For the final lab, we made potato ricotta gnocchi with CarolAnn’s father’s recipe for pesto. In our test run, we used Russet potatoes and did not have a potato ricer, so the dough was chewier and had more of a bite than what we made in our final project. The gnocchi had the slightest of bites, but essentially melted in your mouth with a very light, delicate texture. The Yukon potatoes have less water in them than Russet potatoes, so that helped in keeping the gnocchi from becoming too dense, and allowed for the ricotta to shine through in the gnocchi. The ricotta also gave them a lighter texture that melts away in your mouth and leaves you feeling satisfied rather than heavy and weighed down by the strong potato presence. They came out a perfect color too, having a slight yellowish tinge to them, but are lighter than just potato gnocchi because the ricotta lightens the color. The pesto came out a nice green that was only slightly browned, as it should be. We added more oil in this pesto than in the one we made in practice, which allowed for it to nicely coat the gnocchi; it was not too thick or too runny. Because the pesto recipe calls for red pepper flakes that was a little strong of a flavor, especially paired with the garlic, but we both found it to be very palatable. The balance of flavor was a bit strongly towards the spicier side, but the basil and cheese were also nicely present.
The first thing we did was put the pine nuts in the oven to toast at 350 degrees, checking on them every 5 minutes, waiting for them to toast to a golden brown, undergoing a Maillard reaction caused by a reaction in the proteins and sugars, which also increases the aroma of the pine nuts by releasing aroma molecules from the nuts and the toasting. Since making gnocchi involves waiting for potatoes to cook, we started by submerging the potatoes in cool water with salt in the water, placing it over high heat to bring the water to a boil and then lowering it to a simmer when the water boils to cook the potato all the way through without it being a very uneven cook.
As we waited for the potatoes to become tender, we measured out all the other ingredients and put them in the food processor. When the pine nuts were toasted, we added them to the food processor too. We then pulsed the ingredients until they became a smooth pesto, adding a little extra oil to get it to the desired consistency. This released more of the volatile aroma molecules in the basil, giving the pesto a strong odor which was very strongly detected by anyone near our station, because the molecules were travelling into everyone’s noses, binding to the GPCRs in our nasal cell membrane and going through the passages, sending the signal to the brain that there was a strong basil scent.
We waited for the potatoes to finish cooking. We knew they were done when we could pierce them with a fork and it would go in easily, proving they were nice and tender, the starch molecules having loosened due to swelling, having drawn more water into the potato, allowing for the potato to soften and some of the starch to loosen and be released into the water, leaving the potato ready for making the gnocchi. We removed them from the water – dumping out the water and refilling it for when we have to cook the gnocchi – and let them cool for only a minute or two before peeling the potatoes as they cannot be too cool when you start peeling them. Once peeled, we cut them up a little and put them through the smallest blades of the potato ricer.
Once they were all riced, we passed the ricotta through a sieve to remove all lumps.
We mixed the ricotta into the potatoes. Once fully mixed, we made the mixture into a circle with a well in the center. We put the egg yolks, salt, and flour into the well and mixed it all together, adding extra flour until the dough was no longer sticky.
We cut slices of the dough from the block, rolling it out and cutting small pieces of the dough rope, and then rolled it over a fork to have small ridges in the gnocchi. These ridges are to allow the pesto to hold better to the gnocchi.
After the gnocchi were shaped, we put them in almost boiling, but not a rolling boil. Rolling boiling water will not cook the gnocchi well as they will either fall apart, cook only on the outside, overcook, or undercook. When the gnocchi rose in the water, pulled up by the gaseous bubbles that attach to the gnocchi while in the water, we knew they were ready to be taken out of the water. We pulled them out and set them aside until all the gnocchi were cooked, as we could only do about ten at a time.
After the gnocchi was done, we repulsed the pesto to remix in the oil that had separated out and then added a couple spoons of the pesto to the gnocchi. We plated them in ramekins with extra cheese on top with a small basil leaf on top.
Summary of ingredients, materials, and instructions to make this at home
For the Gnocchi
- 14 oz of Yukon potatoes
- 7 oz of ricotta cheese
- 3 oz of all-purpose flour (plus a little extra in case the dough is too sticky)
- 2 egg yolks
- Salt for water and a pinch for the dough
- Small pot (i.e. 2 quart saucepan or a small stock pot)
- Potato Ricer
- Pastry board
- Fork or Gnocchi Paddle
- Slotted Spoon
- Kitchen Scale
- Bring water to a boil with potatoes in the pot then reduce to a simmer until they can be pierced with a fork
- Peel potatoes while hot (but not too hot, don’t burn yourself)
- Rice the cooked potatoes onto the pastry board
- Pass the ricotta through a sieve onto the riced potatoes and mix until combined
- Create a well in the mixture and add the salt, egg yolks, and flour
- Mix together until the dough is no longer sticky, adding extra flour if needed
- Create a block of dough and cut slices and roll into ropes that are about ¾ inches in diameter
- Cut off pieces that are about ¾ inch long and roll over a fork or gnocchi paddle
- Place about 10 at a time in lightly boiling water (not rolling boiling) and stir a little to make sure they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot
- Wait for gnocchi to float, then lift out with a slotted spoon and put in a bowl
- Continue cooking until all gnocchi are cooked
For the Pesto
- 4-5 cloves of garlic
- 5 oz of walnuts
- 5 oz of pine nuts (toasted)
- 4 cups of loosely packed basil leaves
- 4 oz of oil (+ extra to get pesto to personal desired texture)
- Salt to taste
- 5-2 oz of Romano or Parmesan Cheese
- 1 hot pepper or 1 tsp dried red pepper flakes
- Food processor or blender
- Cheese grater if using a block of cheese
- Kitchen Scale
- Measure out all ingredients
- Place in food processor or blender and pulse until all ingredients are blended
- Add more cheese, salt, red pepper, garlic, or oil to desired amount and consistency
- Toss with desired pasta