OPERA EATS: Homemade Gnocchi
In this post-COVID-19 era, home cooking is getting its mojo back, and Fort Worth Opera has curated a series of recipes from our incredible staff and singers! Join us as we dive into the culinary minds of the opera world!
Hi everyone! My name is Christopher Curcuruto. I am a bass-baritone from Sydney, Australia and am a current Studio Artist with Fort Worth Opera. I moved to the US in the Fall of 2018 to take up a Graduate Artist position in Opera at the University of North Texas where I study under Dr. Stephen Austin, and will be continuing in the Doctor of Musical Arts program this Fall whilst performing across the country.
Although I am Australian, both sides of my family are Italian, having immigrated to Australia in the early 60's. That means that I grew up with the benefits of both cultures! Australians love their food and have an incredible culinary culture owing in large part to their rich immigrant history, and of course Italian cuisine is a favorite worldwide. It is a fact well-known that Italians are "feeders". In Italian culture, food is synonymous with love: we put a lot of love into what we cook, and we share it with the ones we love. Growing up, I was fortunate to have a wealth of fabulous cooks to learn from in both of my parents, aunts, uncles, grandmothers and, somewhat unconventionally, grandfathers.
In fact, long before I found opera, cooking was one of my first professional interests, working in family-owned and run cafes in Sydney city. Cooking remains one of my favorite pastimes, perhaps surpassed only by eating. So when I was asked to provide a recipe for Fort Worth Opera's Opera Eats, I was overwhelmed by all of the possibilities! Should I write about an Australian favorite like "Fairy Bread" (Google it) or "Meat Pies" that might be a novelty to an American reader? Or go with a traditional Italian dish that I grew up eating and cooking?
Well, I decided to split the difference and go with something of an Italian novelty: gnocchi. Gnocchi are basically little potato dumplings that get the full pasta treatment. Boiled, fried, or baked, drowned in rich Bolognese sauce, or something simpler like sage and browned butter, they are versatile and a bit of fun to make. These guys are not something I grew up making since they are of Northern Italian origin, but I think they are a treat worth mastering.
What you want from perfect gnocchi are light and fluffy bite-sized pillows. Although they only take a handful of ingredients to make, the starches in the main ingredients (potato and flour) will work against you if you are too rough with them, making your gnocchi tough. One way to avoid this is to make sure you don't over boil your potatoes. If your potatoes become waterlogged, they will take more flour to come together as a dough, increasing your chances of them becoming tough. Also, you aren't trying to make bread, so when you knead your dough, don't work harder than you have to! Just bring the ingredients together, roll, cut, and cook. Enjoy!
4 medium russet potatoes (there is a lot of debate over best and worst potatoes to use but russets are a pretty safe bet)
1 cup 00 flour, plus some to flour your surfaces (you can use all-purpose flour if it's all you have, just be judicious with how much you add as, again, it is more likely to become tough)
Teaspoon of salt, plus some for cooking water
Teaspoon of pepper
1. Start with a large pot of cold, salted water. Add your potatoes (skin on), and bring to the boil. Boiling time will vary depending on the size of your potatoes (20-40 minutes), but they are ready when a fork will just pierce them easily. Drain.
2. Next you are going to peel the potatoes. Best practice is to work while they are still hot. If you can bear the heat, the skin should come off easily with your hands. You could also use a tea towel to handle them if necessary, or use a peeler.
3. Once peeled, we need to mash them in a mixing bowl. Ideally, we would use a potato ricer but if you don't have one of those, a potato masher will do. You want to get rid of as many lumps of possible, but don't whip the potatoes into a frenzy! Think low intensity thoughts while you are working! Again, working while hot, the potatoes will mash more easily and consistently.
4. Now add your salt and pepper, your egg, and little by little your flour. Don't put all of the flour in at once. Maybe add half, combine the ingredients, and then add more as necessary to form your dough. Remember, DO NOT overwork it!
5. Next, turn your dough out onto a floured surface. You want to very lightly work the dough and add just enough flour so that it is no longer sticky and is firm enough to be able to be rolled into a sausage. How much flour? I saw a funny meme once that said Italians keep adding ingredients until the spirits of their ancestors tell them it is enough. So... that much!
6. Cut off a small part of your dough, roll it into a sausage or rope about 1/2 inch thick, then cut your little pillows about 1/2 inch wide. Do the same with all of your dough.
You can cook your gnocchi just like this, but an optional step is to either poke each pillow with your finger to make a little indent, or to roll them over the back of a floured fork using your thumb. These textures are great for catching whichever sauce you choose to serve your gnocchi with.
7. To cook, add gnocchi to a large pot of salted, boiling water. Carefully stir once or twice just to make sure they don't stick to the bottom. Some people will add oil to the water to stop them from sticking together. Personally, I have never found this necessary. The gnocchi will float to the surface when they are almost done. Give them 30 seconds to a minute while floating, then drain them. You can then add your favorite sauce, or if you want to add more texture, you can quickly pan fry them in some olive oil until golden before adding your sauce.
And there you have it! Your own homemade gnocchi! This is a really fun afternoon activity. Expect it to take some time for your first attempt. Put on some chill tunes (Norah Jones or Bellini perhaps), and enjoy with your favorite sauce and appropriate libation.
As always, from our kitchen to yours, this is OPERA EATS.