Gnocchi making 101-Jacoe style!
If you have ever imagined what an Italian/Canadian family would look like, Rogers’s family would definitely be it. I don’t just imagine it though, I idealize it like in a movie. The more I learn about his life in Nelson, the more enamored I am with all the idiosyncrasies of having an Italian father, who bakes, cooks, grows his own food, cans tomato sauce, and cooks out in his garage. For years I have coveted the jars of homemade tomato sauce sent by Joe (Rogers Dad), which taste so good that I am salivating just thinking about it. When Roger goes back to Nelson with his family, it is an eating extravaganza. Ainsley (Rogers wife) tried to recreate a little of what she experiences when she first arrives at the Jacoe home. She said typically there would be a platter of Gnocchi with another platter of chicken cutlets, rich tomato sauce and more. All mouth wateringly good and made completely from scratch.
I asked Roger if he would show me how to make gnocchi and so last night we set about the task. He told me that his Dad says making Gnocchi was easy but clearly that has to come from 30+ years of experience because saying gnocchi is easy, is like saying the tower of the Pisa looks straight. It is difficult in part due to the technicality of making the actual gnocchi but also due to the fact that it is extremely time consuming. Gnocchi making takes practice, patience, and persistence. At their best potato gnocchi can be light and delicate. At they’re worst, dense, rubbery, and/or soggy. Our gnocchi last night was perfection. Delicate pillows of yumminess with a tomato sauce to die for. I don’t think it would be far off to say that Roger’s sauce is on par with his Dads…did the earth just shake? But it is true!
The word Gnocchi [NYOH-kee; NOH-kee] literally means lump or a knot in the wood. It has been a traditional Italian pasta type of probably Middle Eastern origin since Roman times. It was introduced by the Roman Legions during the enormous expansion of the empire into the countries of the European continent. It is said that the gnocchi is perhaps one of the oldest recorded dishes that can be found, and when you actually try them there is no wonder why they have survived for so long. Each recipe can easily stem back to the early 1300th century Tuscans
In the past 2000 years each country developed its own specific type of small dumplings, with the ancient Gnocchi as their common ancestor. There are more Gnocchi variations than you can shake a stick at, and all of which are dependant on where you are in Italy. And just like most of Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available.
So, here we go…
Gnocchi making 101 with Roger Jacoe
Begin by boiling 1-½ pounds (4-5 medium) of baking potatoes. It is important to use floury potatoes like russets or Idaho when making the gnocchi as the dough needs to be light and airy these potatoes contain higher starch levels and will help keep the potato together when boiling for the recipe.
Add potatoes to a medium pot and fill with cold water just to cover. Season cooking water with salt (it should taste like the sea) and bring to a boil; lower heat and simmer until potatoes are tender but not overcooked, about 10-12 minutes. Drain and let dry out slightly. While still warm, peel skin off potatoes, cut into quarters and mash. Rogers dad uses his hands but you can also use, a masher, mixer, hand mixer as Roger used. I have a kitchen aid mixer so I will use that. Add one egg, and one egg yolk.
Add ¾ of an 8-ounce container of ricotta cheese.
Mix these ingredients well until you have a smooth consistency, try not to over mix.
Gradually mix in enough flour to make a soft but malleable dough with a consistency similar to Play-Doh.
Dust a large baking sheet with flour. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface. Working with one-fourth of the dough at a time, roll the dough under your palms on the work surface to shape it into a long 1/2-inch-thick rope. Using a sharp knife, cut the rope into 1-inch-long pieces.
Next, using a fork or a special gnocchi liner maker thingy, make ridges in each gnocchi. I know most of us do not have a ridge gnocchi making thingy, so here are fork instructions. To shape the gnocchi hold a fork in one hand and place a gnocchi pillow against the tines of the fork, cut ends out. With confidence and an assertive (but light) touch, use your thumb and press in and down the length of the fork. The gnocchi should curl into a slight “C” shape, their backs will capture the impression of the tines as tiny ridges Roger uses a push down and flick motion that I was not able to do well last night but I will practice later. Much to popular thought that these ridges are for design only, they are actually impressed into the dough so that each gnocchi catches the most sauce possible. This step takes some practice, don’t get discouraged, once you get the hang of it it’s apparently easy.
Set each gnocchi aside, dust with a bit more flour if needed, until you are ready to boil them.
To cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Boil in batches, dropping in a few at a time; gnocchi are ready when they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon onto a large platter ready with a generous swirl of whatever sauce you’ll be serving on the gnocchi. Place the gnocchi on the platter. Continue cooking in batches until all the gnocchi are done. Gently toss with more sauce or pesto (don’t overdo it, it should be a light dressing), and serve immediately, family-style with a drizzle of good olive oil on top.