Family Recipe Makes
the Most of Humble Spuds
Story and Photography by Lisa Masé
I have been making gnocchi with my father and grandmother since I was old enough to grasp a fork. This heart-felt memory keeps me cooking food from scratch with local staples. In our Italian family’s traditional recipes, each ingredient has its purpose. Combined, they lend nutritional benefits, flavor and interest to daily meals and encourage me to slow down and savor my food.
Gnocchi are simple dumplings featuring the humble potato, which is one of the top vegetable crops worldwide. A member of the Solanaceae or nightshade family, its stems swell underground to produce the starchy tubers we enjoy. Harvesting them in August reminds me of a treasure hunt: I never know just how many I will find, and I am always delighted by the discovery.
Potatoes are rich in vitamin B6, which helps our bodies synthesize amino acids. They also contain kukoamines, phytonutrients that, according to the Institute for Food Research, can help to lower blood pressure. Their fiber content comes primarily from the skin. Hence, to gain its benefits, choose local, pesticide-free potatoes, give them a good scrub, and enjoy them with the skin on.
Winter farmers’ markets are wonderful places to see an impressive display of heirloom potatoes. From Banana Fingerling to All Blue, you can mix varieties to see which you prefer. I enjoy roasting fingerlings and mashing gold or red potatoes.
What is your grandparents’ heritage? If you know, take time to research recipes from their country of origin. Perhaps you will find your own ancestral potato preparation.
My grandmother’s recipe comes from our home province of Alto Adige. Depending on what’s local and seasonally available, each Italian region has slight differences. Some prepare gnocchi with cooked winter squash. Others use buckwheat flour instead of wheat or spelt. Once you feel practiced at making these delightful dumplings, try one of the variations.
6 medium gold potatoes, scrubbed and chopped (leave skins on)
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups spelt flour (try Green Mountain Flour)
Preheat oven to 425°.
Bring a stockpot of water to a boil. Drop in the chopped potatoes and boil for about 10 minutes. When potatoes are tender, drain and then pass them through a vegetable mill into a large bowl or mash them in the bowl with a potato masher. Add salt and olive oil and mix to incorporate. Slowly stir in spelt flour until you get a dough that is supple without being too sticky.
Working on a floured surface, roll the dough into inch-thick ropes. Starting from the end of a rope, cut off a small piece and roll it with the edge of a fork to create grooves on 1 side and a hole in the other. Set aside on a floured plate. Continue cutting and rolling pieces until you have shaped all the dough.
As you are shaping the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi in small batches and remove them from the boiling water with a slotted spoon when they rise to the top. Place them in a baking dish and keep warm in a 250° oven, if desired.
Serve the gnocchi with the following sauce.
During the colder months, my family enjoyed the remaining chanterelle and bolete mushrooms that had been foraged and dried the previous summer. These forest treasures strengthen immunity. Due to their high protein content, mushrooms lend a richness to any dish.
½ pound fresh mushrooms: shiitake and cremini
1 large yellow onion, sliced into crescents
3 tablespoons olive oil
½ pound spinach, washed (chard is a good substitute)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and black pepper to taste
Brush excess dirt off of mushrooms and chop lightly. Do not wash mushrooms.
Coat the bottom of a skillet with olive oil and heat over a medium flame. Add onions, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add mushrooms and cook for 10 more minutes.
Add spinach to the skillet and season with salt and pepper. Sauté for 2 more minutes.
Place the cooked gnocchi on plates and spoon sauce over them. Serve and savor winter’s local delights.
Suggested wine pairings: Purple Haze from the Neshobe River Winery, Brandon, Vermont, or Cabernet Franc from Shelburne Vineyard, Shelburne, Vermont.