Saturday, March 04, 2017

2000 calories

Egads. What a mess, eh?

The above mishmash looks like nothing much, but it smelled and tasted incredible. This was homemade gnocchi, spicy Italian sausage, parsley, and Alfredo sauce. Very delectable, and there's more where that came from.

I had a frozen lump of mashed potatoes that had been sitting in my freezer for a couple months; last night, I got the idea of making gnocchi, so I put the potatoes out on a table to let them thaw overnight, then the next evening, I combined the potatoes with flour and and egg, kneaded the mass into a dough ball, cut the ball into fourths, rolled and stretched each fourth into a snake, then chopped the snake into segments—segments that ended up being too large, but no matter. Live and learn. I boiled the gnocchi, scooped the pieces out when they began to float, then pan-fried the whole mess in butter and olive oil until the pieces had crunchy patches of brown on them. Everything smelled and tasted incredible at that point, but the deed wasn't done: I next added the cooked and drained Italian sausage, followed by heavy cream and parmesan cheese to form an Alfredo. I threw in some powdered garlic, oregano, and chili flakes, then finally added a giant handful of minced fresh parsley. Heaven.

None of this is healthy, of course, but instead of wolfing down all 4000 calories' worth, I stopped halfway, packaged the remaining half into three mini-meals that I'll savor over the next few days, and voilà—Alfredo gnocchi with sausage. I washed my dishes a couple hours ago, but the lovely aroma of dinner still lingers.

The gnocchi's taste and texture were perfect; it was the size that was the problem. That's an easy fix: I can either cut the snake-segments smaller next time or, if I make the pieces too large again, I can snip the pieces in half after boiling.

Given gnocchi's simplicity, I get the impression that it's a dish that's hard to mess up. You're looking for a consistency that's soft and chewy, offering a bit of bouncy resistance in every bite, but not enough resistance to remind you of a squeaky cheese curd. People use adjectives like "pillowy" and even "fluffy" to describe gnocchi; I can understand "pillowy," but "fluffy" seems a bit far-fetched: gnocchi isn't exactly a light dish, and a bit like German Spätzle, it's best in small doses.


Charles said...

Gnocchi is incredibly easy to screw up. All you have to do is knead it a little too long and it turns into a pasty, gluey mess.

After trying my hand at gnocchi once and failing in such a manner, I elected not to try again. I would be interested in trying your gnocchi at some point, though, and maybe watching you make it beforehand.

It's weird, because I make very good pasta (which is supposed to be harder to make than gnocchi). I also make some killer potato bread. My one experiment with gnocchi was so disastrous that I was turned off from ever trying it again.

Kevin Kim said...

Gonna disagree here, but since I don't know how you prepped your gnocchi, and I haven't gone into too much detail about how I prepped mine, "it would be impossible to discuss the subject without a common frame of reference" (Spock to McCoy, "Star Trek IV").

It could also be that I experienced a bit of beginner's luck, but my takeaway is this:

1. Use an approximate 1 : 1 ratio (unit volume) for potato : flour, i.e., use one potato for every cup of flour.*
2. For every 2 cups of flour, use only 1 egg.
3. Be generous, but not too generous, with the flour that you sprinkle on your work surface and on the gnocchi dough.

This video offers different advice: 1 potato : 1 egg : 1/3 cup flour. But the video also shows that the procedure is pretty straightforward.


*A lot depends on what you think "one potato" translates into in terms of cups. Is one potato equal to one cup of potato? I wouldn't stress about it. Unless you're working with a freakishly large potato, using the "one potato to one cup of flour" ratio seems like the way to go.

Charles said...

You're disagreeing that it is easy to screw up gnocchi? I dunno... a quick search online (Google: "why is my gnocchi..." and let autocomplete take care of the rest) shows that it apparently happens a lot. (What percentage of the time it happens is impossible to know, of course, since people generally don't post questions about successes, but the sheer number of results for failed gnocchi shows that it does indeed happen.) It could be beginner's luck, it could be that you found a good recipe, or perhaps you are just a gnocchi genius.

I honestly don't remember what recipe I used for the gnocchi. However, I was just doing some rooting around and opinions on potato-to-flour ratio vary wildly. I've seen your 1:1 ratio, I've seen less than half that, and I've seen more than that. I have no idea what to think.

One thing I heard about gnocchi is that you shouldn't work it too much. How long did you work your gnocchi dough? It has occurred to me that my experience with pasta may have actually hurt me, because pasta dough requires a lot of working.

My own experience happened so long ago that I don't really remember anything about it, except that the results were disastrous--so disastrous that I was not inclined to ever try again. However, I will eat your gnocchi when I get back... maybe if you let me make a slightly less artery-slaughtering sauce to go with them.

Kevin Kim said...

I suspect that a lot of the gnocchi disasters you see online have to do with either overthinking the initial assembly of the dough or, as you suggested, overworking the dough. If you watched the Food Wishes video I linked to in my previous comment, you saw that Chef John wasn't obsessive about how he assembled the dough. In his case, he simply riced the potato, added scrambled egg, then added a bit of flour to keep the mixture potato-y. In my case, I started off with leftover mashed potatoes; after eyeballing the volume of the potatoes, I guessed I'd need two cups of flour, and I went with one of the more "traditional" recipes (found online; author claimed family tradition) that called for only one egg if you're using two cups of flour. That ratio turned out to be perfect, if the end product was any indication. The only real flaw my gnocchi had was that it was too damn big, but as I noted, that's an easy fix: just snip the pillows in half.

As for stickiness: I did what Chef John did, i.e., I sprinkled flour as I went along. In my case, I wasn't dexterous enough to roll the snakes out evenly; I ended up making fat cylinders of dough that I then pulled and stretched and cajoled into the snake shape, flouring as I went. I did do a little rolling, but only minimally.

Admittedly, all of the above sounds glib and is coming from a gnocchi first-timer, so before I say anything more, I should find out whether the method I'm describing actually does lead to reproducible results. I suspect it will, but actions speak louder than words, so I'll try making gnocchi again soon, and maybe this time, I'll document the process.