Thursday, April 7, 2011

Gnocchi Mac 'n Cheese

I gave you all a little sneak peek of our girl's night last week where we made homemade gnocchi and tossed it in a three-cheese sauce. Let me again introduce my favorite little chefs, the ladies that helped create this meal:
(Meredith, myself, Amy, Greer)
Such a fun time and a privilege, love these gals!

I've left you waiting long enough, this post will show you how to make the little potato dumplings and give the recipe for the cheese sauce. The main need you have is attaining a potato ricer - this is what gets the potatoes in dough-making form to create the dumplings. I went to and purchased this OXO Potato Ricer, then threw in this gnocchi board too!

Grocery List:
  • 3 large baking potatoes (Idaho, as much as I don't like them, best for gnocchi making), scrubbed
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. white pepper
  • Pinch of nutmeg 
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (splurge version: Parmagiano-Reggiano; good taste bargain version: Pecorino Romano Parmesan)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
You are going to start by peeling the skins off the potatoes and boil water in a large pot. Add the potatoes to the water and cook, partially covered, until the potatoes are soft and easy to pierce with a fork. If you boil on high heat, this will take about 30 - 35 minutes.

Once softened, drain the potatoes and let stand until they are cool enough to handle. The cooking school said the hotter the potatoes are when they are peeled and riced, the lighter the gnocchi will be. Press the potatoes through your potato ricer - we cut our potatoes in half so they would fit better into the ricer. We discovered that this takes some solid arm muscle, so skip the weights, here is your workout folks.
It looks like cheese... but it's potato.

Spread the riced potatoes into a thin, even layer on the work surface without compacting and let them cool completely. We put them in the fridge at this point to help them cool for about 5 minutes to help speed up this process - we were hungry.

While your riced potatoes are cooking, beat the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg together in a small bowl. Once cooled, spread out and form a mound of the potatoes and create a hole in the center.

Pour the egg mixture into the center and begin to knead the potato and egg mixtures together with both hands, gradually adding the grated cheese and enough of the flour (about 1 1/2 cups) to form a smooth but ever so slightly sticky dough.

If it feels wet, add more flour. The longer you knead the dough, the more flour it will require, and the heavier your gnocchi will be. So all hands on deck, knead it swiftly and well so that all flour, dough, cheese and egg mixture are well combined. When you are comfortable with the feel, roll it into a ball.

As you knead, it is normal for the dough to stick to your hands - the cooking class said to just rub your hands together to loosen the dough back in with the rest. Your hands are clean because we all just know to wash them before cooking, so that is perfectly fine to do!

When your dough is all combined and doesn't feel wet anymore, lightly dust the counter surface, dough and your hands with some flour. You are going to form the big ball into a more oblong ball, then cut into 6 equal pieces and set each one off to the side, working on them one at a time (unless you have extra hands to help, then you can each take one if your work space is large enough).

Using both hands in a smooth back-and-forth motion and exerting light pressure downward, roll the dough into a rope about 1/2 inch thick, flouring as needed to keep from sticking. The rope can end up being a couple feet long! Slice the rope into 1/2 inch-thick rounds.

Roll each of the rounds into a rough ball. Using either the tines of a fork, or a gnocchi board, lightly press the ball down with your thumb as your roll it down at an angle to create grooves and the perfect dumpling shape. It took a while to get the hang of this so don't get discouraged, it is all about the thumb placement though. You want your thumb at the top of the ball so you can gently roll it down naturally. The good news is that it is still dough, so if you mess up, roll it into a ball again and start over!

Set the finished dough aside as you finish the rest. At this point, we either cook it immediately or you can freeze it for future use. Tonight, we cook.

Fill a boiling pot with about six quarts of salted water and bring to a boil over high heat. Gently drop the gnocchi in the pot, a large spoonful at a time, stirring gently and continuously. The gnocchi is cooked when they rise up to the top, taking only about 1 minute. As soon as they float, you will need to scoop them out. It is important to not add in too many dumplings at once so that you can scoop them out as they cook - if they over cook, boil too long, they will become mushy and loose shape.

Once all of the gnocchi is done, proceed with your sauce recipe to complete it!

Ours is a mac and cheese version so here is what you need for that....

Grocery List, part 2:
  • 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tsp. garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 tbsp. all purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup reduced fat milk
  • 1 tsp. dijon mustard
  • 1/4 cup shredded Gruyere cheese
  • 1/4 cup shredded Fontina cheese
  • salt and white pepper to taste
  • 1/3 cup shredded Parmesan (again, either the expensive stuff Parmagiano-Reggiano, or the cheaper nice Parm, Pecorino Romano - use either of those for the great Parm flavor)
  • Basil leaves, minced, for garnish if you prefer
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray a casserole dish with cooking spray and place the gnocchi inside.

Here are our pretty fresh shredded cheeses!

Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat then stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant. Whisk in the flour until it thickens and bubbles, followed by the milk and Dijon. Continue to whisk well and cook until slightly thickened, about 3-5 minutes. Combine the Gruyere and fontina cheese, adding by the handful to the sauce pan, and stirring until well melted before adding the next. We then added 1/2 of our shredded Parmesan cheese to the sauce, saving the other half.

We then added the basil into our sauce - you can either do that or use it as garnish. Once all the cheese is melted, season sauce with salt and pepper. Pour sauce over the gnocchi, sprinkle with the rest of your Parm. If I would have thought about it, I would have brought my Tony's Creole, my favorite addition to any kind of cheese sauce!

Bake the gnocchi until they puff and the cheese is golden and bubbly, about 25 minutes. You will have an incredible tasting, cheesy masterpiece when you take it out.

We enjoyed our meal on the patio with wine for a perfect April evening, "mmm-ing" and "ahhh-ing" after almost every bite. I promise this recipe will not disappoint!

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