I never understood the power of gnocchi until I came to Italy. Store bought gnocchi is always relatively good, but it is not the explosion of flavor that the real fresh stuff gives you. Gnocchi was never the top of my list. In fact I much preferred pasta.
This was until one fateful afternoon at a tiny restaurant in the medieval town of Siena, Italy. I was taking a cooking lesson and the head chef flashed me a grin and passed me a bowl of potatoes egg and flour and told me to “get my hands dirty.” I looked at him with surprise. Did he really want me to stick my bare hands into the food that they would be serving at the restaurant within a couple of hours. The answer was yes. I removed my rings and bracelet and plunged my hands into the gooey mess kneading until my dough reached a smooth mass that no longer stuck to my fingers. He then took me through the rolling cutting and shaping progress until I had created hundreds of dumplings that would make up someone’s dinner that night. I later had the opportunity to taste the result of my effort, and this is where my love affair began. The gnocchi were light and pillowy, so different from the thick heavy versions I had eaten as a child in America.
The question was how to replicate this without the help of my favorite Sienese chef. My attempts upon my return to Maine were simply adequate, a hazy memory of the dumplings I had made in Italy. In Bergamo I feel I have finally hit the jackpot again.
The gnocchi I made two nights ago are not the same gnocchi I made in Siena two years ago. It is possible my memory fails me, but I actually think my new version blows the old ones out of the water. My secret: sweet potato. But let me be specific. I do not only use sweet potato but also a little regular potato with a 2:1 ratio, which I think slightly lightens the texture and flavor of the end result. The sweet potato goes particularly well with the contrasting flavor of the gorgonzola, making a heart-warming winter dish.
A trick I have learned is figuring out just the perfect amount of flour. Too little and your gnocchi will be too soft when you place them in boiling water. Too much flour and the gnocchi will become too stiff or dry. The key is to add the flour slowly kneading on a large flat surface until mixed and until the dough no longer sticks to your hands.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
2 large sweet potatoes
1 small regular potato
1/2 cup whole wheat flour (more may be necessary)
1/2 cup white flour
1 egg yolk
Bake potatoes at 450 until cooked through. Let cool slightly and peel. Mash until smooth or grate (I don’t have a grater, so I mash with a fork) and leave out until room temperature
When the potatoes are cool to the touch start to mix in the flour bit by bit. When you reach the point in which the dough no longer sticks to your hands, add the egg and mix with your fingers.
You may need to add a little more flour if your dough becomes too sticky. Flour your surface and break your dough into 8 pieces.
Roll out each piece with the palm of your hand untill it is a long rope the thickness of your thumb. Then take a sharp knife and cut inch long sections. The dumplings can either be left round or you can make a crease with your thumb in order to catch the sauce better.
When your dumplings are ready they can be cooked immediately or frozen for later use. To cook, place them in boiling water and skim off the top when they start to float.
Gorgonzola Sauce (1 serving)
This sauce is typically mad with cream and sometimes onions. I however like a simpler version made only from gorgonzola, a little milk, and ground black pepper corns.
2 oz gorgonzola dolce (soft sweeter gorgonzola cheese)
1tbsp low fat milk
pepper to taste
Melt all ingredients in a pan and add 1 cup gnocchi. Add pepper to taste.
Enjoy your wintery warming dish!