Saturday, November 10, 2007

Nettie's Gnocchi - Apples and Thyme

My husband says he doesn’t remember the exact moment when he knew he wanted to marry me, that there was a sweet amalgam of feelings and thoughts collected over a couple of years to an obvious and sparkling conclusion. I beg to differ. I say the idea stuck in his craw when the gnocchi dough I was making stuck to his kitchen counter.

Shaped with a fork

Yet despite all this insouciant bucolic bounty, I was a restless young girl, far from home and friends, at the crossroads of life. I had graduated into the excitement and uncertainty of high school and boys, and the preoccupations of being a teenager took top priority.

It was on one particularly intense late afternoon of ennui that I was casting about for something to do. All the other kids, younger than I, were busy chasing butterflies and doing somersaults on the lawn. I was watching their screaming frolics from the wide window of my aunt’s handsome and comfortable kitchen when Nettie appeared at the doorway.

Antoinette, always known by the nickname of Nettie, was my cousins' grandmother, a short, stout woman with a larger-than-life, bold and blunt personality, a real spitfire in an extended family with a spirited reputation. When she walked into a room, you knew it. I knew it, too, that day.

Shaped with a gnocchi board

I was still slouched against the countertop when she came up to me, and with matter-of-fact directness, asked me if I wanted to learn to make gnocchi. I didn’t know what gnocchi was. Sure, my family frequently ate and loved all the red-sauced Neapolitan classics Americans associate with Italian food, spaghetti, pizza, and baked lasagna. But the spectacular variety and abundance of Italian culinary specialties were things I had not been routinely exposed to. The idea of a hands-on lesson in something new was just the jump start I needed to separate me from my pensive reveries and idle posturing.

Nettie blasted open the cupboards and refrigerator rummaging for provisions, directing me to start my own collection of supplies, the pots and pans, bowls, wooden spoons, and the all-important singular fork. I blinked and the afternoon was over. A tall pot of red sauce was bubbling in that lazy way that only a sauce thickened with time and patience could. Another pot, one filled with water and another sort of bubbling was at the ready. The countertop was a catastrophe of all the creative mess that makes the clean up worthwhile. Nettie and I were hunched over a sprawl of flour, a canvas dotted and spotted with notched dumplings the size of my first thumb joint.

I wish I had written the recipe down, but I was young and loving the moment, no longer contemplating the mysteries of my future as I had been just a few hours earlier. My own grandmother had taught me to play the piano, my mother taught me to identify trees and flowers, and Nettie taught me how to make gnocchi. I need to thank her now, but she is far away. I still don’t know what the future holds for me, but my now mature reveries imagine a time to come when I will have an Italian grandmother for so much longer than just one day.

Nettie’s Gnocchi (as I would like to remember it; recipe by repeated trial and error over the last several days)


2 pounds Russet baking potatoes
1 slightly beaten egg
1 ½ - 2 cups flour
Salt and Pepper


Score then bake the potatoes in a microwave for ten minutes. (You can also bake them in a conventional oven for approximately 35 minutes at 400 degrees F or until tender.) Remove potatoes from oven and set out to cool, piercing each several times to release steam and moisture. When potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel off skins and put through a ricer into a large bowl. It is very important that there not be any lumps at all. Beat in the egg, then incrementally beat in the flour until the mixture forms a non-sticky ball of dough. The amount of flour you need will vary depending on the moisture content of the potatoes. For excellent tips on making gnocchi, check here and here.

Turn out the ball of dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for approximately 5 minutes to create a very smooth texture. Do not overwork the dough. Cut ball in half.

Gently roll and stretch dough out to form a long rope ¼ - ½ inch thick. Cut the rope at ½ to ¾ inch intervals into small nuggets. Flatten each nugget against the lightly floured tines of a fork while pressing it against your fingers. Turn the fork over and slowly roll the dough off the fork, gently pressing the seam. The more you depress the fork, the deeper the ridges you will leave in the dough. (You can also roll the nuggets against a lightly floured traditional wooden gnocchi board. The ridges will not be as pronounced.)

