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Grains, Potatoes and Rice

Osteria Istriana
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Gnocchi con luganighe (sausages). Photograph courtesy of Dario Prodan at Istriano's Photos © All rights reserved.

Gnocchi - Njoki
(Potato Dumplings)

The only negative with gnochi (njoki in Croatian) is the time and patience required for its preparation. Learning to make them properly can be a bit tricky even though the recipe is quite simple. If you don't know the secrets of what makes good gnocchi you have a potential disaster on your hands.

The secrets lie in the potatoes and in their cooking. The aim is to use potatoes that are the most mealy (least watery) when working them into a dough. Select the best mature baking (russet) potatoes you can find, and never use the round "boiling" potatoes. In the USA, the best choice is unquestionably the Idaho pototato. Not all russet or Idaho pototatoes are alike, some are noticeably more watery to begin with than others. Regardless of which potatoes you select, however, always cook them with their skins on, never peeled. Second, overcooking even the best potatoes can be equally fatal to the gnocchi as this will absorb too much of the cooking water and then they will require extra flour during the gnocchi shaping stage - thereby spoiling both their taste and texture.

The way to determine when the potatoes are sufficiently cooked is by inserting a cake needle (preferable) or fork through one of the cooking potatoes. If the needle goes all the way through, the potatoes are done. If overcooked, the fork will break up the potato in the water.

Why all the fuss about watery potatoes? The primary goal in making gnocchi is to use as little flour as possible to get the lightest possible dumplings, and watery potatoes require too much flour. How much flour is actually needed to make flavorful gnocchi will depend on the potatoes as well as the ambient conditions. The rule of thumb is between 3/4 and 1-1/4 cups of flour per pound of potatoes. If you add just a bit more flour, the dumplings will become more firm, but they will lose some of their potato flavor and their so-called "fluffiness".  If you use too much flour - as in the case of watery potatoes - you will entirely lose the gnocchi taste! The choice of whether to have just a bit more or less flour for firmness, however, can be made according to personal preference or taste.

Menu:

Nina's gnocchi de patate

Ingredients:

  • 2 pounds of large, mature baking (russet) potatoes, preferably Idaho (pick the larger spuds as they tend to be more mealy), unpeeled
  • 1-1/2 cups sifted flour, preferably unbleached
  • 2 eggs, slightly beaten
  • salt to taste

Topping:

  • 3 pats of butter or a tomato sauce or meat gravy of your choice
  • grated parmesan cheese

Wash the potatoes and place them in a pot of boiling water over high heat. Add salt. When the potatoes reach a boil, reduce to a medium flame. Cook until slightly tender - about 20 minutes for small potatoes, longer for larger ones. However the true test of when they are done is when a fork or cake tester easily penetrates to the center of the potato. Do not overcook them! Drain them and allow to cool for a few minutes, then peel the potatoes. They will be very hot, so hold the potatoes with a fork with one hand as you peel with the other.

Place a large pot of salted water to boil.

It is now time to mash or rice the potatoes. There are two ways of doing it - mashing with an ordinary potato masher, or mashing them with a potato ricer which looks like a giant garlic press (illustrated to the left).

Using a standard potato masher for this job is more work and the results are usually lumpy or uneven. The ricer, on the other hand is simple to use, quick, and the results are consistently smooth. If you like home-made mashed potatoes as well as gnocchi, the investment in a potato ricer is mandatory.

Cut each potato in half or quarters (depending on how large they are), then fill the ricer chamber to capacity. Crush the contents until you have done all the potatoes. 

The next step is to combine the mashed potatoes, flour and eggs. There are two ways for doing this:

1. The traditional way is to place a mound of flour on a kneading board, make a hole in the center for the beatene eggs, blend the eggs into the flower, then add the riced potatoes and with your hands combine all the ingredients, then continue working the dough to its final stages. 

I prefer a less messy way that can also be quicker:

2. In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, make a hole in the center for the beaten eggs and add the eggs. With an ordinary fork or spoon, combine the egg into the flour, then add the mashed potatoes. Use your hands to finish combining all the ingredients and work them until they can be removed as a single mass. Place on the kneading board. 

Lightly dust the kneading board and your hands with flour. Slowly add  the remaining flour and continue turning and working the dough only until it becomes a homogeneous mass. The way to tell if the dough is ready for the final shaping is by cutting it in half with a sharp knife. If you can still see the shapes of the mashed potatoes which look like rice kernels - hence the name "potato ricer" - you need to work the dough just a little bit more.

