It had been a while since I last made gnocchi, and as I geared up to write this post, I asked myself, why on earth had I picked this for my next topic?! Part of me had no patience for the hour it takes to bake the potatoes and the whole process of making the dough and tediously shaping it into individual gnocchi. Then there was the underlying fear that all the hard work could result in heavy, dense dumplings instead of tender, light little pillows.
But once I stopped dragging my feet and actually got started, I asked myself a different question: why did I ever stop making them? At each of step of gnocchi-making, I remembered what makes the whole process so appealing and worthwhile.
First, the ingredients couldn't get more basic: potatoes, eggs, flour. There's a good chance you have them all in your fridge right now. You don't even have to use eggs, but this will ensure tender gnocchi that hold together better.
Secondly, it doesn't have to take as long as the cookbooks say. To make the process more enjoyable: preheat the oven as soon as you get home and throw the potatoes in to start baking. You can spend the next hour taking off your coat, pouring yourself a drink and leisurely setting up for the next steps without feeling the least bit rushed.
Making gnocchi is like slowing down time. And if you're in a time crunch, some preparations can be done in advance.
With just a little practice, it's really not that hard. If you ever enjoyed playing with Play-Doh, forming the gnocchi is the same kind of fun. In order to get light, pillowy gnocchi, it's important not to overwork the dough. That's a good thing, because once you get the rhythm of the whole process, you'll be surprised how quickly it moves along.
Finally, all the time you invest in preparing the pasta you can make up in the sauce. Gnocchi pair well with very simple, quick sauces, such as the ones below.
Sage brown-butter sauce: Get the recipe here. It's pretty straightforward though: brown some butter in a sauté pan, adding fresh sage once the butter is melted and bubbling. Toss in the gnocchi and allow them to brown lightly in some spots. Season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Top with grated parmesan.
Fresh tomato, garlic and basil sauce: Actually, in the winter, I use boxed crushed or canned tomatoes. Heat some olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat, add chopped garlic, and cook until fragrant. Then add boxed, canned, or fresh tomatoes, seeded and chopped, to the pan and bring to a simmer. Season with salt and stir in fresh basil. Cook just until basil is wilted, then toss with cooked gnocchi.
Baked gnocchi 'n' cheese: Place cooked gnocchi in a buttered casserole dish, dot with butter, and sprinkle shredded parmesan and/or fontina on top. Pass under the broiler until cheese is melted.