Before you begin with the second half of the dough, slowly bring a large pot of water to a boil. Immediately after completion of all the gnocchi, gently slide them into the boiling water. Work in batches to prevent overcrowding of the pot. The gnocchi will drop down to the bottom of the pot. The gnocchi are cooked when they pop up to the surface, in a matter of minutes. If you continue to let them stay in water, they will double in size and be twice as light. The choice of texture is yours; neither are leaden nor sticky. Scoop the dumplings out of the water with a slotted spoon, either plating them to serve immediately with your favorite sauce or transferring them to an ovenproof dish for further finishing as described below.

Serves 4. --

Simple Butter and White Truffle Oil Sauce (very loosely adapted from the Epicurious recipe)


2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Salt to taste
White pepper to taste

1 teaspoon white truffle oil
½ cup heavy cream
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Freshly grated nutmeg
Additional grated Parmesan cheese


In a large skillet over low heat, melt the butter with the olive oil, removing from heat when the butter fully melts. Add garlic and allow it to flavor without additional heat. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add white truffle oil and stir to mix. Gently add gnocchi to the skillet, turning to well coat with the sauce. Transfer gnocchi to a large ovenproof dish (or 4 individual dishes). Pour the heavy cream over and around the gnocchi. Scatter with the grated Parmesan cheese. Bake for 8 minutes in a pre-heated 400 degree F oven or until cheese is melted and inner edges of the baking dish is brown and crispy.

Remove from oven and freshly grate nutmeg over top of gnocchi. Adjust salt if necessary. Serve immediately with additional grated Parmesan cheese on the side.

This post is being submitted to
Jeni of The Passionate Palate and Inge of Vanielje Kitchen, co-hosts of Apples and Thyme, an event that celebrates and pays tribute to the women in our families and our lives who have left sweet memories of time spent in their kitchens.


Been There, Done That ~

Maple Walnut Cake


The Passionate Palate said...

I love it! Nettie sounds like a fascinating woman and how lucky you were to have had her teach you this difficult dish. I have never been brave enough to attempt gnocchi, but I'm working my way there. I will use your recipe, especially after so many trials and errors!
Thanks for participating!

Wendy said...

Stunned at how pretty your gnocci are. They look perfect! I was intending on making a batch of pumpkin gnocci today. There's no chance they'll be a perfect looking as yours though. :)

Kelly-Jane said...

Your gnocchi are beautiful! You should be proud =)

An Italian Grandmother for a day sounds like something I would like too, you take us there with such good feeling...

I have a couple of gnocchi recipes I have marked to try, and one of these days I will!

african vanielje said...

Susan, your words are as beautiful as your gnocci, painting a vivid picture of those bucolic days. Thanks for sharing your memories with us and joining us in Apples & Thyme

Valli said...

Thank you for sharing your childhood memories around the kitchen with your Aunt Nettie. You have her recipe for gnocchi which will always be a tribute to her whenever you prepare it. Thank you for sharing!

Kalyn said...

Great post about gnocchi. Before I quit eating potatoes and white flour this was one of my favorite dishes to order in Italian restaurants (sigh, but oh well.) Love seeing how it's made.

BTW, love your new photo too!

Simona said...

Dear Susan, I am reading this post on Sunday morning and guess what is currently baking in my oven? Potatoes to make gnocchi! I use the back of a cheese grater to shape my gnocchi, as I have seen my mother do countless times. I enjoyed reading your lovely story. And the photos are great.

Shaun said...

Susan, lovie - I enjoy the rhythm of your prose and how the usage of so many adjectives draws out each sentence, like long summer days. All you need now is the presence of fireflies...

The gnocchi board leaves the most beautiful indentations to catch that rich and palate-pleasing sauce. Each gnocchi is a beautiful sight to behold, each one a loving tribute to Nettie.

How wonderful that you had the experience - sometimes one day is enough. I bet she had no idea that she would leave a mark on you that you'd remember twenty years later...

