When my husband and I went on a trip to Italy, we kept hearing people talk about gnocchi. I had no idea what gnocchi was, so I simply had to order it and find out.
After trying it I still had no idea what gnocchi was, but I was nevertheless hooked. It's not quite pasta -- it's more of a dumpling that you can make with either ricotta and flour or mashed potato and flour.
Yet you use it just like you would a pasta. Any sauce that goes on pasta can go on gnocchi; any soup you would put pasta in, you can put gnocchi in.
When I got back to the states I was saddened by the lack of gnocchi in this country (with the soggy dumplings in Olive Garden's gnocchi soup as the only exception).
Imagine my pleasure when I discovered that not only can you make gnocchi at home, but it's pretty easy. When I want a quick lunch, I'll often boil up some ricotta gnocchi and mix it with pesto sauce from a jar.
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Fast-forward nine years and now I see 1 lb packages of gnocchi in most pasta aisles at the grocery store. That stuff is pretty good. I don't like how small the gnocchi is in those packages, though. When I eat gnocchi, I expect there to be a hearty pillow of Italian dumpling in my mouth to chew on, not several little pearls.
So today, I want to share with you my recipe for warm, hearty, fancy-yet-not-as-difficult-as-you-would-think homemade gnocchi with meatballs and marinara sauce. (The recipe uses store-bought marinara, but you can use sauce from scratch if you have it, obviously.)
The trick to good gnocchi is to get the consistency right, and to do that, you have to play things by ear more than follow this recipe. Your dough should be soft and pillow-y, but by the time you're done with it, it should not be sticky.
You should be able to roll a piece of the dough into a long tube/rope and cut it into chunks. If the dough is too soft to roll or too sticky to cut into balls, it needs more flour.
At the same time, it should still be elastic. If you find yourself using your elbow muscles to roll out the dough, or if it isn't super soft in your fingers, then you added too much flour.
If you find yourself adding flour here and mashed potato there until you've doubled the recipe (that's happened to me on occasion), add another egg and more salt. The egg is a binding agent; it keeps the dough together.
Meatballs from scratch might sound intimidating, but they're one of the easiest and yummiest things you can make. It only takes once or twice before you can whip them out without paying a whole lot of attention to what you're doing: just dump, mix, roll, cook.
Both meatballs and gnocchi can be frozen (though I wouldn't freeze the two together since they'll take different times to defrost).
You can also freeze mashed potatoes. I like keeping bags of mashed potatoes in the freezer because 1. It takes so long to make, 2. It's versatile -- you can use mashed potatoes for all sorts of things, and 3. Whenever I have too many potatoes and they're about to go bad, I can just make mashed potatoes and throw them in the freezer to use for later.
Since making the potatoes for gnocchi takes the most time, it's nice to already have a bag of it prepared before you get started.