While working at Fundación Alicia in Spain, one of our last duties as an intern was to make a dish that is typical of where we live — that was an intimidating task considering that two of the staff were elBulli chefs. My Italian roommate and fellow intern, Michela, wanted to do a trial run of her dish, gnocchi, at the apartment. Again, we cooked side-by-side, as I made the gluten-free version of her gnocchi.
She explained that gnocchi is a very basic ratio: 1 kilogram of potatoes to 100 grams of flour to 1 egg with a generous pinch of salt. While working at a restaurant in Bologna, she made 10 kilogram batches of gnocchi on a regular basis. (That is 22 pounds: a lot of gnocchi.) The secret to perfect gnocchi, she confided, was that half the potatoes should be starchy (russets/Idaho) and the other half waxy (red). The flour has very little impact in this recipe, and I figured that potato flour made the most sense to use since it's naturally gluten-free. It makes so much sense that I wonder why all potato gnocchi is not made with potato starch.
For her presentation, Michela made sauces in colors of the Italian flag for the gnocchi — red tomato sauce, white gorgonzola sauce, and green pesto. This presentation does make a statement for a special occasion, but I wanted to simplify the sauces to just one. Tomato sauce is so easy to make, delicious, and still makes for a special dinner. Once you try this recipe, you will never go back to jarred pasta sauce. Though gnocchi do require significant work, it is a great way to show your love for someone through good food.
For the tomato sauce:
- 3 cloves garlic, minced fine
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- One 28-ounce can diced tomatoes
- ½ teaspoon salt, to taste
- Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
- Dried chile flakes, to taste (optional)
- 10 fresh basil leaves, cut chiffonade (very thin strips), save some for garnish
- Grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, for garnish
For the gnocchi:
- 500 grams (about 1 pound) russet or Idaho potatoes, peeled and cut medium dice
- 500 grams (about 1 pound) red potatoes
- 1 large egg, room temperature, lightly beaten
- 100 grams (about 1 cup) potato starch, plus more for dusting
For the tomato sauce:
In a wide pan, with low walls, sauté the garlic and olive oil over low-medium heat until aromatic. Add in the canned tomatoes. Bring up temperature to medium. Add in salt, pepper, and chile flakes. Stir occasionally. Once the tomatoes start simmering, use a potato masher to break down the tomatoes into a smooth yet hardy texture. Allow to cook, simmering and stirring occasionally, thickening for about 20-30 minutes. Add in most of the basil, reserving some for garnish. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Meanwhile, prepare the gnocchi.
For the gnocchi:
Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water. Cook over high heat until fork tender, about 10-15 minutes. Drain through colander and immediately run potatoes through food mill or ricer (in batches, as needed) onto a large jelly roll pan. Make sure that the potatoes are evenly distributed in order to cool off efficiently. (This prevents heavy gnocchi.) Allow the potatoes to cool to room temperature.
Then place the potatoes onto a clean working surface. Make a small well and add the beaten egg with a small amount of the potato starch. Start worked with your clean hands and knead the dough until evenly distributed. Add more potato starch gradually, while kneading, until dough is still wet, but not sticky. Form the dough into a large, smooth ball. (At this time, dust the jelly roll pan for a place to store the cut and dusted gnocchi.)
Using a bench scraper or a butter knife cut a ½-inch slice of the dough and roll into a rod about ¾ inch in diameter and dust with potato starch. Cut the rod of dough into small pieces, using the first joint of your index finger as a guide to ensure consistent sizing. Transfer to jelly roll pan, and make sure the entire surface of the gnocchi are lightly dusted. Repeat until all of the dough are in the form of gnocchi. Have a large pot of salted water boiling and add in the gnocchi. Once the gnocchi have risen to the surface, they are done, about 2-4 minutes. Transfer with a spider to your pot of tomato sauce, gently fold, garnish, and serve immediately.