I didn’t encounter gnocchi for the first time until I left for college and found them in the aisles of the nearby Trader Joe’s. I immediately fell in love with their plump texture and warm potato-y flavor, and was particularly excited about their versatility (being able to use a wide variety of simple sauces on an inexpensive dish was particularly helpful when my budget was strapped). I didn’t have gnocchi that was made from scratch until about a year ago at an authentic Italian restaurant, and was blown away by the difference in texture. Instead of slightly rubbery, the texture of the gnochhi were soft and fluffy, like little balls of mashed potatoes.
I tried making my own at home, but they always turned out too rubbery and the flavor just wasn’t quite right. It wasn’t until I went to the King Arthur Flour Blog & Bake in Vermont that I learned what I was doing wrong. We had a demonstration in gnochhi-making from a chef at the Simon Pearce restaurant, and when he was rolling the potato dough into logs for cutting he invited us up to poke it, because texture is the key factor in determining how much flour you need to add. I went up, gave it a solid poke, and instead of the firm play-dough-like state of the gnocchi I’d tried to make, I encountered a texture only slightly firmer than whipped mashed potatoes. And thus came the realization that I was putting waaaaay too much flour in my gnocchi dough. I have flour measurements in the recipe below, but it is still best to go by the texture of your dough. If you find that at 3/4 cup of flour you have a dough that isn’t falling apart and is soft yet solid, than feel free to cut out the remaining 1/4 cup. On the other hand, if you’ve added 1 cup of flour and still can’t roll out a log on a well-floured surface without it disintegrating, add an extra tablespoon or two until the proper texture is reached.
For this recipe I decided to try something a little different, however. At first I boiled the dumplings the traditional way, but was put off by the texture when mixed together with the olive oil from the pan-fried asparagus and caramelized shallots. It just got a bit…slimey. I was incredibly frustrated because I finally got the flavor and texture right, but didn’t like how it combined with the olive oil-based sauce I’d made. I’d also spent 3 hours making them (it won’t take you as long, I cut the recipe in half below because I made twice as much and it took forever to cut all those tiny gnocchi pieces). Jeremy, sensing my impending meltdown, then made a simple and logical suggestion. “Why don’t you toast them in the oven?”
So that is what I did. Lined with a sheet of parchment paper to keep them from sticking to the pan, I popped them in the oven and what happened next was near-magic (to me, anyway). They got nice and dry and crispy on the outside, but the inside was perfectly soft and fluffy and moist, like an encapsulated mashed potato bite. When I tossed the toasted ones with the olive oil-based toppings, the texture was perfect and the dish couldn’t have been tastier. The crunchy caramelized shallots paired perfectly with the salty fluffy gnochhi and the snappy freshness of the asparagus. And the Parmesan topping rounded off the dish with a wonderful creaminess. Making gnocchi is a good amount of work, but it is worth it. And if you find that you have made too much dough and don’t have enough time in the present moment to make all the gnocchi pieces, it freezes quite well in a large freezer-safe ziploc bag (this I learned firsthand).
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for garnish
2 tablespoons finely grated asiago cheese
First, start caramelizing the shallots. Heat the olive oil and shallots in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the sugar after 5 minutes and stir to coat. Lower the heat to medium low and continue cooking for 25-30 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to keep the shallots from burning to the bottom of the pan. They are done when they have turned golden. Remove from heat and set aside.
Now start making the gnocchi. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Puncture the potatoes in several places with a fork. Place the potatoes on a baking sheet lined with salt and bake in the oven for 45 minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely before handling. The skins should easily peel off. Remove and discard the skins. Grate or rice the potatoes over a large bowl with the large hole setting of a grater. Mix together with your hands until the grated bits stick together.
Turn the potato mixture out onto a flat well-floured surface and make a little well in the middle. Add the egg yolks, parmesan, asiago, dried sage, salt, and pepper to the well and fold the potato mixture over it. Continue folding the mixture until everything has been incorporated and the dough has smoothed out. Now begin to add the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, and continue folding the dough onto itself. Be careful not to over work the dough, only fold until it is just incorporated.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Once the flour is added, test the texture by grabbing a piece of dough and rolling it out on a well-floured surface until it is a 1/2 inch thick rope. It should be soft, and almost like mashed potatoes when you poke it, but firm enough that it holds itself together. If it keeps falling apart, add a little more flour, but only until it just holds together. You do not want to add to much flour. Cut the gnocchi into 1/2 inch thick rounds and then take a fork to the top of each round and gently press down horizontally to leave an imprint. Very lightly dust them with flour as you make them and place them on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper, ridged side up. Please note that the dough will be sticky and that you should use a dough scraper to continually scrape off any dough that has become stuck to the work surface. Keep your hands floured while you work with the dough as well, but be careful not to incorporate too much flour as you don’t want to ruin the flavor of the potatoes. Place the pan in the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes, or until the gnocchi begin to turn gold at the corners.
While the gnocchi is baking, prepare the asparagus. Heat the olive oil and garlic in a medium-sized frying pan over medium heat. Add the asparagus, sage, and salt and sauté until bright green but still crunchy, about 7-10 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
Toss together the gnocchi, caramelized shallots, and asparagus (including the pan drippings). Sprinkle with the desired amount of parmesan and serve.