Every culture has its own version of dumplings. The English have lovely glutinous globs of flour and butter, in China they wrap up pork in dumpling dough and steam them, and in Italy they make them out of potato and call them Gnocchi.
My sister asked me specially to have a go at gnocchi, because she's had some really good ones, and some really bad ones. Generally speaking, the bad ones have come from the supermarket in sealed plastic bags, and the good ones have been homemade or catered.
My own experiences of gnocchi have been, unfortunately, a combination: Mass produced gnocchi supplied as part of a catered meal, and I've never been impressed. So this time I did some research.
Eventually I settled on this recipe (scroll down a little to reach the recipe), give or take a few tricks and techniques and ingredients I noticed along the way. The key thing I found, and what I think distinguishes the rubbery shop bought stuff from the elusive light and delicious homemade type, is the handling. It's very important not to overwork the dough, as the air you create by grating the potato is what gives the gnocchi their lightness. I assume that commercial attempts at this are all done by soulless machines that crush the life out of the potato long before it ever gets as far as your mouth, thus the disparity of experiences as reported above.
I set out to remedy this cosmic injustice.
I just wish someone had told me how long it was going to take to do so.
Making good gnocchi took a long time. For the most part, I put this down to my not having a clue what I was doing, and I'd say that I could easily trim up the time and effort required with a bit of practice and the application of some cooking nouse, now that I've done it once.
But seriously, this is a dish for a rainy Sunday afternoon. Delicious, but labour intensive. My verdict: eating-wise, these were really well worth the time, but if I'd had anything else that had needed doing, it would have just become plain old hash browns.
Fresh Potato Gnocchi with Tuna Sauce (Serves 3)
500g New Potatoes
75g Strong (Hi-Grade) Flour
25g Fresh Grated Parmesan
1 Small Egg, Beaten
Freshly Ground Pepper, Salt and Nutmeg, season to taste
Method (Direct from the Otago Daily Times, Wed 20th August 2008)Wash and boil the potatoes with the skins on until just cooked.
Drain and peel with a paring knife while still hot. (If the potatoes are not hot when peeled they can become gluey when mashed.) Mash or pass potatoes through a mouli, make a well in the centre and season.
It is important not to overwork the mixture.
For a clean cut, sprinkle a little flour over the dough before cutting.
Gently place gnocchi onto a tray and blanch in a large pot of salted boiling water.
The gnocchi will sink but rise to the surface when almost cooked.
Cook for one more minute and remove with a slotted spoon.
Chill in iced water, drain and toss in olive oil to prevent them sticking together.
Avoid stirring the gnocchi in the pan as you can damage the crust.
The Tuna Sauce, in comparison, is really really quick:
Tuna Sauce (Serves 3)
1 Onion, Chopped fine
1 Large Fresh Tomato, Chopped
2T Worcester Sauce
Freshly Ground Salt And Pepper
1/8 Cup of Tomato Paste
100g Tin of Sandwich Tuna
2T Sour Cream
Fry the onion and tomato in a small pan with the Worcester and seasonings. When the onion has softened, add the tomato paste and sugar, then the tuna.
Mix well, bring to a steady heat and then simmer until heated through. Shortly before serving, stir Sour Cream through, then remove from the heat.
Dish up on a plate with the hot gnocchi.
Serve with salad, and more sour cream. And after all that work, you better make sure that everyone who's sharing these with you really enjoys them.