Gnocchi are a cross between a pasta and a dumpling. Done right, potato gnocchi are tender little nuggets of heaven. While basic potato gnocchi can be dressed with a variety of sauces, our favorite is alla Sorrentina which simply means, the way they are made in Sorrento, with fresh tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese,and basil. As kids, we practically danced for joy when our mom announced she was making them for Sunday dinner. It remains one of our favorite dishes.
3 lbs Russet Potatoes scrubbed and unpeeled
16 ounces of "00" flour or pastry flour
3 ounces of grated parmesan cheese
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 tablespoons of Olive oil
Additional flour for the work surface
To complete the dish:
Homemade tomato sauce (see recipe)
1 lb fresh mozzarella balls, drained if in liquid, and cut into small pieces
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
about 10 fresh basil leaves
Special tools: Potato Ricer, gnocchi board, bench scraper. Each easily found at most kitchen supply stores.
Note: Potatoes are left unpeeled so that they don't absorb the cooking water and get soggy
In a large pot of salted water boil the potatoes, uncut and unpeeled, just until fork tender. when done take the pot to the sink and drain out most of the hot water. Run cold water over the potatoes and keep them in the cooled water. while still hot but cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and squeeze them into the ricer. either into a bowl or right onto your clean counter top work surface.
Once the potatoes have been passed through the ricer, spread the mixture in a mound on your work surface. Make a bit of a well and add the eggs, cheese, salt, and about 1/2 of the flour. with clean hands gently fold and work the mixture into a dough. it will be sticky. Add more of the flour and keep kneading until it is well mixed together. You will likely need all of the flour but you may not depending on how dry the potatoes were. your hands will be sticky give them a wash before the next step.
Using your bench scraper cut away about a baseball size piece of dough and using your hands roll into a long cylindrical shape about the same thickness as your index finger. Using the bench scraper or a sharp knife, cut the cylinder into 1 inch pieces to create the individual gnocchi.
Have a couple of cookie sheets lightly sprinkled with flour ready. now using your gnocchi board or a fork you can use your thumb to roll each gnocchi over the board so that it curves a bit and forms the grooves or indentations perfect for holding all that lovely sauce later. I let the gnocchi fall right onto the cookie sheet as I form them. When all the gnocchi are made and you are ready to cook them, boil a large pot of salted water adding the olive oil to the water which will help prevent sticking. using your bench scraper drop bunches of gnocchi into the boiling water. you can do this in about three batches. they will sink to the bottom but within about a minute or so they will rise to the surface. When all the gnocchi in the batch are floating, use a strainer to scoop them out and place them directly into whichever ovenproof casserole dish you plan to serve them in. Do the next batch the same way until all the gnocchi are cooked.
To assemble the dish, ladle tomato sauce and gently stir the gnocchi. careful not to drown them in too much sauce. sprinkle the Parmesan and cut up mozzarella and stir to combine. Add a bit more sauce on top along with torn basil leaves and any leftover Parmesan. Bake at 375 for about 15 to 20 minutes or until cheese is melted and sauce is bubbling a bit. For a more dramatic and fun presentation you can divide the gnocchi into individual crocks or casseroles before baking and serve each person their own.