Potato gnocchi began as Italian peasant food that required few components, little time and maybe one hand-powered piece of equipment. It has been universally embraced in its boot-shaped native land, north to south, where provincial gastronomic divisions are the norm.
You might not get the opportunity to have close encounters with gnocchi pros, so I’m sharing my journey.
It took one taste of Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s potato gnocchi, situated in a springtime mix of lamb shank ragu, peas, pickled ramps and Garrotxa cheese. The dish won best in show at the 2013 D.C. Lamb Jam. There was at least one other gnocchi dish in the May competition, and it was mighty good.
But Meek-Bradley’s gnocchi were otherwordly: tender, silky and light. Ripple patrons won’t let her take them off the menu, so she changes sauces for a little variety. How did a California girl come to possess such a gift? She learned from New York chef Jonathan Benno, now at Lincoln Ristorante on the Upper West Side. Meek-Bradley worked with him when he was chef de cuisine at the three-Michelin star Per Se.
“We’ve all made the gluey, leaden sinkers,” Benno said. “Potato gnocchi should be light. Sounds like Marjorie’s got the touch.”
When asked to describe them, Meek-Bradley says her gnocchi “eats like a pillow.”
Potatoes, egg yolks, kosher salt and all-purpose flour. She emailed succinct instructions. Two attempts later, my interpretation was nowhere close to what she’d served. Unnerving for my line of work. A 15-minute demonstration in the calm of Ripple’s no lunch-service kitchen cleared things up considerably.
“I thought to myself, ‘Of course it makes sense to show you,’” she said, conjuring a “duh” as we waited for hot potatoes to finish in the oven. “That’s how technique is best explained.”
I felt the potatoes’ temperature and that of the dough at key points. I saw how little Meek-Bradley incorporated elements with a plastic bench scraper. I discovered why she does not use a fork to create the grooves that make gnocchi look like mini mountain bike tires. (“You need a denser dough to do that,” she said.)
Each step surrendered its own lesson, enriched by the chef’s willingness to answer nitpicky questions. Her main takeaways focused on the potatoes: “Use russets,” a baking potato. “Not Yukon Gold. You need more starch than sugar.”
2941 Potato Gnocchi 4 large Idaho potatoes, 12 to 131/2 ounces each, free of dark spots
1 tablespoon sea salt, plus more as needed
2 pinches freshly grated nutmeg
5.3 ounces (a scant 11/4 cups) “00” flour or all-purpose flour, sifted, plus more for dusting (buy at a high-end grocery store or a specialty store)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon melted unsalted butter
1 large egg, beaten
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Create four thick beds of kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet.
Rinse and dry the potatoes, then arrange each potato on its own bed of salt; the salt will prevent the potatoes from burning on the bottom. Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until the potatoes yield slightly to the touch but not so long that the skin separates from the flesh. Discard the roasted salt or reserve for another use.
Place a food mill or potato ricer inside a large mixing bowl. Lightly dust a cutting board and a rimmed baking sheet with flour. (“Lightly” means so that you can barely see the flour, like a coating of dust on a piece of furniture.)
Use a knife to cut each potato in half lengthwise (on the baking sheet) to release steam; this is important to avoid a gummy mixture. After 2 minutes, use a spoon to scoop the warm flesh into a food mill or potato ricer (in batches, as needed). Discard the potato skins. Grind or rice the potatoes over a large bowl so that the potato shreds are fluffy and almost dry to the touch.
Wait for 1 or 2 minutes for the potato flesh to cool a bit more, then add the tablespoon of sea salt, nutmeg and flour; toss gently, being careful not to overmix.
Add the oil, butter and egg. Use your clean hands and a light touch to gently incorporate the ingredients, taking no more than 20 seconds to create a shaggy dough that is soft but not sticky. Transfer to the cutting board.
Use a bench scraper or large knife to divide the dough into four equal sections; cover loosely with a clean dish towel to keep them warm.
Work with one dough portion at a time. Use your fingers and a light touch to roll the dough into a rope that’s about 3/4 inch thick, moving from the center out toward the edges. It should not look smooth. Cut into 1-inch lengths, transferring them to the dusted baking sheet. Repeat to use all the dough. If flour is visible on the surface of the gnocchi, use a dry pastry brush to remove it.
At this point, it’s best to cook the gnocchi right away. But they can be refrigerated for several hours.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt. Gently add the gnocchi, which will sink to the bottom. As soon as a few of them bob to the surface, use a Chinese skimmer or strainer to remove all of them.
