put them in a bowl
3. Add salt to your taste, abundant EV Olive Oil, pepper (or crashed hot pepper), several basil leaves roughly cut. Keep one basil sprig for decoration
4. Mix and let marinate for half an hour, covered with plastic film
5. Heat up a non-stick pan, then add enough cherry tomatoes (and their oil) to cover the bottom = 1 layer only!! Let it cook on high until tomatoes start to caramelize. Sauté, let it sizzle on the other side for a couple more minutes, then remove tomatoes with a slotted spoon and put it in a bowl. Leave extra oil and juices in the pan for next batch.
6. Repeat last step until all cherry tomatoes are cooked. Set aside.
1. Wash the potatoes well, do not peel, put them in a large pot and cover with cold water.
2. Put the pot on the stove and bring to a gentle boil; let it cook until when a toothpick can be inserted easily, between 45 and 60 minutes (from when you put the pot on the stove) depending on the size of the potatoes. Turn off.
3. Remove one potato from the water. With the help of a slotted spoon, peel it and put it in a bowl. Careful, it will be very hot! Cover loosely with aluminum foil or with a lid. We need the potatoes to be warm in order to rice them easily. Repeat until all potatoes are peeled.
4. Get another bowl; open the potato ricer, add 2-3 tablespoons of potato flesh at the time, press; repeat until finished. Weigh the potato flesh, then measure ¼ of that weight in flour.
5. Add 1 teaspoon of salt to the riced potatoes, 2-3 tablespoons of a beaten egg (whatever it stays in the spoon, even if not full spoons it is ok). Incorporate folding with a silicon spatula.
6. Start sprinkling one tablespoon flour at the time and incorporate in the potato mixture. Repeat until when you feel the mix is too hard to handle with the spatula. At this point sprinkle some flour on the wooden cutting board, put all the potato mixture, and continue mixing/folding with your fingertips, gently.
7. Keep adding flour, folding gently. It is NOT like mixing bread dough; you must incorporate the flour lightly without overmixing!
8. When you reach almost the end of the flour, make a log with the dough and roll it in flour so that it doesn’t stick to the wood.
9. Clean the surface of the cutting board with a scraper.
10. Dust the cutting board with semolina; cut a little piece of dough and work with your fingers until you get a “snake” approx. ½” diameter. Cut small cylinders with a knife, transfer to the baking sheet sprinkled with semolina. Careful, gnocchi are very sticky, don’t be stingy with the semolina! Make sure the gnocchi don’t touch each other, or they will stick.
11. Optional: roll the Gnocchi on a gnocchi board (or on the reverse side of a fork) to create a pattern, that will help holding the sauce.
12. Repeat until when you finish the potato dough, using more baking sheets as necessary.
13. Add salt to the boiling water.
14. Heat up a few tablespoons of the sauce in a wok or nonstick pan.
15. Now cook the gnocchi in batches: pick gently some gnocchi with your fingertips and plunge them in the boiling water, a couple at the time, being careful as they might splash; you can continue until the bottom of the pot seems covered with gnocchi. Do not overcrowd.
16. With a sieve or a slotted spoon, remove the ones that start floating, put them in the cooking sauce, add one tablespoon of EVOO and let them absorb the sauce foe a minute or two. Just make one layer of gnocchi at the time. Never stir with a spoon, they could break up or become mushy; add a tablespoon of Parmigiano, sauté to mix well. Transfer to oven-proof platter. Continue until you finish, layering the gnocchi each time.
17. When finished cooking all the gnocchi, add the remaining sauce on top, sprinkle with the shaved Parmigiano; for an extra fancy dish, add a little Burrata on top, put the Basil sprig in the middle.
18. Serve right away, or if you need a few moments to recap you can keep (without the fresh basil sprig) in a warm oven until you are ready to eat.
A Few Notes:
- You need a potato ricer to make gnocchi, there is no other option. You cannot use the Mixer nor the Mashing tool, potatoes will become mushy, or they will stay too grainy.
- Do not attempt to boil peeled potatoes: they will get too wet and will absorb way too much flour, that will result in cannonballs instead of gnocchi.
- I personally prefer Russet Potatoes because they have a high starch content that helps holding the gnocchi together.
- Gnocchi should “melt in your mouth”: if you add too much flour, they will become too heavy.
- You can roast the whole potatoes in the oven instead of boiling them: you will lose more flesh when peeling, but it will be more dry, thus you will need less flour.
Elisabetta Ciardullo is the founder of Think Italian! Events. As Personal Chef she is an ambassador of the Italian cuisine and culture, bringing it into the private homes of Americans, as well as to many corporate clients in Los Angeles.