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The Sorella Gnocchi

In Piedmont, Emma Hearst and Sarah Krathen, authors of the cookbook Sorella, ate teeny, tiny potato gnocchi everywhere they went. This recipe was inspired by an excellent version they had at Osteria dei Catari, in Monforte, where chef-owner Alessandro Cavallo topped gnocchi with sautéed pears and a cheesy cream sauce. Cut the pears the same size as the gnocchi, so they’re camouflaged.

Ingredients:

For the gnocchi:

  • 3 medium russet potatoes
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 egg white
  • 2 Tbs. salt
  • 1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling and
      dusting

For the castelrosso cheese sauce:

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
  • 2 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups (16 fl. oz./500 ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 lb. (250 g) castelrosso or Humboldt Fog cheese, cut into
      1-inch (2.5-cm) cubes with rind intact for stronger flavor

  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 3 Tbs. unsalted butter
  • 2 large, ripe but firm pears, peeled, halved, cored and cut into
      tiny dice
  • Handful of chopped fresh chives for garnish

Directions:

To make the gnocchi, starting with cold, unsalted water in a pot, boil the potatoes in their skins until knife tender but not falling apart. Drain the potatoes and put them on a tray until just cool enough to handle (if they sit in their skins too long, the potatoes will get gummy). Peel away the skins with your fingers, then pass the potatoes through a food mill fitted with a medium disk or a ricer held over a baking sheet. Spread out the potato bits to allow some heat and moisture to escape (if they cool in a big clump, the gnocchi will be gluey).

When the potatoes are still warm to the touch (about 110°F/43°C) but not piping hot, gently gather them in a mound and make a small well in the center. (The trick to good gnocchi is rolling the dough when it is at the right temperature.) The shape should recall a science-project volcano. Drop the whole egg, egg white, salt and a handful of flour (about 1/4 cup/1 oz./30 g) into the well. Using your fingertips, start to combine the ingredients by crumbling them together. Add another handful or so of flour and knead the dough just enough to form it into a ball. It should just hold together and feel firm yet yielding to the touch. Overmixing and too much flour are also culprits in creating heavy, gummy gnocchi.

Let the dough ball rest for 15 to 20 minutes. Do not let it sit too long, or it will deflate and become gluey. Press the ball with your fingertip. If it doesn’t bounce back and the fingerprint remains, the dough is well rested. Cut off about one-third of the dough and place it on a clean work surface. Using your palms, roll the dough into a long, even rope about 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Cut the rope into 2 or 3 equal pieces. Working on a floured surface, roll each piece into a rope about 1/2 inch (12 mm) thick. When rolling, start in the middle and gradually move your hands out to the ends.

Once you have made a few ropes, line them up horizontally and side by side and sprinkle flour on top. Using a clean, sharp knife, cut the ropes crosswise into pieces resembling mini marshmallows. Repeat with the remaining dough, making sure to clean your knife well after cutting each batch of ropes. Toss the tiny gnocchi around gently to make sure they are separate from one another and evenly coated with flour, then place them on a baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered until you are ready to cook them. They are best when eaten the day they are made, so if you want to eat them multiple times in a week, you’ll get plenty of practice.

To make the sauce, in a saucepan over medium heat, combine the shallot, garlic and olive oil and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Do not allow the ingredients to color. Pour in the cream and cook, stirring as needed to prevent scorching, until reduced by one-fourth, about 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat, add the cheese and let sit for a minute to soften. Then, using a handheld blender or a stand blender, process the mixture until smooth and thick. Dip a spoon into the sauce, lift it out and draw a fingertip along the back of the spoon. It should leave a clear trail. (The sauce will improve as it sits, so consider making it a day or two ahead. Leftover sauce will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.)

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan over medium heat, combine the butter and pears and warm them together, shaking the pan occasionally. When they start to brown, add about 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) water and deglaze the pan, stirring to dislodge any browned bits from the pan bottom. (Keep your face turned away when you add the water to avoid being burned by the hot steam.) Remove from the heat and shake the pan to color the pears evenly. Return the pan to medium heat and add about 1 cup (8 fl. oz./250 ml) of the cheese sauce. Swirl the sauce in the pan and then start reducing the sauce. At the same time, drop the gnocchi into the boiling water. When the gnocchi start popping up, using a slotted spoon or wire skimmer, transfer them to the pan with the pears, reserving the cooking water. Continue reducing for 5 to 7 minutes. If the sauce breaks, add some of the gnocchi cooking water. Season with salt and pepper. The dish should be the consistency of gooey mac and cheese.

Divide the gnocchi among pasta bowls or plates. Top with the chives and serve immediately. Serves 4 to 6.

Sarah Krathen’s drink note: When Sarah eats this dish in the fall, she always thinks of being in Piedmont, so Barbaresco is a good wine choice.

Adapted from Sorella, by Emma Hearst & Sarah Krathen (Olive Press, 2013).