Top | Vegetarian Main Dishes
Gnocchi for a Crowd
(recipe, Caroline Cummins)
Mark Bittman, in How to Cook Everything (Completely Revised 10th Anniversary Edition), says that once you get the hang of gnocchi, you'll "get to the point where it's easy enough to make a batch for lunch." Maybe, if you have all morning to make it. Because, no matter how good you get at them, gnocchi are time-consuming and labor-intensive. So you might as well devote an afternoon to the project and invite a bunch of pals over to help you eat the results.
- 3 lb. potatoes, washed, dried, peeled, and chopped into large chunks (see Note)
- ½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
- ½ tsp. freshly grated black pepper
- ½ tsp. kosher salt
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
- Pesto Sauce, Italian Parsley Pesto, Arugula Pesto, or other sauce as desired, thinned with gnocchi cooking water if needed
- Freshly grated Parmesan, for garnish (optional)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Dump the potato chunks into the water and cook until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes; drain. Fill the pot anew with salted water and set it aside.
- Gnocchi classicists insist on working with the freshly cooked potatoes while they're still warm, but you know what? This is downright painful. Let the potatoes cool, then mash them up in a large bowl with a potato masher or potato ricer. Add the nutmeg, pepper, and salt as you mash.
- Because too much flour and overkneading are the twin downfalls of gnocchi, turning tender little dumplings into leaden lumps, go slow and easy on the flour and the kneading. Start sprinkling the flour over the potatoes, a handful or so at a time, mixing it in lightly with your fingers. You want the potato-flour mixture to just cling together.
- Bring the pot of salted water to a low boil.
- Grab a handful of dough and quickly roll it into a ball. On a large, lightly floured board, roll the ball out with your hands into a rope about 1 inch thick. Slice the rope crosswise into 1-inch-long pieces. If you're feeling fancy, press the tines of a fork gently across each piece; the indentations help the gnocchi pick up sauce. But if you're not feeling fancy, or you're just in a hurry to eat, sliced chunks of dough are perfectly fine.
- Put the pieces into the boiling water, dropping the squares in separately so they don't stick to one another. This is your test batch, to see if the gnocchi turn out tender. If they hold together while cooking, great; they should float in a few minutes, and after another 30 seconds or so, you can scoop them out with a skimmer and eat 'em to see if they're appropriately tasty.
- If they don't hold together, add a bit more flour to the remaining potato dough and try again. If they glop together, you've added too much flour, and you're better off tossing the dough (sad, but true) and cooking up some pasta instead.
- Once your dough holds together just well enough, continue rolling out ropes of dough and slicing them into squares. You can cook about 2 ropes' worth of gnocchi at a time. Serve them as they cook, or scoop them out with the skimmer and place them on a serving platter.
- When all the gnocchi have cooked, divide them up on plates and drizzle sauce over them. Pass extra Parmesan at the table.
You can use any kind of potato for gnocchi, really, although some folks think that baking potatoes are too starchy, while others think that new potatoes are too moist. If you're using new potatoes, you can even skip the peeling step, although a gnocchi dough with bits of potato skin in it is trickier to work with.
If you want to freeze this big batch of gnocchi instead of feeding it to friends, scoop the gnocchi from the hot water directly onto baking sheets lined with waxed paper and sprinkled with flour. Make sure the gnocchi aren't touching each other and aren't drooling water everywhere, then freeze the sheets. Once frozen, pop the gnocchi off the waxed paper into freezer bags. Defrost before reheating.
In the fall, feel free to replace the potatoes with pumpkin or squash, serving the results with a sage-butter sauce.