Photo by Diana Dinverno
Although I married into an Italian/Irish family, the Italian side dominates the table, especially around the holidays. I guarantee that sometime between Christmas and New Year, my husband will roll up his sleeves, wrap an apron around his waist, and prepare what I consider the most delicious Italian dish—gnocchi. This type of pasta has been around since the twelfth century. Then, cooks from Milan to Florence mixed flour and water to make the little dumplings. After the introduction of potatoes, Northern Italians transformed the dish into what we enjoy today.
If you hope to eat it, you need to know how to pronounce it. Gnocchi. First, ignore the letter G. The gn in Italian has the same sound as the ny in the English word "canyon." You pronounce the o like "oh." Now, the tricky last letters: cchi. The ch combination in Italian is not like the ch in the English word "church." Instead, think of a k sound, like in the English word "key." In fact, in this instance, the English word "key" completes the Italian word. My take on the phonetic spelling would be: Nyo-key. Try it. Practice it a few times and it will slip effortlessly from your tongue. Nyo-key.
When my husband announces he’s making gnocchi, everyone in our household wants to help. Rolling the dough and forming the little ridges in the pasta is a fun family activity, perfect for this time of year.
Photo by Diana Dinverno
If made properly, gnocchi will be light pillows of pasta, not hard lumps. We enjoy the pasta with a meat sauce that we simmer for five to six hours, but you can serve it with butter and a dusting of Parmesan cheese or with your favorite sauce.
As my holiday gift to you, I’m sharing our family’s gnocchi recipe:
Gnocchi (serves 6)
2 tablespoons plus 1-teaspoon salt
5 medium potatoes
2 egg yolks
4 1/2 cups flour (more, if needed)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter, melted (more, if desired)
1 1/2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1. Cook potatoes in 3 quarts of boiling water, to which you have added 1 tablespoon of salt, for about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and place in saucepan. Mash the potatoes, while cooking over a very low heat, to eliminate excess water.
2. Mix the mashed potatoes, egg yolks, 1 teaspoon of salt, and flour. Knead the mixture in a bowl or on a floured board or counter into dough. Roll by hand on a floured board or counter into several long sausage-like rolls about the shape of a thick cigar. Cut into pieces about 1 inch long. Press each piece over the tines of a fork, rolling gently to flute and curve them slightly. When in Italy, I’ve seen ridged wood boards sold in kitchen supply stores for the same purpose. A fork works just fine.
3. Plunge the gnocchi in 3 or more quarts of boiling water to which you have added the remaining 1-tablespoon of salt. As soon as they rise to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon, place in a serving dish, and repeat the operation until all gnocchi are cooked. Add butter and 1/2 cup of Parmesan cheese. Toss and serve with the remaining Parmesan cheese or the sauce of your choice.
Wishing you and your family Buon Natale!