First, full disclosure. To my knowledge no one in my family descends from Italy. Growing up there was no Italian restaurant in my small hometown though the spaghetti casserole was a church supper and funeral food favorite. (Yes, funeral food is a thing and I’m aware spaghetti casserole was an American creation.) I adore Italian food. Over the holidays Emily inspired me to tackle fresh pasta and that ultimately led me to take on gnocchi. We’ve long made our own rolls, biscuits and pie crusts… all from scratch so not really sure why I was hesitant to jump in and try these classics.
Gnocchi is one of my favorites but finding a good store-bought version is difficult. So I did some late-night reading, researched a lot and came across some great tips. Food & Wine, one of my favorite publications proved to once again be a wealth of information. The ingredients for making these plump, fluffy Italian dumplings are surprisingly simple. Potatoes, flour – preferably “00”- that extra-fine Italian pasta flour, kosher salt and a couple of egg yolks.
One of the key things I learned about making great gnocchi, controlling the moisture in the dough is critical. So instead of boiling potatoes bake them on a bed of kosher salt until they’re tender. The salt helps to draw out additional moisture from the potatoes producing the perfect potato. Once cooked the potatoes are pressed through a sieve or potato ricer so that they’re free of lumps and super light and fluffy.
These little, tender dumplings are wonderful sautéed in butter with a dusting of Parmesan cheese. But….
Add a lamb sauce, and it takes them to another level! The lamb sauce is a blend of ground lamb and veal with sweet onion and garlic simmered in a luscious tomato sauce accented with oregano and cinnamon. Not too fussy but full of flavor. The sauce can be made ahead and as with any great sauce it only gets better by the day.
I’m still working on my skills and technique in making this delicious dumpling. But don’t be afraid to give this dish a try – the outcome is worth conquering your fears!
Gnocchi with Lamb Sauce
For the Gnocchi:
2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, rinsed and dried but not peeled
2 extra-large egg yolks
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus extra for baking the potatoes and salting the cooking water
½ cup “00” pasta flour (“00” pasta flour is now widely available in the baking aisle of most markets or online. If you can’t find it you can use 5 tablespoons all-purpose and 3 tablespoons cake flour.)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese
Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and spread a layer of kosher salt over the foil. Pierce the whole potatoes on all sides with a sharp knife and place on top of the salt.
Bake at 400-degrees for 45-60 minutes or until the potatoes are cooked through.
Allow the potatoes to cool slightly then peel and press them through a sieve or ricer. Measure out 2 cups of the potatoes, lightly packed and toss into a mixing bowl along with the two egg yolks and 1 teaspoon of kosher salt.
Mix together until well blended.
Add the flour and stir together until the flour is worked into the potatoes.
Gently knead the dough a few turns until it is smooth. The dough will still be slightly sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pat it into a disc and divide into fourths.
Take each section and roll into a long rope about ¾’ thick. Cut into ¾” – 1” pieces.
Lightly roll the gnocchi across the tines of a fork or a gnocchi paddle to create tiny grooves. Places the gnocchi on a rimmed baking sheet that is lined with a sheet of parchment paper and dusted with flour to prevent them from sticking. Continue cutting and rolling the remainder of the dough.
At this point you can freeze them on the baking sheet and bag them for later. They’ll keep for about 1-2 months frozen. Cook straight from the freezer. To cook the gnocchi, add water to a wide stockpot along with a handful of kosher salt. Bring the water to a simmer over medium heat; add the gnocchi. Once they all float to the top cook for two minutes.
To finish in a butter sauce:
In a skillet, melt the butter over medium heat. Using a slotted spoon or spider transfer the cooked gnocchi from the water to the butter. Season with the black pepper and cook for about 2 minutes.
Toss with Parmesan cheese. You can stop here or add the lamb sauce!
To make the Lamb Sauce:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
1 medium sweet onion, chopped, about 1-1/2 cups
2 cloves garlic, chopped, about 1 teaspoon
1 pound ground lamb
1 pound ground veal
2 teaspoons dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
½ teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper, or to taste
3 cups pureed tomatoes
1 cups plum tomatoes, 14-ounces
½ tablespoon dark brown sugar
Melt the butter with the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook for about 7-10 minutes until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the chopped garlic and cook for an additional 3 minutes.
Crumble the ground lamb and the ground veal and add it to the onions with the dried oregano, cinnamon, kosher salt and pepper. Cook until the meat is no longer pink. (Though cinnamon is more commonly found in Greek meat sauces, it adds a somewhat spicy undertone to this sauce.)
Add the pureed tomatoes, the plum tomatoes – breaking them up in the sauce, along with the brown sugar. Simmer the sauce over low heat for about 30-40 minutes until the sauce has thickened slightly.
To serve, ladle the lamb sauce in the bottom of a dish, top with gnocchi and maybe a bit more sauce!