Potato Gnocchi with Pesto
Homemade gnocchi is the kind of hands-on dish that seems like it would take a family of gray-haired aunts to make. But these featherlight potato dumplings, tossed with fragrant basil pesto, are remarkably easy to shape. You can make the gnocchi up to 8 hours in advance and refrigerate them until 1 hour before cooking.
For the basil pesto:
- 1 or 2 garlic cloves
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- 2 cups packed fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more, as needed
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 1 2/3 lb. baking potatoes
- Kosher salt, to taste, plus 2 tsp.
- 2 eggs, beaten
- About 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
- Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
To make the pesto, with a food processor running, drop the garlic through the feed tube and process until minced. Turn off the processor, add the pine nuts and pulse a few times to chop. Add the basil and pulse a few times to chop coarsely. Then, with the processor running, add the 1/2 cup olive oil through the feed tube in a slow, steady steam and process until a smooth, moderately thick paste forms, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the cheese. Season with salt and pepper.
Reserve 1/2 cup of the pesto for the gnocchi. Transfer the rest to a storage container, top with a thin layer of olive oil, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
In a large saucepan over high heat, combine the unpeeled potatoes with salted water to cover by 1 inch, cover the pan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes. Drain the potatoes and rinse with cold running water until they are cool enough to handle. Peel the potatoes and return them to the saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, shaking the pan often, to evaporate the excess moisture, about 2 minutes.
Press the warm potatoes through a ricer or rub them through a coarse-mesh sieve into a bowl. Stir in the eggs and the 2 tsp. salt. Gradually stir in enough of the flour to make a soft dough, taking care not to add too much. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently a few times until it is smooth, adding just enough flour to prevent sticking. Divide the dough into 4 equal portions.
Lightly flour a rimmed baking sheet. Using floured hands, transfer 1 portion of the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Using your palms, roll the dough to make a rope about 3/4 inch in diameter. Cut the rope into 1-inch lengths and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add half of the gnocchi and simmer until they rise to the surface, then cook 1 minute more. Using a skimmer, carefully transfer the gnocchi to a warmed serving bowl and cover to keep warm. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi, then scoop out 1/2 cup of the cooking water and discard the remainder.
Add the pesto and about 1/4 cup of the reserved cooking water to the gnocchi. Toss gently, adding more water as needed to make a creamy sauce. Serve immediately and pass cheese at the table. Serves 4 to 6.
Variation: Gnocchi will hold up to a variety of different sauces, including brown butter and sage, marinara sauce and Bolognese sauce.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Comfort Food, by Rick Rodgers (Oxmoor House, 2009).