Anh said...

Susan, a great post! Love the story and the dish is just brilliant.

Lucy said...

Trial and error - even with the memory of an adopted Italian grandmother lingering - is the story of gnocchi. The sauce, scented with truffle oil (oh!) must be the penultimate comfort food.

That summer, on the brink of adolescence, caught between it and adulthood, sounds idyllic Susan.

Floored by the beauty of your words. Again.

Sandeepa said...

This was one more of your beautiful posts. I love it when a recipe starts off with a story like this. I could see you and nettie in that kitchen, your writing was so vivid and yet I have not yet tried Gnochi

sra said...

Blogging often makes me wonder, and worry, if I'll run out of experience and humour to put into words. I hope not. Lovely, lovely post, Susan. You've captured summer holidays so well, even though it's in a different continent, I identify totally.

Patricia Scarpin said...

What a lovely post, Susan!
Joao was crazy to propose to me after a week together - and I was crazy enough to say yes. LOL

I have never heard of a gnocchi board, how interesting!

And the dish is mouthwatering!

Ricki said...

Susan you paint pictures with your words. This one made me tear up. Love gnocchi..will give this one a try.

Susan said...

Thanks, Jeni. I was happy to join in. It’s especially important that you cook the gnocchi right away. I let the first batch sit covered overnight and wound up with gummy mush the next day. : O
Wendy – Thanks! The shaping wasn’t as tricky as mixing in the right amount of flour and the kneading, for me, anyway. Someday I'll work up the courage to add more ingredients to the dough.
Hi, Kelly-Jane. Thank you. I found the tips I linked to very helpful. I strongly recommend the step-by-step tutorial. It all makes sense when you see the photos.
Thank you, Inge. You and Jeni brought a wonderful idea to life. Your event will be a fond memory in and of itself.
Valli – I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Now that I have mastered gnocchi, they will be bobbing in boiling water fairly regularly around here from now on.
Kalyn – The tutorial takes all the mystery out of it, but watching is the best way to learn. Thanks for your kind words. Gnocchi must be the curse of The South Beach Diet.
Simona – Thank you. I, of course, am intrigued by the use of a cheese grater. Maybe I’ll try them again this weekend… Good to know that a truly Italian cook bakes her potatoes, too.
Shaun – Thanks. I didn’t want to ruin the mood, but we did have to swat the occasional cloud of gnats from our faces. There were, actually, fireflies dangling in mid air from dusk on. How could I forget? The light pollution of the stars.

The gnocchi board was an inexpensive purchase made at that cook’s store in Maine, another irresistible, charming little culinary curio. They did come out well, I must say, but I shaped far more with the fork. The grooves stayed nice and deep after boiling.

No, Nettie probably had no idea, but I know she enjoyed herself that afternoon, too. You could tell.
Thanks, Anh. I was amazed at how light the gnocchi were - and photogenic even with a sauce.
Lucy – Thank you. As hackneyed as it is, practice really does make perfect. I have gotten over my reluctance to use that rather potently “fragrant” white truffle oil. Once I let the genie out, all was well. The flavor was remarkable, elusive and hard to describe.
Thank you, Sandeepa. I’m happy you enjoyed the post. Now, we’ve got to get a plate of gnocchi in front of you.:)
Sra – Thanks. I don’t think you need to worry about writer’s block; your writing has an intrinsic sense of place, time and humor. When you keep your eyes and ears open, you can always dip from a deep well. Blogger burn out, however, is another story. (!)
Patricia! You said “yes” to a proposal after a week?! Looks like all systems still GO! Sometimes the click is just right right at the get-go. Well done! I’d never heard of a gnocchi board, either, until I stumbled across one on vacation. Thanks for your sweet compliments.
Hey, Ricki! Thank you, dear. You are spending a week with us at Xmas. We can huddle in the kitchen, and I can play Nettie. : )

Cynthia said...

I would have liked to spend an afternoon with Nettie in her kitchen :)

Your gnocchi looks perfect.

