Gnocchi (pronounced nee-okkee) are an excellent alternative: They're fantastic with all sorts of sauces, from a simple summer tomato sauce to the richest winter meat sauce. Florentines call them topini (field mice), because the home made ones vaguely resemble mice in size and shape. This can produce a certain amount of confusion outside of Tuscany; one of my wife's aunts once caused a stir in a restaurant in Rome when she saw someone else eating gnocchi and asked for topini. The waiter said there weren’t any, and when she insisted there were, went to get the owner, who stiffly informed her that there were no mice in his restaurant. Eventually the misunderstanding was cleared up and she had her topini.
Basic Potato Gnocchi
- 2 1/4 pounds, mealy potatoes, peeled
- About 1 1/2 cups flour (see note below)
- A pinch of salt
Roll the dough out into snakes about as thick as your finger, cut the snakes into one-inch pieces, and gently score the pieces crosswise with a fork. As an alternative to scoring with a fork, Bugialli suggests you gently press them against the inside of a curved cheese grater, to obtain a curved shape with a depression on one side. The choice is up to you.
Cook the gnocchi in abundant salted boiling water, removing them with a slotted spoon a minute or two after they rise to the surface. Drain them well and serve them with a few leaves of sage, melted unsalted butter and Parmigiano, or meat sauce, or pomarola, or pesto.
The quantities above will make gnocchi sufficient for four as a main corse, or 6-8 as a first course in an Italian meal.
"The flour serves to bind the gnocchi, and thus forestall the experience of a lady who, in my presence, stirred the pot and came up with nothing at all; the gnocchi had disappeared. ‘Where'd they go?’ asked another lady, to whom I told the story, wondering if a fairy had spirited them away.
"’Don't raise your eyebrows, madam,’ replied I. ‘Though unexpected, it's perfectly normal. The gnocchi were made with too little flour, and dissolved upon coming into contact with the boiling water.’
"If you want more delicate gnocchi, cook them in milk and serve them undrained, as a soup. If the milk is of good quality, no seasoning other than salt, except for a pinch of Parmigiano, should be necessary."
(Pellegrino Artusi, from his introduction to gnocchi.)
Variations on Potato Gnocchi | Other Gnocchi Recipes