Per serving (based on 6): 330 calories, 7 g protein, 62 g carbohydrates, 5 g fat, 2 g saturated fat, 40 mg cholesterol, 1090 mg sodium, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar Gluten-Free Potato Gnocchi For the gluten-free flour mix
400 grams (21/2 cups) millet flour
300 grams (generous 13/4 cups) potato starch
300 grams (generous 13/4 cups) sweet rice flour
For the gnocchi
3 russet potatoes, 12 to 14 ounces each
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 teaspoon minced fresh rosemary
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
For the gluten-free flour mix: Combine the millet flour, potato starch and sweet rice flour in a gallon-size zip-top bag. Seal and shake/massage well to incorporate. Reserve 140 grams (a generous 1 cups, plus more for sprinkling) and store the rest.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prick the potatoes with a fork and place them on a baking sheet. Roast for about an hour or until they are soft, turning them halfway through to avoid scorching.
Cut the hot potatoes in half lengthwise to let the steam escape. After they sit for a few minutes, scoop out the potato flesh, discarding the skins. Transfer the flesh, in batches, to the potato ricer. Process the potatoes, letting the shreds fall into a wide pile on a clean work surface, such as a smooth kitchen countertop or a marble board. Season the potatoes with the salt.
Beat together the egg and egg yolk, then drizzle them over the potatoes. Sprinkle the reserved portion of gluten-free flour mix over the potatoes. Use a bench scraper to blend the mixture, turning the potato mixture over onto itself, chopping in the ingredients and folding them until the dough resembles coarse crumbs. Use your hands to bring the dough together into a ball.
Sprinkle extra gluten-free flour mix onto the countertop, then place the dough on the flour. Lightly press down and fold the dough onto itself several times, until the flour is fully incorporated. Sprinkle more gluten-free flour mix onto the surface and repeat the folding two more times, sprinkling flour as needed, until the dough feels pliable and soft yet not tacky. If the dough feels dry because you have added too much of the flour mix, moisten your hands with water and continue to lightly work the dough.
Dust a baking sheet with gluten-free flour mix.
Roll the dough into a stocky log, then cut the log crosswise into 8 equal pieces. Use your fingers (not palms) to roll each section into a 1/2-inch-thick rope, starting at the center and working out to the edges, pressing together any fissures or breaks as you work. (You might have to knead the portion of dough a bit to coax it into the right shape.) Cut each rope into 1-inch lengths, transferring them to the baking sheet as you go and immediately covering them with a kitchen towel. Repeat to use all of the dough.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt. Use a pastry brush to remove any excess flour from the gnocchi. Working in batches, drop one-third of them into the water and cook, undisturbed, until at least half of them bob to the surface, 2 to 3 minutes.
While the first batch is cooking, combine the oil, thyme and rosemary in a large skillet over low heat. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the just-cooked gnocchi to the skillet. Toss lightly to coat, making sure no gnocchi are sticking. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi, cooking to create a golden exterior and slightly brown crust on some of the sides.
Sprinkle the cheese evenly over the gnocchi in the skillet. Divide among individual plates and serve right away.
Per serving: 340 calories, 12 g fat, 3 g saturated fat, 75 mg cholesterol, 410 mg sodium, 52 g carbohydrates, 4 g dietary fiber, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein. Spring Gnocchi With Rosemary Cream and Peas 4 large cloves garlic
2 cups cold whole or low-fat milk
Canola oil, for frying
12 very thin slices from a 2-inch-long strip of lardo (about 1 ounce total; optional, see headnote)
2 cups heavy cream
2 or 3 stems rosemary
2 tablespoons dry white vermouth
1 batch just-cooked 2941 Potato Gnocchi (see related recipe)
1/2 cup blanched green peas (see NOTE)
Fresh pea shoots or small fresh pea leaves, for garnish
Use a small mandoline to cut the garlic into very thin slices. Place them in a small saucepan, then cover with 1 cup of the milk. Place over medium heat, making sure the garlic stays submerged. Once the milk bubbles at the edges, remove it from the heat and strain the garlic through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding the milk or saving it for another use.
Return the strained garlic slices to the saucepan; cover with the remaining milk. Place over medium heat; once the milk begins to bubble at the edges, strain the garlic slices again, discarding the milk. (This double-blanching step gets rid of the garlic’s pungency.) Use paper towels to dry the garlic slices.
Line a plate with a few layers of paper towels. Heat about 1/2 inch of oil in a medium saucepan to 320 degrees (over medium to medium-high heat).
Add the garlic chips and fry for 10 to 20 seconds, until they are golden and crisped. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the paper-towel-lined plate. Season with a pinch of the salt.
