Day 5: The Thanksgiving Leftovers Utilization Project – Gnocchi

Thanksgiving potatoes get made into gnocchi. (photo K. Budge)
Leftover mashed potatoes from Thanksgiving made into gnocchi. (photo K. Budge)

The turkey had found its way into sandwiches, fajitas, more sandwiches, and soup. The Brussels sprouts had been eaten, and the pumpkin pie was long gone.

A lot of the big batch of mashed potatoes remained, so I figured I’d try to make some gnocchi – an Italian pasta akin to a dumpling, typically made with potatoes, flour, and egg. It couldn’t possibly be worse than my first-ever attempt to make gnocchi, but more on that in a bit.

Leftover mashed potatoes probably aren’t the ideal ingredient in gnocchi. Most recipes (such as this one from the venerable Lidia Bastianich) call for fairly gentle treatment of the potatoes, even putting them through a ricer for lighter, fluffier gnocchi.

My Thanksgiving potatoes had not been treated thusly. They had been mashed, beaten, and whipped until (almost) every last lump was gone. And, I’d opted for the “rustic” variety with the skins left on. I knew I was running the risk of the gnocchi being heavy and gummy, but what the heck.

To break up the heaviness of the cold mashed potatoes, I spread them out on a cutting board, picked out the bigger pieces of skin, and chopped the potatoes until they were about the size of small peas. Then, I gently folded in a beaten egg until all the potato pieces were coated, and began folding scant quarter cups of flour until the dough seemed workable.

I rolled out a couple of dough logs on a well-floured cutting board, and cut the gnocchi pieces. It seemed to be working!

After bringing a pot of water to a good roiling boil, I dropped the pieces in – just a few at a time so the water temperature wouldn’t drop too much. That’s a crucial step for gnocchi – you don’t want them sticking to the bottom of the pan, and you want them cooking fairly quickly instead of turning into a glob of starch. (I know this from experience.)

Within few minutes, the gnocchi began rhythmically rising to the surface of the still boiling water. I tried one, and … SUCCESS. Granted, it wasn’t the pillowy gnocchi I crave from one of my favorite local restaurants, Ember, but they were pretty darn tasty with some homemade basil pesto and freshly shaved parm!

My first-ever attempt at making gnocchi was not a success.

Many years ago, I was spending a week at a friend’s mountain cabin in the Sierra Nevada of California. Another guest asked if I wanted to help her make gnocchi and I agreed, although I’d never heard of it.

She’d never made it before but it seemed simple enough: combine baked potatoes, beaten egg, and flour. Roll out dough. Cut into pieces. Drop into boiling water. Boil several minutes until done. What could go wrong?

We got through the dough-making easily enough, and ended up with enough gnocchi to feed our party of about 10. So far, so good. Next, we got a big pot of water boiling.

Then, we hit a couple of snags.

Neither of us knew enough about cooking yet to gradually add things to boiling water so that it keeps boiling. We just plopped all those gnocchi – did I mention we’d made enough for 10? — into the pot. It lost its boil immediately.

No problem, we figured. It’ll come back to boil, which it did. However, we were at over 7000 feet of altitude, and about to get a science lesson.

At sea level, water boils at 212 degrees F. As altitude increases, air pressure decreases, so water boils at lower temperatures the higher you go. At our altitude, the water would start boiling again at about 198 degrees F.

Again, no problem, right? It’ll start boiling again faster, and cooking dinner could proceed.

Nope. Because the water was boiling at a lower temperature, the gnocchi wasn’t cooking at a high enough temperature. They were not gently floating to the top of water. They were just sitting on the bottom of the pot. A LOT of them were just sitting in that great big pot of water. A lot of them were just sitting in that great big pot of water and burning through a lot of the cabin’s propane.

We did not have gnocchi that night. Thankfully, we were with kind friends, there was an ample amount of good wine, and there was a lot of other food being cooked by people that knew what they were doing.

— by Katy Budge

One thought on “Day 5: The Thanksgiving Leftovers Utilization Project – Gnocchi

  1. We had a similar experience trying to make pozole in Santa Fe years ago. Santa Fe is above 7000 feet in altitude. We ‘boiled’ dried hominy for about four days. It never softened enough to eat.

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