Italian staple isn’t difficult to pull off in your pizzeria
As we all know, pasta comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Long and short, stuffed or stout, pasta is loved by most. An empty pizza skin or a bowl of plain pasta are to a chef what an empty canvas is to an artist. We can create hundreds of combinations of sauces and ingredients to give our guests the very best dining experience they could hope for.
Gnocchi are delightful little finger-formed dumplings in a sense that are traditionally made with potato that has been peeled and boiled or steamed and then pushed through a ricer and mixed with egg and flour with a pinch of salt. You want to mix this into a soft dough that you can roll out into rope-shaped pieces. Once you’ve created your ropes, you’ll want to cut the ropes into equal-sized pieces for your gnocchi. Keep a light dusting of flour on your workstation so the gnocchi don’t stick together. Now that you’ve cut your pieces, you’ve got options on how you want to get the finished look of your gnocchi.
Here are some techniques for you:
- You can simply push your thumb or a finger into the middle of the little dumpling making an indentation.
- Another option is to roll the gnocchi over the back side of a fork which will create some indented lines and gives your gnocchi a more traditional look.
- I found a very inexpensive wooden gnocchi board in a cooking store which has grooves in it. I take my lightly floured gnocchi and simply roll them across the board while pressing down on it as I roll it across the board. This gives it a rolled and folded over look while adding the grooves or lines to the dumpling. After a dozen or so, you’ll start to move very quickly. The grooves actually offer a practical purpose other than just looking cool. The lines allow whatever sauce you toss your gnocchi in, to cling to the pasta very nicely.
Gnocchi cook very quickly so I would suggest that you have some salted boiling water ready. First, however, get the dish or sauce that you are going to toss your gnocchi in ready, and then dip the little pasta gems into the boiling water for only about two to three minutes or until the pasta floats. Drain them without rinsing them and while they are still hot, toss them with your sauce and other ingredients and then serve them up.
Since gnocchi are a tiny bit time consuming and have more substance to them than any other basic pasta made with just flour and water and sometimes eggs, they are more often served as an entrée than a side. Adding proteins such as chicken or shrimp along with other great ingredients like artichoke hearts, roasted tomatoes, olives and spinach just compliment the gnocchi and elevate the dish’s profile on your menu or special board.
Now that you’ve got the basic concept for making and shaping gnocchi, let’s think outside the box and get a little creative. My customers enjoy when I make ricotta cheese gnocchi. I simply replace the potato with ricotta and then follow the process by adding flour and egg to form my dough. Although ricotta is more expensive than potato, this recipe cuts the preparation time to just minutes.
1 cup ricotta
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
If your dough is too soft due to a higher moisture ricotta, simply add some more flour a little bit at a time and fold it into the dough until you have a texture that you can roll out into ropes.
The procedure is exactly the same as I have described for the potato gnocchi. Sweet potato or pumpkin gnocchi are made just like standard potato gnocchi, but replacing white potato with sweet potato or cooked pumpkin.
A sauce that compliments these gnocchi would be a cinnamon and nutmeg cream sauce made with:
1 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
2 dashes of nutmeg
1 tablespoon brown sugar
Dash of salt and pepper
A sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds as garnish
Tomato gnocchi with basil pesto is an amazing dish. Simply incorporate ½ cup of tomato paste into your gnocchi dough. You’ll need an extra ½ cup of flour to compensate for the moisture. Prepare and cook like the other gnocchi and then toss them in some fresh pesto and garnish with some toasted pine nuts and shaves of Parmesan or Romano cheese.
Spinach gnocchi is one of my favorites. Sauté some fresh spinach with a pinch of salt. The salt will preserve the bright green color of the spinach as well as give it flavor. Drain the spinach well, and then purée it with the eggs from the recipe. Now you can incorporate this spinach purée into your potato or ricotta gnocchi recipe and follow the step that I have described.
Although you can go in many different directions for sauce with a spinach gnocchi like pesto, marinara or Alfredo, I enjoy tossing this with a tomato cream sauce. The easiest way for me to make this is to simply blend equal parts marinara and Alfredo sauce. This is where you want to get creative and toss in some great ingredients to really help define the dish.
You can give this a Mardi Gras flavor profile by adding some sautéed red and green bell peppers, onion, garlic, shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage with a touch of red pepper flakes to bring up the heat.
I know that if you give making gnocchi a try, you and your customers will be hooked. Gnocchi can bring in a premium price on your menu compared to spaghetti and ziti, so get started and continue to set yourself apart from your competition, winning new customers over every day!
Jeffery Freehof owns The Garlic Clove in Evans, Georgia. He is a frequent contributor to Pizza Today and a speaker at International Pizza Expo.