Here’s the thing: I do not consider myself to an especially outstanding cook. I will happily claim ownership of an arguably above-average number of outstanding culinary moments but on a day to day basis my cooking is pretty average. And as such, one thing I particularly dislike is when a trained chef (typically not very experienced, or more usually actually just a kitchen hand) scorns your jar of supermarket mayonnaise or disrespects your packet of pre-made gnocchi. “Why would you buy that rubbish”, they scorn, “its just as easy to make it yourself”. My blood boils, my eyelids twitch and my lips tremble with the effort of keeping my mouth shut. My naturally default position of politeness and respect must be kept in check to prevent my snarly inner monologue from blurting out: You know what? I’m not a chef. I have no formal skill or training. I am entirely self-taught and I’m here to tell you, brother, that it is NOT just as easy to make it yourself at home. So take your apparently non-splitting / non-curdling egg mayonnaise and your perfectly pillowy potato dumplings and #*#@ off!!
Apparently simple and straightforward things (like mayonnaise) are often difficult to make, require real precision and understanding of what’s going on and a fair bit of trial and error. The simpler the dish the harder it is to conceal your mistakes. If you don’t understand the chemistry of the process (a knowledge which most home cooks only acquire gradually over a number of years) then you probably won’t be able to fix it if it goes off – course. Then there is the fact that most cooks have a style that they really understand and are comfortable with and some additional things that they just don’t get. With me, Italian food and doughs of all sorts fall into the latter category.
So you can probably understand why gnocchi has never been my forte. I have tried to make it at home but it has always been jaw-breakingly tough and awful. Plus, it is time – consuming and fiddly when compared to buying the pre-made stuff. I persist, however, because there is simply no comparison between well made gnocchi and the pre-made product. And so it came to pass that I had a heap of old potatoes from Birregurra Organics that needed to be dealt with or be wasted. Gnocchi apparently needs to be made from old potatoes (something about the quality of the starch, I think) and I had a feeling deep inside that this time it was going to go well. And indeed it did. I did a lot of research and a bit of meditation (seriously) and entered the zone of marvellous gnocchi. The recipe below is what I did and I hope it will work for you as well as it did for me. There are a couple of tips and tricks in the method, the main one being to work gently and deftly. The amount made fed 2 people and I froze it after making. I chose to serve it tossed in olive oil and lemon zest and topped it with fried haloumi. I feel a little ashamed of the outrageousness of this but the soft, salty bliss was indescribable….
Baked potato gnocchi
- 400g baked potatoes
- some plain flour – start with half a cup – you may need more
- Beaten egg yolk.
Lets start with the potatoes. You need 400g of potato – this is the weight after it has been baked and removed from the skins. I would guess this is about 6 medium to large sized potatoes. Cut the potatoes in half and bake in a medium to hot oven until tender. This was the Eureka moment for me. I think that baking keeps the potatoes very dry which is one of the keys to successful gnocchi. Remove from the oven and allow to cool fully before scraping out the flesh. Pass the potato flesh through a fine sieve – this is very important if you want to get a nice, light texture so please, please, please don’t skip this step. Add the beaten egg yolk and gradually start working in the flour and kneading it gently on a well floured surface. Add flour until the dough is be soft and pliable. Don’t be tempted to add too much – when you are concerned that its still a little bit too sticky, its probably ready. Take small handfuls of the dough and roll it into logs of about 2cm in diameter. Keep sprinkling flour on or it may become too sticky to handle. Cut into pieces about 2cm long and make a thumb mark in the centre to hold the sauce. Place on a floured tray and use immediately or freeze. If you are going to freeze the gnocchi, place them on the tray in the freezer until they are totally solid before transferring them into a container or they will stick together and become a sludgy mess when you cook them. To cook the gnocchi, drop them into lightly salted boiling water. When they rise to the surface they are ready.