If using the lardo, which is cured fat back, heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the slices and sear for about 10 seconds; the lardo will curl and crisp on the edges. Transfer to a plate.
Combine the cream, rosemary and vermouth in the same large skillet over medium heat. Cook, stirring to avoid scorching, until the mixture has reduced a bit (by about 1/2 cup). Discard the rosemary.
Add the just-cooked gnocchi and blanched peas to the cream, tossing gently to coat and incorporate. Once those ingredients are just heated through, divide among individual wide, shallow bowls. Sprinkle each portion with garlic chips, pea shoots or leaves and a few slices of the seared lardo, if using. Serve warm. Per serving: 620 calories, 35 g fat, 20 g saturated fat, 150 mg cholesterol, 1170 mg sodium, 67 g carbohydrates, 5 g dietary fiber, 4 g sugar, 9 g protein. Potato Gnocchi With Merguez Sausage Tomato Ragu 1/4 cup olive oil
1 pound lamb merguez sausage, casings removed
2 cups diced yellow onion
5 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups canned crushed tomatoes, such as San Marzano, plus their juices (from two 28-ounce cans)
1/2 cup torn fresh basil leaves, plus more for optional garnish
1 cup 1-inch asparagus pieces (woody ends trimmed)
1 batch fresh, uncooked Ripple Potato Gnocchi (see related recipe)
Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook for 8 to 10 minutes or until it loses its raw look, breaking it up with a spoon or spatula.
If desired, pour off some of the rendered fat.
Stir in the onion and garlic; cook for about 7 minutes, until softened, then stir in the tomatoes and their juices. Once the mixture begins to bubble, reduce the heat to medium-low; cook (uncovered) for 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste. If using right away, reduce the heat to the lowest setting to keep warm. Stir in the 1/2 cup of torn basil.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add a generous pinch of salt, then the asparagus and gnocchi. Do not stir; as soon as about half a dozen gnocchi bob to the surface, use a Chinese skimmer to transfer all of the asparagus and gnocchi to a colander.
Immediately divide the asparagus and gnocchi among individual wide, shallow bowls. Top with the ragu and garnish with basil, if desired. Serve warm. Ripple Potato Gnocchi 6 russet potatoes, 12 to 14 ounces each
2 cups flour, preferably King Arthur all-purpose unbleached, plus more for rolling
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for the cooking water
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Arrange the potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet; bake until tender. While the potatoes are quite hot, cut them in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh, placing it in a food mill or potato ricer (in batches if necessary). Discard the potato skins.
Lightly flour a work surface and two rimmed baking sheets.
Grind or rice the potatoes directly onto the work surface. Use your hands to form the potatoes into a loose rectangle, creating a well at the center. Add the egg yolks; sprinkle 1 cup of the flour and all of the salt over the potato rectangle.
Use a bench scraper to cut the flour into the potato; don’t worry too much about incorporating the egg yolks. Sprinkle the remaining cup of flour evenly over the mixture, folding it in with the bench scraper and being careful not to overmix or knead. The dough should just come together, slightly sticky, in the shape of a thick log about 4 inches wide, and should not look completely smooth. Let it sit until it is no longer emitting steam and is barely warm.
Use the bench scraper to divide the dough into six equal sections. The dough should no longer be sticky. Working on a lightly floured surface, roll each portion of dough into a log that’s about 3/4 inch thick, being careful not to press too hard and starting in the middle, then working out to either end of the log. Cut into inch-long sections, transferring them to the baking sheets. Repeat to use all of the dough. Sprinkle the gnocchi lightly with flour.
At this point, the gnocchi can be cooled completely and refrigerated (uncovered) for several hours, or held just long enough to be cooked for the chef’s merguez tomato ragu (see related recipe).
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the gnocchi, first brushing off any excess flour. Cook just until about a half-dozen of them come to the surface, then use a Chinese skimmer or strainer to remove and drain all of them.
Per serving: 460 calories, 11 g protein, 96 g carbohydrates, 3 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 105 mg cholesterol, 340 mg sodium, 6 g dietary fiber, 5 g sugarYield: 4 to 6 servings Source: Bertrand Chemel, executive chef at 2941 Restaurant in Falls Church, Va. Yield: 6 servings 4 to 6 servings NOTE: To blanch peas, bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the peas and cook for a minute or two, just until bright green. Use a strainer or Chinese skimmer to transfer to the saucepan. Yield: Makes 6 3/4 cups sauce (6 servings) Yield: 6 servings