Cooking and procrastination have been easy partners in my life. When I was in my 20’s, I decided to cook my way through Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking (1992). I won’t flatter myself and say that I was conducting a Julie and Julia style project, but I was definitely determined to make many of Marcella’s recipes. This endeavor allowed me to be a lot less determined about the college thesis I was writing at the time.
If you dabble in Italian cooking, Marcella’s books are quintessential and timeless. The following recipe is inspired by her ricotta and spinach gnocchi. Marcella’s gnocchi do not have eggs, something she refers to as the “Paris style.” She believes that eggs make for a more rubbery end product. After doing some experimenting, I think the egg acts as a binder in this gluten-free version. You be the judge, I think you will be surprised at how these delightful little clouds are a welcome diversion from whatever you should be attending to.
Do you think you would like to make these? Please do! I would love to hear how it goes. Please read the following notes first, so you don’t make the same mistakes I made the first 10 times!
– DO use a potato ricer. Particularly if you are opposed to eating gluey little balls of bubble gum. Yep, that’s exactly what they will be like if you try to use a potato masher instead. I tend to be a bit stubborn and thought ricers were for sissies. I am also very resistant to buying kitchen gadgets, so I was slow to learn the importance of a quality ricer.
– DO use Russet Potatoes. I know I just sung the praises of Marcella Hazan, and that she doesn’t recommend Russets, but the starchy, less waxy potatoes yield a nice, light, end product. You can add a small Yukon Gold potato for a little bit of added flavor.
– DO checkout the wonderful photo slideshow of making gnocchi at Serious Eats.
– DON’T freak out when it seems like your dough isn’t coming together. I promise, it will if you squeeze it and press it together.
– DON’T walk away while these are boiling. They only take about 1-2 minutes to cook (any longer and they will be mushy messes). This is one time when multi-tasking isn’t a good idea!
Gluten-Free Spinach Gnocchi
1 1/2 lbs. Russet Potatoes (approximately 2 large)
1 1/2 c. Basic Gluten-Free Flour Mix (click hyperlink to see my mix)
Generous Pinch of Sea Salt
3/4 t. Xanthan Gum or Guar Gum
1 c. Baby Spinach Leaves (or one giant handful)
2 TB. Very Finely Minced Shallots
2 t. Olive Oil for sauteing the spinach and shallots
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick potatoes and bake directly on oven rack until tender (approx. 1 hr.) when poked with a knife.
While potatoes are baking, heat 2 t. olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the spinach and a pinch of salt and saute until the spinach has released it’s moisture. Then add the shallots and saute for two more minutes, being careful to make sure the shallots do not burn. Scrape the spinach/shallot mixture onto a cutting board and finely chop with a knife. Set aside.
Remove from oven and place on cutting board. Slice potatoes in half, horizontally so that the steam can escape. Carefully peel off potato skins (I just used my fingers to pull them off) and put potatoes into a ricer. Push the potatoes through your ricer onto a sheet pan, spreading them out to cool. This allows the maximum amount of moisture to escape as steam.
Mix all dry ingredients (flour, salt and xanthan gum) with a fork in a small mixing bowl. Set aside.
When the potatoes are cool, scoop them into a large metal mixing bowl. Make a “well” or indentation in the center, add the egg and gently whisk with a fork. Add the chopped spinach/shallot mixture into the egg and mix a bit more with the fork. Then dump the dry ingredients in with the potato, egg, and spinach/shallot mixture. Mix all ingredients together until a shaggy dough forms. I used a large fork to accomplish this and then used my hands to start pressing the dough together. It will seem very dry and crumbly at this point, but don’t worry. Dump out the dough onto a clean, dry counter and begin to press the dough together to form a rough ball. When the dough begins to come together, you can knead the dough for a couple of minutes until it is a smooth, cohesive ball. Place the dough in the mixing bowl and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
Working with one softball sized lump of dough at a time, shape the dough into a long, skinny log, approximately 1/2 inch wide. Since this is a gluten free dough, it doesn’t really roll out very well. You will just need to use your hands to press it into the snake-like logs.
Using a chef’s knife, chop 1/2 inch by 1/2 inch gnocchi. Take the little gnocchi pillows and roll along the tines of a fork to make the characteristic grooves. These grooves help your sauce cling to the gnocchi after cooking. Making these little grooves is something that gets easier with practice. I grasp a gnocchi lightly between my thumb and forefinger while scooting it along the counter with the back side of the fork. It takes a light, quick touch, but don’t worry if they don’t look pretty. They will taste great. If any of your gnocchi fall apart when you roll them with the fork, just patch it back together with your fingers.
Place rolled gnocchi onto a sheet pan that has been lightly dusted with flour. Allow the gnocchi to sit, uncovered for about 15 minutes before boiling. This allows them to keep their shape when boiling.
While the gnocchi are sitting, bring a large pot of water with 1 TB. of salt to boil. When the water boils, slip approximately 25 gnocchi at a time into the water. I use a flexible cutting mat for this task and use it like a slide to scoot them in with out getting splashed. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom. When they float to the surface, catch them with a strainer and drop into your pan of prepared sauce. They will cook quickly and shouldn’t take longer than 2 minutes. Be careful to not overcook.
Uncooked gnocchi freeze well. I spread mine out on a sheet pan, freeze for 2 hours and then place them in heavy duty freezer bags for later use. The frozen gnocchi do take a bit longer to cook, approximately 4-5 minutes.