Complicated Recipes: Gnocchi

For me, “simply cooking” is the process of producing great meals from good ingredients with a minimum of fussy preparation or time-consuming steps. My goal is to get a good meal on the table day after day, while heartily enjoying both the act of cooking and eating what I have produced.

As a result, I usually gravitate toward simpler recipes. I am much more likely to attempt a recipe with just a few tasty ingredients than a laundry list of components. But even these seemingly simple recipes can be overly complex.

Take gnocchi, for example–the Italian potato dumpling-like pasta. I attempted to make it the other night, and it wasn’t a success by my judgment. The basic recipe requires only four ingredients: potatoes, flour, egg and salt. But that’s where the simplicity ends. The recipe has many steps: cooking the potatoes, mashing the potatoes, making the dough, cutting and shaping the gnocchi, cooking the gnocchi, saucing the gnocchi. What seems like a straightforward recipe actually requires 90 minutes or more of cooking time, not to mention dirtying many pots and dishes, and getting flour everywhere.

But the complexity doesn’t stop there. Endless debates rage over how best to cook gnocchi, starting with what type of potato to choose. Should the potatoes be boiled or dry-cooked before mashing? How much flour should be added? How long should the dough be worked?

It is very easy to get gnocchi wrong, as evidenced by the amount of bad gnocchi being served in restaurants. There is a very fine line between dumplings that fall to pieces in the final boil and dumplings that taste like little leaden balls. Much can go wrong in the many steps leading up to the final product. In my opinion, it is not worth the time and effort to make such a tricky recipe at home–although I won’t rule out trying it again, if I find a better recipe.

When done right, gnocchi is a wonderfully simple, rustic and hearty dish. I will enjoy even more a plate of well-prepared gnocchi the next time I encounter one in a good Italian restaurant, knowing the effort and skill that went into making it.

If you want to try making gnocchi, here is a recipe very similar to the one I tried, with each step illustrated by a photo.

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