Is it possible to think of gnocchi and not think of bricks? Put flour and potatoes together and there's a good chance you'll be mixing cement in no time. This is the challenge of homemade gnocchi-- to make them firm to the bite but not too tough. It was a challenge I was ready for. We had been married several years at this point, and my husband and I had found a way to tame the pasta-monsters within. By now we also had two mini pasta monsters living with us, so what did we have to lose? I figured the four of us could handle any bricks that came our way.
I consulted some of my cookbooks and asked my mom and a couple of zias for advice. "Not too much flour!" "Just watch the flour!" "Just remember to go easy on the flour and you'll be ok." Got it. I have seen the enemy and it is flour.
Is it any wonder, then, that my gnocchi had the opposite problem? Happier than our puppy when he gets a taste of nonna's pasta, I fondled my newly moulded nuggets to determine if they would pass the brick test. Was I going to join the legions of kitchen brick layers that came before me? Or be blessed with beginner's luck and spin nuggets of gold? I massaged the little mounds between my fingers. There was only one way to find out.
The first batch (about 50 of them) went into the boiling water. After about three minutes, I scooped them out with my slotted spoon and wondered, "Where did they all go?" I could have sworn I put in double the amount. And why were the remaining ones frizzing like soda pop? I tried to remain calm and looked at my cutting board. God, the kitchen was a disaster. I took a moment to assess the situation. I hadn't used too much flour so everything was ok, no?
I drained the cloudy mashed potato water and wondered why none of my cookbooks had mentioned The Houdini Factor. Could it be that if you use too little flour, your gnocchi would disappear? But why wouldn't my cookbooks warn? I set a fresh pot of water to boil on the stove and quickly set the table. Dinner was going to be late. I stared at the raw gnocchi on my cutting board. It wouldn't hurt to...add a little more flour to those that remained, would it? I rolled each nugget lightly in the forbidden and set them aside.
The second batch went into the boiling pot, and again, out came half, frizzing furiously. "They look like they've just been cooked by an electric fence," I thought. Dinner was definitely late now and there was little time for kitchen analysis. On the plus side, my family hadn't complained about being hungry so at least I had that going for me. I prepared the plates, ladled some sauce on top of each experiment, and called everyone for dinner. Then I sliced plenty of bread and asked my oldest to place the basket on the table. We were going to need it.
We sat down and dug in. Eating in silence, our taste buds absorbing this new dish, I can only share my own perception. Foamy clouds topped with sauce and grated parmigiano. Instead of making bricks, I had a boiled some version of Italian mini mashed potatoes, and they weren't very tasty mashed potatoes either. Mortified, I said nothing. I looked at my kids for signs of displeasure but saw none. Their nonna had stopped making gnocchi long before they were born, and I don't think they'd eaten them anywhere else, so how would they know good from bad?
"Ooooo! I hate gnocchi!" my oldest has always been a leader. Within seconds, her sister followed. "We don't want yucky gnocchi!" To be fair, my kids aren't picky eaters. They rarely complain about what we cook. Watching my fizzling gnocchi (even the sauce was rejecting them) I spoke of world poverty and starvation. I told my kids to be thankful they had a meal. My husband consoled with, "They really aren't that bad," and somehow we got through that miserable dinner. Half an hour later, we were all snacking in the kitchen.
We repeated this scenario three or four other times in the months that followed with progressively loud protests from our kids. The last saga ended with my husband making sandwiches for all and years of joking about mom's smoking-hot gnocchi. I estimate my last attempt was about five years ago. Though I added more flour each time I made them, my gnocchi never came close to being bricks. I guess you could say I passed the test.
Hmmm...I think I'll propose A Gnocchi Challenge...what do you say? Are you in? No prizes or anything like that. Just a chance for us to test our patience and culinary skills. First I need some time to consult with members of la famiglia, though. And study a few of my cookbooks in order to offer you the best recipe. In the meantime, if you have any tips on how to make good gnocchi, please share!