Lisa said...

My God! I think those are the most beautiful gnocchi I've ever seen! Just gorgeous, and I truly wish I were eating them right now. Loved your story, too. Gnocchi are something I have only attempted once, years ago, with some girlfriends, and it was a disaster. I really must try again. Your recipe and tips are so helpful.

Richa said...

lovely post, susan!
i've been fascinated with the gnocchi board since i saw it on a cooking show, michael chiarello, i believe. i sure would like to try making these sometime :) wonder if there is a substitute for egg! never cooked with eggs, though i do eat cakes and pastries from the store!
btw, @ chand palace, it used to be walking distance from where i lived and i used to frequent it on wknds! i also liked their mini dosa, the one they served w/ the buffet :)

Toni said...

I love this post! I was right there with you in the country, and I felt like I knew Nettie. What a great woman. She obviously understood the heart of a teenage girl, and knew you needed something to focus on.

I've always adored gnocchi, but felt that it was beyond my grasp in terms of making it. Maybe it isn't?

Christina said...

Beautiful story and beautiful gnocchi. I make gnocchi all the time, but they NEVER look as pretty as that. Nicely done!

Sylvia said...

Such beautiful memories and a great story.All so sweet. And the gnocchi looks fabulous

Nanditha Prabhu said...

sorry that i missed your last post!your way of writing glues me to your post!very beautifully written!hey! seriously think of putting all this into hard cover1 i am not kidding!:)

Susan said...

Hi, Cynthia. Thanks. Nettie was a character. She left quite an impression on everyone who met her. : )
Thanks, Lisa. Fear not. Anyone can make gnocchi if willing to pick yourself up and start all over again. I do hope you try. I was surprised by and happy with the final results.
Thank you, Richa. There are many gnocchi recipes that do not use egg (just potato and flour), but as a novice, I was worried that the dough wouldn’t bind right w/o the egg.

Chand Palace still serves those lovely mini potato masala dosa, two per plate, with coconut chutney and sambar. How lucky that you could walk to the restaurant! I have to travel forty minutes west of the city; it’s worth the trip, though. I always make the drive a two-fer, stopping next store at the grocery with my long wish list of Indian ingredients.
Hi, Toni. Thank you. You’ve paid me a great compliment. I’ve thought of that summer off and on for years and was glad an event came up to naturally pay tribute to Nettie.

Gnocchi isn’t beyond your grasp, I can assure you. Feel the fear and do it anyway. I think determination is key.
Thanks, Christina. Now that I’ve gotten the knack of it, I wonder what I was so worried about. I must say, though, that first debacle in my then-boyfriend’s kitchen was a bit of a trauma.
Obrigado, Sylvia. Our food memories can be pretty powerful. It's good to see you.
Nanditha, you honor me. Thank you. We’ll see what happens. Writing does give me a great deal of personal pleasure despite the work; that it pleases others is twice the beauty of it. Thanks again.

Ann said...

Your gnocchi are gorgeous! You've inspired me to try for something more than the mis-shapen lumps I usually end up with. :-)

Really enjoyed reading this-- thanks for sharing your story.

Laurie Constantino said...

Now why don't my gnocchi look like that?? Yours are perfectly gorgeous, and I can tell from the pictures that their texture was perfect as well. And white truffle oil with gnocchi? One of the few places where truffle oil is never a mistake. But best of all was your story -- I could just see the young you, bored and leaning against the counter, that inspired nettie to give you the lesson. Thanks for a terrific piece.

bee said...

what a wonderful trubite to the women in your family!!!! they are what make a house a home.

Nora B. said...

Hi Susan,
This is such a wonderful tribute to Nettie. So very well written, Susan. And I love all the photos as well. And thanks for sharing this tried & tested recipe.

TBC said...

You made gnocchi from scratch?! Wow! they look so perfect:)
Susan, the third pic is simply beautiful. BTW, didn't u want to send this in for this event?

Lovely post and a beautiful tribute to Nettie!

Anonymous said...

