My love affair with gnocchi started with a visit to Cucina Forte, a quiet byob in Philadelphia’s Queen Village neighborhood. My mother, my sister and I had just returned from a day in New York and, each of us maddeningly hungry, decided to try this restaurant on a whim. Everything that came to our table was exquisitely fresh (try the saltimbocca! You can actually hear the chef in the kitchen pounding the chicken from the dining room) but the gnocchi was clearly the star of the table. To bite into a gnocchi at this place is to know what it feels like to bite into a cloud. They are so light, so delicate and so fresh that I realized I must not have known what great gnocchi was before eating them. In fact, these morsels are so wonderful that I decided to attempt to make them at home. At Cucina Forte, the gnocchi are served two ways: with marinara sauce and with a gorgonzola cream sauce. Each sauce is wonderful in its own way and I decided we needed to have both.
I had a lot of gnocchi anxiety. Do a quick internet search for gnocchi recipes and you will find many, many conflicting opinions. Some chefs call for boiling the potatoes, others say bake. Some say add egg, some egg whites, some scoff at the idea of adding any egg at all. This can be quite intimidating for a kitchen novice who has no idea what gnocchi dough is even supposed to look like (that would be me!) Lucky for me, I have a great friend who has cooked in professional kitchens who has made gnocchi before. His name is Eric and he always cuts the onions when we cook together — like I said, he’s a great friend!
We ended up with five pounds of potatoes, baked for about an hour at 425. We mashed the potatoes and added 2.5 cups of flour and two eggs. We grated fresh nutmeg, salt and pepper into the dough and I kneaded it by hand. It looked something like this.
This dinner party came together to celebrate my dear friend Jenny’s visit to Philadelphia from San Francisco. We were having seven people over for dinner so I had a lot of gnocchi to form.
I tried to put the cute fork indentations into them but it just wasn’t working. We decided they looked just as nice shaped like that. While I formed the gnocchi, Eric made the sauces. The gorgonzola cream sauce consisted of heavy cream, gorgonzola cheese, Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly ground nutmeg, garlic, and salt and pepper. The marinara included sauteed onions and garlic, chopped plum tomatoes, canned tomato puree, bay leaves, oregano, olive oil, salt and pepper and fresh basil. He blended it a bit with an emersion blender to keep it delicate enough for the gnocchi. While he whipped the sauces up, I finished these:
We then added about ten gnocchi to a pot of boiling salted water. When they floated to the surface, we cooked them for an additional 1 to 2 minutes. The results were wonderful! Each guest had a least two plates. The sauces complemented each other perfectly.
Jenny was excited to prepare a salad recipe she had picked up from a friend in San Francisco which they call Egyptian Salad. It was a refreshing mixture of tomatoes, cucumbers, baby spinach, and avocado dressed with white wine vinegar, olive oil, cayenne pepper and fresh cilantro. I will definitely be making that again.
The gnocchi making process was a bit stressful, a bit long and a bit tiring, but the results were absolutely worth it. Now that I am no longer a novice, I look forward to experimenting with different recipes in the near future.