Weekday Vegetarian: Classic Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

Weekday Vegetarian: Classic Gnocchi with Tomato SaucePhoto: Kelly Rossiter/CC BY 2.0

I had a good friend named Sue, who was born in Italy and arrived in Canada with her family as a very small child. Even after 50 years of living in Canada her mother made pasta every day. She also made gnocchi quite often. She would come to Sue's and spend the whole afternoon making a huge batch of it, then freeze most of it for later use. I learned a lot about cooking and Italian cooking specifically from Sue and I remember how excited I was when she called me and said her mother was making gnocchi if I wanted to learn how. Did I!

Mrs. Spizziri didn't speak any English beyond hello, but she smiled indulgently at me as I showed a huge amount of interest in her gnocchi making. Her gnocchi came out just as they should be, like little pillows. She also made the best tomato sauce of anyone I've ever met and the two combined made for a simple, delightful meal. Fortified by her example, I went home and created my own, which were more like a posturepedic mattress than a pillow. I've made pumpkin gnocchi, which was quite good, but not the same as the classic stuff

But last week, my local paper, The Toronto Star had an article about gnocchi, where the food editor admitted that gnocchi intimidates here. She gave this recipe a try, as did I and it turned out excellent gnocchi. The recipe was originally given by weight, but I don't have a kitchen scale (my birthday is coming up!) so I just figured it out. Of course, I didn't read the recipe until just before I was going to start cooking, so I didn't realize you were supposed to leave the potatoes overnight. Luckily I live in Canada and have a enclosed porch, so outside they went, and within an hour were as cold as they would have been refrigerated overnight.

I cut myself on a cat food can lid just before I was going to knead the dough, so my daughter Emma stepped into the fray for me and did an excellent job, although she complained mightily that I hadn't mashed the potatoes carefully enough. There certainly were hunks of potato in the dough which Emma thought would break them apart in the cooking, but ultimately it didn't seem to make any difference. My husband was looking forward to a decadent 4 cheese sauce, but we opted for the healthier tomato sauce.

Classic Gnocchi

18 oz. about 4 baking potatoes, peeled, cut into 6 equal pieces
1 large egg yolk
1/4 - 1/2 tsp table or fine sea salt
8 oz. all-purpose flour + more for sprinkling
Freshly grated parmesan cheese
2 cups tomato sauce

1. In large pot of salted, boiling water over high heat, cook potatoes until al dente, just fork tender but not mushy. Drain well. Mash well with potato masher. Transfer to sealed container; refrigerate until cold, preferably overnight. (If in a hurry, spread on baking sheet and refrigerate, stirring occasionally, until cold, at least 1 hour.)

2. Place potatoes in mound on counter. Top with egg yolk. Sprinkle with salt. Mix well by hand. Add 8 oz. flour. Knead until smooth dough is formed and flour is fully incorporated, about 5 minutes.

3. Pat dough into fat round. Cut into 5 equal portions, weighing if needed. By hand, roll each portion into long, thin strip, about 12 inches long and 1 inch wide. Sprinkle with flour as needed to prevent sticking. With sharp knife, cut each strip into 1-inch gnocchi. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheet. Generously toss with flour to prevent sticking.

4. Cook gnocchi immediately, refrigerate overnight, or freeze (defrost in fridge before cooking). To cook, put gnocchi in fine-mesh sieve to tap out and discard excess flour. Bring large, tall, pot of lightly salted water to boil over high heat. Cook gnocchi, preferably in two batches so they don’t clump together. When they float to top (usually in 1 to 2 minutes), remove immediately with slotted spoon or wire strainer.

5 To serve, transfer gnocchi to bowl and toss with oil or butter and parmesan. Alternately, if using tomato or cheese sauce, warm 1 cup (250 mL) sauce in large skillet over medium high until bubbling and slightly thickened. Add half gnocchi. Cook, stirring or tossing, until well coated. Using spoon, pile gnocchi on plate or in shallow bowl to create a “mountain.” Drizzle with any remaining sauce from skillet. Repeat with remaining sauce and gnocchi.

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Weekday Vegetarian: Classic Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce
Making gnocchi can be daunting, but this recipe turned out delicious results

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