In the Kitchen

Great Gnocchi

Many people list Italian cuisine as their favorite, and I count myself among them. To me, no other cuisine can be both a comfort food and a gourmet food at the same time.
One of my favorite Italian dishes is gnocchi, literally defined as “little lumps.” Gnocchi are made in the shape of little pillows, which have become the de facto form cooks copy, so you’ll want your gnocchi to be like little pillows, too. I have eaten gnocchi with tomato sauce, in flavored broths, as a side dish, as an appetizer and as a main course. I find gnocchi delicious, easy to prepare and extremely flexible. Because gnocchi were originally created to use up leftovers, they are also economical and practical.
The individual pieces of dough should be light and melt in your mouth. Gnocchi should never be chewy, doughy or heavy. While the original basic ingredients were cooked potato and flour, other ingredients can be added to enhance the dish—as long as the dough remains light and isn’t overworked. Gnocchi can be round, irregular in shape, small or large, or as the name has come to imply, shaped like small pillows.
The sauce can be as varied as your imagination. Even though I have had gnocchi many ways, my favorite is in a Gorgonzola cream sauce. I find that the Gorgonzola adds a richness that complements and balances the mild flavor of the gnocchi. Be sure to look for Gorgonzola dolce for the sauce because it is sweeter and softer than regular Gorgonzola and is more delicious.
I created the following recipe based on a ricotta-and-flour creation I tried while on a cruise to Italy several years ago. I liked the ricotta cheese flavor and, because I dislike food waste, I looked for a way to incorporate some leftovers in my recipe. I tried several variations and finally decided on using ricotta and sweet potatoes, both of which enhance the flavor and add color. The Gorgonzola sauce uses only a few ounces of cream and cheese—enough to just coat the gnocchi—so while it sounds like a fattening dish, it really isn’t.
Cook up some gnocchi for your family or guests and sample yet another great Italian dish.

Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi
With Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

¾    cup ricotta, well drained
¾    cup cooked mashed sweet potato
1    cup all-purpose flour
1    large egg, beaten
4    tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
Zest of one lemon, finely grated
½    teaspoon salt
½    teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1    cup cream
4    ounces Gorgonzola dolce cheese
Juice of ½ lemon

Combine the drained ricotta, the cooked mashed sweet potato, ½ cup of the flour, the beaten egg, the Parmesan cheese, lemon zest, the salt and the pepper in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse it a few times to combine the ingredients. Transfer the mixture to a well-floured board and knead in the remaining ½ cup of flour. The dough will still be a bit sticky. Wrap it in plastic wrap and place it in the refrigerator for approximately an hour.
When you are ready to cook, line a sheet pan with parchment. Cut the dough into four equal pieces. Lightly flour your hands and the work surface and roll one piece of the dough into a rope shape about 1 inch thick, then cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Use your fingers to press each piece gently into the back of a fork to leave little ridges on one side. Place the finished gnocchi on the lined pan and repeat the process with the remaining pieces of dough.
When complete, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Place the cream in a medium skillet, bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Continue boiling the cream for 3 or 4 minutes to reduce the cream. When the cream coats the back of a spoon, add the Gorgonzola and stir gently until the cheese melts. Add the lemon juice and stir to combine. Turn the heat to very low and let it simmer while you cook the gnocchi.
Add the gnocchi to the boiling water. After they rise to the top, let them cook for an additional minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a medium bowl. Add the Gorgonzola sauce and toss well to coat. Serve immediately with additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side.
Serves 4 as a main course.

This article appears in the July-August 2009 issue of Alameda Magazine
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