I’m not sure if it’s just me or if this is a normal thing, but cooking always, always leads to injury. That bruise on my arm? It’s from making meatballs. The cut on my forehead? Somehow from chopping peppers. The sore neck? Pretty sure that happened when I was making pasta. And don’t even ask about the black eye.
Well tonight was a different story. I didn’t get a bruise, nor a cut, nor a sore muscle. But what I did get is third degree burns. Okay, so I’m not a doctor and they may only be first degree, or not even a degree but I can tell you factually that it was super painful. How did this happen, you ask? It might have been an accident or I might have repeatedly picked up and grasped onto multiple burning hot potatoes, even beyond the point of noticing smoldering blisters surfacing on my hands. They say it takes dedication and love to make a good meal and I wasn’t about to give up on that just because I felt like dying. So on I went.
The burning potatoes were the first step in my attempt to make homemade gnocchi. As many of you know, my family and I went to Italy a few months ago and took a cooking class in the kitchen of a nice middle-aged Italian man who really knew what he was doing. One of the courses we made with him was gnocchi. It was one of the most fun things to make and of course the end product was unlike anything I’d had before at home. Here we are in Florence rolling and cutting like nobody’s business.
So when I came across this recipe, I knew I had to try it.
What I didn’t realize was that the process would be a lot more frustrating without a professional Italian chef next to me. But I managed anyway and the results were, well, you’ll see.
I started off by baking three large russet potatoes on a mound of salt which is supposed to draw out their moisture.
After 45 minutes in the oven, I took them out and let them cool just long enough to not be dangerous to handle. As we have already established, I did not give this step enough attention. I would recommend waiting at least five minutes longer than I did. Or five minutes at all.
After cutting the potatoes in half length-wise and peeling them, I needed to get them all squishy. A traditional gnocchi recipe will call for a potato ricer but since I’m a college student and don’t have the funds to go to Williams-Sonoma and spend $50 on a fancy kitchen apparatus (or even $5 at Target, for that matter), I used a grater instead. This is when the burning ensued.
The next step is to spread the potatoes out on a lightly floured surface and drizzle on them one beaten egg mixed with a pinch of salt and then sprinkle about a cup of flour on top of that. Now is the fun part. That is if you define “fun” as getting eggy dough stuck in between all your fingers and basically embedded into the palms of your hands, never to be cleaned off sufficiently. It’s a blast.
Knead the dough with your sticky fingers until it’s smooth. Or, if you’re a novice gnocchi maker like me, it will be a moist blob. At that point you can add more flour until you get the right consistency or you can just half give up and say “whatever happens happens” (or a more vulgar expression of your choice).
Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel for ten minutes and then divide it into six sections. Lightly flour your working surface and roll each section into a snake about 1/2 inch thick. Cut pieces about one inch long and then slowly roll each piece on an upside down fork to give it the oh-so-desirable ridges that real gnocchi has. Dust lightly with flour.
Luckily, my roommate did most of this part for me so that if they came out messed up, I could blame everything on her. I would definitely recommend this technique.
To make the sauce, take six tbsp of butter and melt it over high heat until it turns brown, smells nutty, and you see little brown specks in there. The recipe says to make sure it doesn’t burn, but I don’t know what they’re talking about because essentially you are burning it. Whatever.
Now you can plop the little boogers (please, only the gnocchi…) into a large pot of salted boiling water. Warning: if you did something stupid earlier such as grabbing potatoes straight outta the oven and have injured hands, the extra splashes of boiling water from putting the gnocchi in the pot may not feel fabulous. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
After five to ten minutes, they will start floating to the top. Let them float for about 30 seconds before taking them out with a slotted or spider spoon and putting them into the pan with the “not-burnt” butter on medium heat. After all the gnocchi is coated in butter, stir in a tbsp of red pepper flakes and four or five sage leaves, sliced thinly. Remove from heat, top with coarsely grated parmesan cheese, and serve.
Now for the verdict. I have to say, for the hours of preparation this took me, the hot potato pain I endured, and the expectations I had after making and eating authentic Italian gnocchi, I was a bit disappointed. They weren’t bad but it’s not something I would want to eat night after night.
Apparently there’s a learning curve in perfecting gnocchi. And as with most recipes, there are all sorts of tips and tricks out there on how to get it just right, but I don’t like to follow advice so I didn’t listen to any of them. Maybe next time with a few tweaks I’ll get it just right. Or at the very least, not diminish my chances of ever using my fingers again.