Kitchen Witch - Potato gnocchi

Summer insanity

Just the idea of a baked potato in the middle of summer makes me sweat. There are so many greener, leafier dinner choices at this time of year that keep the oven in its proper "off" position. What would possess someone to turn the house into a sauna just for a couple of baked spuds?

Blame it on gnocchi. It'll make you do crazy things.

First, let's get the pronunciation lesson out of the way: Say NYO-KEE. There you go. It's an Eyetalian dumpling, y'all, and here's the deal: You bake the spuds and then scoop out the insides. Then, with a hand-cranked food mill, you gently puree the tater flesh, which gives it a silky-smooth texture, a key component to feathery gnocchi.

First-timers, this cook included, make the mistake of using too much flour and handling the dough like bread. Unfortunately, there's no way to know the error of your gnocchi fondling until it's dinner time, and baby, if it's overworked, there's no way to run and hide. Pencil erasers come to mind.

Instead, think of the process as one big whisper, or if you prefer a dance analogy, something Martha Graham, with gentle gliding motions and swaying of arms. It's a dance, and it's quick, but it must be gentle to yield desired delicate results.

Summer gnocchi begs for basil pesto, which is a traditional accompaniment in Liguria, but a light marinara sauce of vine-ripened tomatoes that are slightly warmed would be a respectable stand-in.

Warning: This is not a weeknight dish – unless you're really crazy.

Potato gnocchi

Adapted from the blog In Praise of Sardines

2-3 medium baking potatoes, such as russet or Idaho, that are higher in starch and lower in water content

1 teaspoon salt

Pinch of grated nutmeg (optional)

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 large egg, beaten

Black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Wash potatoes, and with a fork, prick all over exterior.

Bake potatoes until fork-tender, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Place potatoes on counter and with a knife, slice in half, lengthwise, to allow steam to escape. When cool enough to handle, scoop out potato flesh with a spoon and place into a bowl. Pass potatoes through a food mill or ricer, until you have 2 cups worth of puree.

Place potato puree onto a baking sheet and allow to completely cool. When cool, place potato puree into a mixing bowl and add salt, nutmeg (if using), flour and beaten egg. Mix very gently, using a fork or light use of your hands. Mix just until combined and turn dough out onto a floured work surface.

Cut dough into 4 sections, working with 1 at a time. Cover the remaining three pieces with a dish towel.

Roll the dough into a cigar shape, about 6-8 inches long. Cut into 6-8 pieces and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough the same way. Meanwhile, bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil.

When water just begins to boil, add salt and add 8 gnocchi at a time, cooking somewhere between an active simmer and a boil. In about 2 minutes, gnocchi will rise to the top. With a slotted spoon, remove gnocchi and place into a covered bowl.

Add sauce of choice and gently stir; serve immediately. Serves about 3 people.

Culinary questions? Contact Kim O'Donnel at kim.odonnel@creativeloafing.com.

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