Gnocchi and other dumplings


I don’t know if you are one of those people who eat healthy except for one “cheat day”, but I am certainly not one of them. Don’t get me wrong, I do take nutrition serious and I actually try to balance my diet most of the time. But being positive and thinking that I still have a few more good years to eat irresponsibly; I like to include a few “cheat days” in my week.

Speaking of irresponsible eating habits, I am going to talk about a sinful dish that everybody would love on the first try – well, as long as it is cooked properly. Ever thought of having a plate of pasta and a potato at the same time? Maybe throw some grated cheese and brown butter on it? I know this sounds a bit shady when I describe it this way, but Italians did find a way to make this taste delicious as well! I am introducing you to pillowy, savory dumpling dish: Gnocchi (pronounced N’YAW-kee)



The dish is originated in Northern Italy where the cold climate is better for growing better quality potatoes. I guess it is safe to say that people tend to eat more carb-loaded food in the colder climates as well. 

I like making my dumplings at home rather than buying them for two reasons: Fresh produce pasta/dumpling products are not available in where I am living in, Turkey. Also sometimes I like to customize the dumpling fillings an Iittle bit. I am originally from Nevsehir, which is the middle part of Turkey where the land is flat, the climate is cold and dry and the growth of potatoes is wild. I was raised eating and cooking potatoes any way you could imagine, but I never had anything like gnocchi until I first met with it. 


Italian Gnocchi versus Turkish Manti

I find that every country has its own way to make dumplings. It is a full dish, it is comfort food and it is delicious everywhere. The pasta dough, fillings, folding methods, and sauces vary from one culture to another but the idea remains the same. In Turkey, we also have a very typical dumpling dish called “Manti”. It is basically a small dumpling filled with ground meat&onion mixture and folded in a specific way. Then it is boiled, served with garlic-yogurt and topped with red peppered butter sauce. It is considered a bit rigorous job in society because the tricky way is to fold each dumpling as small as possible to hold the sauce better. There is even a phrase about it that goes like “fitting 40 pieces of “manti” in one spoon”, meaning the smaller the manti pieces are better the cook is. 


Manti with garlic whipped yogurt and butter& ground red pepper flakes

Different from manti, gnocchis are very much customizable. Firstly, you could add flavors into the dumplings itself. I think a simple pinch of spice or herbs would make a big difference in the overall taste. Some recipes use beetroot, pumpkin, or cauliflowers to substitute potatoes on the recipe for either presentation or health reasons. I would be way too scared to admit this to my previous Italian chefs I worked with, but I like to add some grated parmesan or gruyere cheese in the dough for extra umami taste.

The second way to customize your dumplings is to use different cooking methods. The very typical way to cook gnocchis is to boil and sauté in butter until they are partly golden brown. Other than this, you could simply deep fry to double the calories and yet double the flavor. Deep frying gnocchi pieces result in a donut-like potato fries. You could also bake your gnocchi. Throw them on your favorite sauce, top up with a load of grated cheese and bake until golden brown on top. 



The third way to customize gnocchi is the give it a last touch with the sauce. In all 3 different cooking methods, you could add some extra sauce depending on your appetite. Speaking as someone who served gnocchi in different restaurants, a very much preferred way is to go simple: butter, garlic, fresh herbs(sage, thyme or rosemary), and grated salty cheese. The dumplings are very heavy itself, so it usually doesn’t need any creamy sauce. Depending on your appetite, you can pair the dumplings with any of your favorite sauce. 



Okay, enough of the boring personal stories and memories about the dish. I will move on to the recipe. But firstly, here are a few important steps you should follow to have foolproof gnocchi;


Main Elements of the Dish

Potatoes

Ideally, we want to use big russet potatoes. But if you have any other type of white potatoes, that will also do perfectly. 

Moisture

The main secret of making great gnocchi is to avoid any excess moisture.. into pretty much every ingredient. We don’t want to overcook the potatoes, and we don’t want to peel the skin of them. The skin creates a thin wall between the potatoes and the water and avoids water to infuse into vegetables. We also want to make sure the potatoes are fully cold and dried out before working with them. 

Kneading 

You should know that this is not your typical pasta dough. It will be soft and fragile before shaping. Because of the high starch content coming from the potatoes, it will be very sticky. The more you work with the dough, the stickier it will get. That’s why once we have all the ingredient comes together, we don’t want to play with the dough too much. Simply bring the dough together, gently roll, and portion into small pieces.

Gnocchi

Ingredients:

  • 2 large potatoes*
  • 450 grams all-purpose flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • salt

Instructions:

  • Boil the potatoes until they are soft inside. Don’t peel the skin and start with cold water. Throw some salt inside the water.
  • Drain the water and let the potatoes cool down at room temperature. 
  • After they are cooled down, peel the skin and grate the potatoes.. or you could use a strainer to mash them. 
  • Add one beaten egg yolk, some salt, and all the flour in. Using a whisk, gently beat the mixture until the dough comes together.
  • Use your hands and knead the dough for about 30 seconds. We don’t want to over-knead otherwise the starch and the gluten will come out and you will end up with a very sticky dough.
  • Dredge some flour on the dough and let it set in the fridge for 20 mins. 
  • Take out the dough, cut in 4 equal pieces.
  • With the help of extra flour, roll each piece into thin tubes.
  • Using a knife or a dough cutter, portion the dumplings and place them on a well flour dredged tray. Put some extra flour on top.
  • You could either cook the dumplings immediately or freeze the dumplings in the tray. I like to freeze them overnight and scrape them from the tray to place them in a plastic bag. This might save place in your freezer.
  • Cook and sauce it the way you like and enjoy!

*My potatoes weighted about 830-840 gram after its cooked and cooled.

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