Your gnocchi recipe looks good. My first encounter with gnocchi was not to good though. I was alone in an Italian restaurant in Colorado raring for new dishes to try. Perhaps it was the sauce. But I think I am now ready for a new encounter with gnocchi...

librariane said...

Mmm...those look great! I've tried to like gnocchi, but it just doesn't click with me :hangs head:

I think all teenagers need a Nettie to pop in and make them *do* something, other than stand around moping! I remember those days of being too young or too old. Cooking seems to be an easy way to overcome that with either gender, too. I'll have to remember that!

Barb McMahon said...

What a lovely tribute! I love the idea of having a "Grandmother for a Day"!

Asha said...

I saw this board on Food TV Susan, I wish I could buy it somewhere. Gnocchi look fabulous!:))

Pasticciera said...

Perfect gnocchi indeed and a perfect tribute to Nettie.

Retno Prihadana said...

I haven´t had this one. Looks delicious.

Susan said...

Welcome, Ann! Thank you. Lumpy gnocchi is part of the learning curve. You CAN move beyond it. Glad you liked my post; I was happy to share.
Laurie – You are very sweet. Thank you. You know, truffle oil really can be a mistake sometimes, but I thought it was only my perspective. Thanks for visiting and welcome!
Thanks, Bee. Hear! Hear! And a home is a woman’s castle, too!
Thank you, Nora. This post has turned out to be one of my very favorites. I’m happy that you enjoyed it.
TBC – Thanks! Yes, from scratch. Third time’s the charm. Technically these are dumplings and not noodles, so they wouldn’t qualify for CLICK, but thanks for thinking of it.
Hi, Anonymous. Thank you. Everyone’s taste is different. It could easily have been the sauce…or even a so-so batch of dumplings. Do hope you try them again somewhere else. Thank you for visiting.
Thanks, Librariane. Not everyone likes gnocchi – understood. Cooking is all-around good therapy; I prescribed it for everyone, even if only in small doses.
Hi, Barb! Welcome! Thank you. Nettie really did rock that day! Good to see you.
Thank you, Asha. Welcome! Gnocchi boards are very inexpensive. I’ll send you an email with some mail-order sources.
Thank you, Pasticciera. Sometimes everything just clicks. Good to see you. Welcome!
Welcome, Retno! Thank you. Oh, I’ll bet someday you will try gnocchi even if you do not make it yourself. Thanks for visiting.

Sandeepa said...

Was the TJ's at Edgewater small as compared to WF ? the one I went to in DC had just 4 small aisles, the produce section was not that great as WF.

I wish i had more time to explore

KayKat said...

Your country vacation sounds so idyllic!

All these women in your life - the impact they've had on you is so beautiful.

I love your post!

Susan said...

Hi, Kaykat. Welcome! Thank you so much. I'm glad you enjoyed it!
Good to see you.

Julie said...

The best Italian dish I ever had was gnocchi! It made me wish for an Italian grandmother of my own. Thank you for writing this beautiful post and providing this recipe. You have a great way with words!

Mishmash ! said...

Susan, I saw this post a few days back and the moment you started your story line with Nettie, I knew I had to read peacefully, so came to enjoy the post this morning and I could really see granny giving you instructions and you standing there grabbing all the ingredients...your narrations are always excellent....

Gnocchi is something i love from Italian cuisine more than lasagna,(may be coz i am yet to eat a real classic lasagna)...i prefer gnocchi's with chicken in that creamy sauce:P


Susan said...

Thank you, Julie! Good gnocchi really is a knockout! I'm so glad you enjoyed my story.
Shn - Thank you very much for your kind words. That afternoon was special. I'm happy I could share it here. I'm especially partial to a cream sauce, too. : )

Carnation said...

very beautifully written...even though i have never tasted going to give it a try...

Joe Horn said...

Love the blog, always enjoy reading it. I really like these gnocchi. I just made a gnocchi with choux pastry for the first time and it was incredible. Come take a look if you have a chance and let me know what you think.

Thanks so much!