By WENDY HARGREAVES
Cooking potato gnocchi has always been a mystery to me.
Living in Carlton surrounded by Italian restaurants, I’ve been happy to let chefs create those light-as-a-feather pillows.
But the COVID-19 lockdown has turned your restaurant reviewer into a home cooking crash test dummy.
This week’s challenge? Making gnocchi from scratch for the first time.
And I have to admit… it was pretty good, but I got a LOT of help from one of the best gnocchi cooks in the business, the matriarch of Pizzini Wines, cooking school guru Katrina Pizzini (pictured).
Katrina’s cooking classes are usually booked out for months in the King Valley, but the double-whammy of summer bushfires and COVID-19 have left her school empty.
So she’s teaching her traditional Italian cooking skills through live Zoom video. Each participant is sent a box with all the ingredients needed for a gnocchi feast. The spuds and herbs are grown by Katrina’s winemaker husband Fred (who makes sure a couple of bottles of his vino are in the box, and he pops into the live class for a tasting session).
Katrina also packs a potato ricer into the home-delivered cooking kit to make sure the spuds are nice and fluffy. It’s the secret weapon for perfect gnocchi.
The two-hour class is hands on and great fun. Katrina demonstrates and watches everyone on screen to make sure we’re on track. Her big tip is to keep as much air as possible in the potatoes, and not handle them too much when rolling the gnocchi.
Your crash-test-dummy cook could not stop smiling throughout this class, made even more fun with a sous chef in the kitchen (otherwise known as my teenage daughter, who did most of the work).
And our gnocchi with burnt butter, garlic and sage had the whole family swooning.
If you’d like to join one of Katrina’s classes, head to the Pizzini website. The course, with all ingredients and two bottles of wine delivered to your door, costs $165 (but the results are priceless).
And if you’d like to have a go, here’s the recipe.
Katrina Pizzini’s Gnocchi with Burnt Butter, Garlic and Sage
For the gnocchi…
600g Pontiac, Desiree or Dutch cream potatoes, washed thoroughly and skin left on.
2 heaped tablespoons grated parmesan cheese
2 small eggs
2 level teaspoon flaky salt, crushed
150g plain flour
1⁄2 cup of extra flour for rolling the gnocchi
For the butter, garlic & sage sauce…
2 cloves garlic, skin on, smashed a bit
10 leaves fresh sage
100g parmesan cheese
Place the potatoes in a pan and add 1 cup of water or enough water to come halfway up the potatoes in the pot. With the lid on, bring to the boil then immediately turn to simmer. Cook the potatoes until a sharp knife can easily be inserted into the potato (20-30 minutes depending on the size of the potatoes).
Drain the potatoes, if you are not using them immediately, cover the potatoes with a tea-towel, this will absorb the steam and keep the potatoes nice and dry. Peel the potatoes while still warm, then pass them through a potato ricer into a large bowl (the potato ricer incorporates air into the mixture and makes the gnocchi nice and light). If you don’t have a ricer, press the cooked potatoes through a course sieve.
With a wooden spoon, gently but thoroughly mix the parmesan, salt and egg into the potato.
Fold all of the flour into the mixture with the spoon, then complete the folding by hand, the technique is folding the mixture with an upward motion, not pressing down. Rough handling will push the air out and make the gnocchi tough. As soon as the flour is totally incorporated and the mixture comes to a ball, stop folding.
Lightly flour your bench just in front of you, pick up a handful of the gnocchi dough and shape it into a small log with your fingers. Place this log onto the bench and firmly roll it by hand to the shape of a thin sausage. Then with a sharp, flat-bladed knife cut pieces off, the size of a small stone – approximately 1 1/2cm – flicking each piece through the flour as you cut. Place the gnocchi onto a lightly floured tray and continue until mixture is finished. Don’t pile the gnocchi on the tray, as they will stick together, so give the gnocchi a little space.
Boil a large pot of lightly salted water and add about 2 cups of the gnocchi. They will sink to the bottom of the pan. When they rise to the surface, cook for a further 30 seconds then with a slotted spoon, scoop the gnocchi from the pot and place in a serving bowl. Continue this procedure until all the gnocchi are cooked.
For the butter sauce, place a heavy based pan on low heat for a few minutes. Melt the butter and add the garlic. Cook the garlic on gentle heat for about 10 minutes. Turn the heat to medium and add the sage, cook until crisp being careful to not burn the butter. Pour over the cooked gnocchi and stir gently.
Serve with a sprinkle of good parmesan cheese (and a glass of Pizzini’s Arneis).