My first encounter with mashed potatoes was a disaster. Lacking a potato masher or ricer I tried mashing them in my mixer, which made them lumpy and gluey.
From this experience, I learned that every kitchen failure contains a lesson. For me, it was learning when to use mealy Idaho russet potatoes (best for mashing and baking) and when to buy the waxier red potatoes (best for boiling and salads).
For gnocchi, Italian potato dumplings, Idaho russet potatoes are essential because their cells tend to separate during baking and they mash beautifully--even in the food processor, where cooked Idahos can be mashed by pulsing with the metal blade.
Gnocchi require a combination of mashed potatoes, flour and egg binder. At all costs, the potato mixture must not be overworked or the gnocchi tend to toughen. Excellent results can be obtained by combining the processor-mashed potatoes with bread flour (or unbleached flour) in the processor. Using half-second pulses, flour can be evenly incorporated in the potato mixture.
GNOCCHI WITH TOMATO SAUCE
1 pound Idaho russet potatoes, peeled
4 (1-inch) cubes Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons lightly beaten egg
Dash grated nutmeg
3/4 cup bread flour or unbleached flour
Prepare Tomato Sauce.
For dumplings, boil potatoes in large saucepan of water until tender, about 25 minutes. Drain, then return potatoes to empty saucepan. Let stand in hot pan, tossing, 5 minutes, then cool in pan to room temperature. Cut potatoes into 1-inch chunks.
Insert metal blade in processor. With motor on, add cheese cubes to machine and process until fine. Set aside. Coarsely chop potatoes with 1-second pulses. (Do in 2 batches for standard processors.) Do not let machine run.
To potatoes, add egg, 1 tablespoon grated cheese, 3/4 teaspoon salt and nutmeg and combine with half-second pulses. Sprinkle flour evenly over potatoes and process with half-second pulses just until mixture masses together like pastry dough and is slightly tacky but dry. Do not overprocess or let machine run continuously. Divide dough into 4 parts, then cover.
Line baking sheet with kitchen towel. Keeping dough covered, work with 1/4 of dough at a time. Divide each piece in half. Roll each half on lightly floured surface to 18-inch-long rope. Cut crosswise into 18 (1-inch) lengths.
To shape, press 1 (1-inch) length gently against cheese grater with thumb while pulling downward to create dimpled saddle-shape dumpling. As each dumpling is completed, arrange in single layer on wax paper-lined baking sheet. Repeat to shape all remaining dough.
In large stockpot, heat 4 quarts water with 1 teaspoon salt to boiling. Add dumplings slowly enough to maintain simmer, adjusting heat to high as necessary. As gnocchi rise to top of water, about 2 minutes, remove with slotted spoon to drain. Repeat as necessary and transfer gnocchi to soup bowls. Spoon Tomato Sauce over dumplings and garnish with cheese. Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 small onion, peeled and cubed
1 small carrot, peeled and cut into 1-inch lengths
1 medium stalk celery, cut into 1-inch lengths
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 pounds fresh plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cubed, or 1 (28-ounce) can imported plum tomatoes, seeded and drained, liquid reserved
3 tablespoons tomato paste
3/4 teaspoon dried basil
1/2 teaspoon dried sage
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Insert metal blade in dry processor. Add onion, carrot and celery to container and finely chop with 1-second pulses. Transfer contents of container to large saucepan. Add oil and stir over medium heat until lightly colored, about 15 minutes.
Add half of tomatoes to processor with tomato paste. Puree, then transfer to saucepan. Repeat as necessary to puree all tomatoes. Cook tomato mixture, uncovered, until liquid is reduced by 1/3 and sauce begins to thicken, about 40 to 45 minutes.
Stir in basil and sage. Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and whisk in butter. Set sauce aside until serving time. Makes 2 1/2 cups.