Thursday, March 14, 2013

It's a gnocchi day, and a day to get back on that bike
I just love a day like today. I had some potatoes needing some attention. I needed some mushrooms to sauté to have with my potato product. It's a beautiful day. I rode my bike to the store to get my mushrooms and to have an excuse for a leisurely ride. As I meandered along the Ralston Creek Trail I remembered.
While attending the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners outside of Asti Italy, I was put in charge of the preparation of the gnocchi. Our dish would be served to a restaurant filled with invited locals, students from other parts of the world, and to the chef instructors.
 Costigliole d'Asti, the Italian Culinary Institute for Foreigners
Gnocchi, no big deal. I start on the task. Our translator tells me how she makes gnocchi every Sunday with her family, as do many people living in this region.

My "bike" is feeling wobbly.

Then, a chef instructor walks through the kitchen, pokes my ball of gnocchi dough, laughs and leaves the kitchen.

I'm falling off my bike, I can feel it.
The chef who poked my gnocchi and laughed
I return from Italy and begin teaching at the Cook Street School of Culinary Arts in Denver. One day, I'm given the task of cooking lunch for a group of 20 new culinary students. I choose gnocchi. A chef mentions that gnocchi is the executive chefs' favorite dish and he's very particular.
What bike?
Needless to say, I spend the next few years in a post traumatic state. My gnocchi doesn't work anymore. The cute little pillows fall apart once they hit the water. Recipes. I must follow recipes. How does Lidia make gnocchi? How does Giada make gnocchi? I've got to get it right. I've got to get back on that bike. Needless to say, it never worked out well. I had lost my gnocchi chops.
My bike had flat tires.
Since then, I've relaxed. I just go for the ride. Back to where I started from before my professional training. My recipe? Go for a bike ride.
Use up your potatoes left over from those mashed or baked potatoes you made last week, some bread flour, some olive oil, some salt and a couple of eggs.
So here's how it goes.
I bake some potatoes, sometimes they're russets, sometimes Yukon golds, whatever I have around. As long as they're all the some type.
Bake them on a sheet pan covered with a layer of kosher salt. It helps them dry out and makes them taste even better.
Once the potatoes are soft, I take them out and let them cool on the counter.
Use a potato ricer to "rice" the potatoes. I don't even peel them first, just cut them in half. The ricer peels them for you.
Make a well in the middle and add two eggs (I've probably baked off about 6 potatoes.)
Sprinkle some bread flour (higher gluten content) around the potato mound. All the way around. I don't measure.
Into the egg well in the middle add a drizzle of some good olive oil. (This is killing you, isn't it? HOW MUCH OLIVE OIL?) I don't know. I don't measure. But probably about a tablespoon.
Then I sprinkle on some salt. Today I used a truffle salt. You could also add nutmeg. Potatoes love nutmeg.
Whisk the eggs, oil, salt, gradually adding in potato and then flour. Keep stirring until you can get in there with your hands. I use a bench scraper as one hand to fold the dough over itself.
Only use as much flour as you need. Or maybe add more. You'll know what's right. TRUST ME! Trust yourself.
Once it starts to look like a dough that holds together, knead it a bit. But, not too much.
Let it sit for a few minutes. Wash your hands and put some Italian music on your i-pod dock.
Now, venture to the land of your inner child. Cut the dough into balls. Roll each ball like you're playing with play-dough. Make a snake. Give it a name. Cut each snake into half inch, one inch, 3/4 inch pieces. Your choice, just make them uniform. Roll a fork along the little gnocchi pillow to give it some cool lines. Roll those little guys onto a sheet pan lined with flour. I like to use semolina.
Let them sit out uncovered at room temperature for awhile. I don't know. An hour, two hours, fifteen minutes. It's just what I do.
You can freeze them by putting the whole pan in the freezer until they're frozen enough to put in a zip-lock. Even the ones you're going to make for dinner, you can freeze them. They'll cook up just right. Go for a bike ride.
To cook them: bring a pot of water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Add the gnocchi. If they're frozen just add 9 or 10 at a time. They'll cool down the water making the cooking time take longer and those little guys might get too wet and fall apart.
Once they float, they're done. Take them out. I like to sauté the cooked gnocchi in some good olive oil for a few minutes to brown them a bit. Tonight, I sautéed some mushrooms with garlic and rosemary, then added the cooked gnocchi and served it up with a bit of grated Romano cheese, a drizzle of blood orange infused olive oil, a good friend and a bottle of pinot noir. I know, right?! 
Now, go out there and ride. Ready? GO! Trust me. Trust yourself.

Oh, by the way. My gnocchi in Asti was a huge success. The gnocchi at Cook Street, I think they're still talking about it 8 years later. Okay, I'm talking about it 8 years later.


  1. YUM!!! So, you found your bike. Nice work. I just wish I could have shared the gnocchi! And btw, NEVER let any chef (or anyone for that matter) poke your ball of gnocchi dough. And if he does, and he laughs? Well, throw ALL your potatoes at him.

    1. Got that right my friend. Soon enough we'll be enjoying gnocchi AND bike rides together.