The Great Gnocchi Debate of 08

Today’s post is an extremely exciting, scientific experiment. At Christmas this year we were lucky enough to receive my grandmother’s gnocchi recipe. I have the fondest of memories growing up eating these little pillows of heaven. So you can imagine my surprise when we saw that her recipe calls for potato buds instead of normal potatoes! This really got us wondering and Mandi and I decided that it would be a good idea to put them in a head to head competition to see which tasted better, potato buds or the spud itself.  We had made Heidi’s recipe before, so we planned to use that as a base recipe.  It started to get crazy when on the morning of the experiment we saw Tyler Florence make gnocchi. We wanted to try his recipe too! That got Mandi’s brain going and she decided she wanted to make some colored versions of each recipe to see how that affected the flavor and texture. When it came down to it we couldn’t agree on a sauce. I prefer tomato sauce on my gnocchi, but she likes cream… well the whole thing really just continued to snowball and in the end we ended up making four types of gnocchi with two flavors and three sauces…

For all the different gnocchi’s, we kept the flour / egg / potato ratio as similar as possible so that we could really judge the potato method. The comparison involved baked potatoes, steamed potatoes, boiled potatoes, and potato buds. Then we colored some of each kind with some spinach and roasted red peppers.  The three sauces were tomato, gorgonzola cream, and thyme butter. This made for a total of 36 possible combinations.  Our impressions on which were best and worst are at the bottom of the post.

Prepping potatoes to be baked. You need to make holes with a fork. Some say this is so they don’t explode in the oven but for some reason I don’t really believe this theory. I just do it so the heat can get in better.

Cover with olive oil

And salt, and put them in the oven for an hour or so.

These potatoes are for steaming and boiling.

We steamed some spinach for some green coloring.

Shock it in an ice bath to freeze the nice green color in.

We then put this in the blender with a small amount of oil.  We also blended some roasted red peppers for red coloring.

The first batch of gnocchi will be made with steamed potatoes.

A ricer or potato mill is important for gnocchi.  It helps them stay fluffy.  If you mash the potatoes, the gnocchi will turn out gummy or heavy.

You have to be really gentle with the dough as well.  Don’t over work it or knead it at all.  If you knead it, you will form gluten and that will cause the gnocchi to be tough.  Just move this pile of flour and potatoes around until it just barely becomes a dough like consistency.

Ever play with play doh as a kid?  Make a snake.

This is the proper gnocchi technique.  You can use a fork instead if you don’t want to buy the board (but it’s only like 3 dollars).  You want well defined ridges on the outside, and almost a pocket of space in the center.

A few with color.

We then did the same exact thing with boiled potatoes, and then the baked potatoes, being sure to add a bit of color to all of the batches as well.

Lastly, we did the variation of my grandmothers recipe.

Mix the buds and hot water

Then make the gnocchi like all the other ones.

Mandi likes a cream sauce with gnocchi, but I like tomato, so in the interest of science, we decided to make 3 different sauces.  Here is some thyme, chives, basil, oregano, and garlic for the sauces.

The beginnings of a great marinara.

Thyme butter sauce.

Oregano and basil into the tomatoes

Gorgonzola into the cream

Fresh chives from the garden.

We had a very serious labeling system so we didn’t get confused.

This is the fresh ricotta from last week.

They float when they are done.

Always put them right into the sauce as opposed to putting them on the plate and then adding the sauce on top.  As Mario says, this allows the 2 separate components to become one.

In this competition, nobody loses.  This was a win win situation.  A win win win even.

Starting with the sauces, nothing changed for us.  I still like the tomato best with gnocchi, and she still likes the cream. For a short time when we started eating, she liked the brown butter thyme sauce best, but this sauce was a bit too much to eat a lot of and got old.  It would have been best suited for a gnocchi appetizer or small plate.

Hands down, we both liked the steamed potato gnocchi best.  They were the lightest, softest, and pillowiest.  They melted in your mouth and absorbed the perfect amount of sauce.  The boiled potatoes came a close second and tasted almost the same.  The main downfall of these two varieties was when it came to the freezer.  We froze a bunch of all of the varieties, and when we cooked some of the steamed and boiled ones the next day; they fell apart in the sauce.

Coming in third was my grandmother’s recipe.  This may be considered blasphemy to my family, but keep reading before you make that judgment.  First of all, even though they came in third, there was stiff competition and they still tasted amazing.  The main difference was these gnocchi had bite to them.  It wasn’t a bad or gummy bite, it was just different then the others.  I still LOVE this variety and one taste brought me instantly back to family dinners at my grandparent’s house as a young boy. However, in a direct comparison, the steamed and boiled potatoes were better.  There were a few things about these gnocchi that made them a great option for people to make and not just a third place finisher destined to be overlooked in the food world for the rest of time.  For one, they were much easier to make.  The potato buds cut cooking time drastically.  Second, the texture was different, but far from bad.  I’m sure some people may even prefer gnocchi with a bit of a bite to them.  We also found that adding the spinach or red pepper puree softened them up a bit.  The third reason these are a great option is that they freeze beautifully.  We had some the day after from the freezer and they tasted exactly the same if not better than they had when we first made them!  Hopefully I am still allowed home for the holidays after displaying my grandmother’s recipe for the world and then saying it wasn’t as good as some others.

Lastly, the baked potatoes sucked.  Sorry Tyler, but these gnocchi were gummy and not very appetizing.

Here is a chart I made.  I don’t really like it, but I suppose it does a decent job of summarizing my thoughts so I will still put it here.

Potato Method

Ease of Creation

Taste

Texture

Texture After Freezeing

Boiled

4

5

4.5

3

Steamed

3

5

5

3

Buds

5

4

4

4

Baked

3

3

2

n/a

Gnocci –

Just under 2 pounds of a starchy potato:
Peeled, steamed and riced,
Peeled, boiled and riced,
Baked, peeled and riced, ORRRR
1 1/2 cups of potato buds and 1 1/4 cups of hot water mixed together.

1 egg white
1 cup flour
Salt
Spoon of spinach or red pepper puree (optional)

Mix all the ingredients together on a floured surface.  Be very gentle and do not knead.  The more you work this dough, the tougher your gnocchi will become.  Then roll it out like a play doh snake.  Cut it into segments and roll them on a fork or gnocchi board.  For more info, look at the pictures above and / or go to this website.

Red pepper puree- I just took 2 whole roasted red peppers from a jar and put them in the blender.

Spinach puree - steam spinach (or use frozen) and put it in the blender with a small amount of oil.

Quick marinara - heat olive oil on medium high.  Add garlic, pepper flakes, pepper and salt.  Simmer for 3 minutes.  Add canned tomatoes, oregano, and basil.  Stir and turn to medium low and cook for 15 minutes.

Thyme butter sauce - cook butter, add thyme.  It should look BROOOWNNNN

Gorgonzola cream sauce - wisk some flour into oil and cook for a few minutes (roux).  Add cream and gorgonzola.  Continue stirring and turn the heat off when it is all smooth.  Add chives.