Once ready, cut the halves into smaller working pieces. Using both hands, roll each piece of dough into a long tube about 1/2 to 3/4-inch in diameter and as long as your kneading board and dexterity allow. Once you have reached a consistent tube shape, cut the roll into 1/2 to 1-inch sections, depending on your personal size preference. At this point, put aside some of the gnocchi to convert them into gnochetti (Kiffel; cometti).

Always be sure that the kneading board and your hands are sprinkled with flour. 

The final step in the preparation of standard gnocchi before boiling requires a hard cheese grater - either the small hand-held model or the multi-purpose bow grater pictured on the right The photograph shows the side with the larger holes which is not the side to be used. 

If you are right handed, hold the grater with the left hand (and vice versa if you are left-handed). Pick one piece of gnocchi at a time, and using two fingers, roll the the dough over the cheese grate, simultaneously pressing slightly with one finger to create an indentation in the middle of the dough (created by your fingers) as the grater makes its own indentations on the outside. Once you get the knack of how to do this, this step will become systematic and quick. Makes sure that you do not pile the finished gnocchi on top of each other, for they will stick together. Lay they singly on a flat and heavily floured surface.

Cooking the prepared gnocchi is a simple matter of placing the individual pieces into the salted boiling water and waiting for them to rise to the surface which takes only a minute or two. It is preferable to not empty the cooked gnocchi into a colander. Instead, scoop up a batch with a hand strainer, drain over the pot, and drop the gnocchi into a bowl that has some of the sauce at the bottom. This way, not only will the gnocchi remain intact, but you can also coat them more easily with the sauce and grated cheese on top. Repeat this process until you have removed all of the gnocchi. Sprinkle with more parmesan cheese to taste. 

Gnochetti (Kiffel; cometti)

Roll out each of the cut gnocchi that you have set aside iinto long "fingers" approximately 3-inch long and slightly thicker than a standard pencil. Boil them separately from the regular gnocchi, then fry them in butter and confectioner's sugar. If you are preparing gnochi de susini instead of frying them, you may toss them in the same sweet breadcrumb sauce as used for the gnocchi.

Courtesy of:  

  • Marisa Ciceran

See also: 

Gnocchi di patate # 1

Ingredienti:

  • 600 g di patate 
  • 300 g di farina 
  • 2 uova 
  • 2 cucchiai d'olio 
  • 30 g di sale 
  • 50 g di fonnaggio pecorino

Schiacciare le patate bollite e pelate sulla spianatoia con lo schiacciapatate e lasciare che si raffreddino. Aggiungere la farina, le uova, l'olio e il sale. Mescolare la pasta e dividerla a pezzi. Rullare a forma di cilindro ogni pezzo (della grossezza dell'indice) e tagliarlo a pezzettini lunghi 2.3 cm. Prendere ogni gnocco con tre dita e strofinarlo leggermente sul rovescio infarinato della grattugia. In questo modo i gnocchi saranno pił morbidi. Metterli nell'acqua bollente salata e lasciarli cuocere finche non verranno alla superficie. Scolarli e passarli sotto l'acqua fredda perchč non si attacchino. Condirli con l'olio e servirli come contorno al ragł di lepre, allo spezzatino o ad altri sughi. Servire separatamente il formaggio grattugiato.

Source:

  • Cucina Istriana, a cura di Franko Lukez & Branko Lovric, PETKO (Pula, 1994).

Gnocchi di patate # 2

Ingredienti (per un chilo e mezzo di patate):

  • 35 deca (350 g) di farina
  • 2,5 deca (25 g) di burro
  • un uovo
  • sale

Lavate le patate, si lessano, si sbucciano e si schiacciano col strucapatate, mettendoci in mezzo il burro perché si sciolga e lasciandole (particolare importante) raffreddare. Si aggiungono, quindi, la farina e l'uovo e si impasta il tutto, fino ad ottenere un amalgama liscio e morbido, dal quale si ricavano dei lunghi cilindri, da ritagliare apezzettini della grandezza che si vuol dare agli gnocchi. Questi, lievemente infarinati, onde dar loro la forma definitiva, si premono appena con un dito sul rovescio della grattugia. Sono pronti per essere gettati, un po' alla volta, nell'acqua bollente, convenientemente salata: quando ritornano a galla, sono cotti, si levano e scolano col passapasta, si adagiano in una zuppiera per essere conditi col sugo di carne e con una spruzzatina di formaggio. Serviti caldi, sono una delizia.

Source:

  • Giuseppe Radole, Folclore Istriano, MGS Press (Trieste, 1997)

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This page compliments of Marisa Ciceran

Created:  Saturday, October 16, 1999; Last Updated: Monday, December 31, 2012
Copyright © 1998 IstriaNet.org, USA