Despite my passion for cooking foods of all kinds, there are a few things I’ve never tried to make. Simply because certain dishes, usually beloved regional specialties, require great skill, technique and time to perfect. Out of respect for those who have mastered these skills, and also a little laziness on my part, I usually only enjoy these dishes when dining out. Until recently, gnocchi was definitely on that list. Lucky for me, however, Chef Nick Morfogen of 32 East here in Delray Beach kicked off his Summer cooking class series with these iconic Italian dumplings. Over the course of the evening, he gave a whole new spin to this previously daunting dish.
The demonstration-style cooking class was held in the restaurant’s upstairs dining room. In addition to observing Chef’s mad gnocchi skills, he also shared some insider culinary tips and tricks. First, he explained that gnocchi is not really pasta. It is more of a “dumpling” since it’s made from a mixture of potatoes, eggs, flour and cheese. There are also many regional variations in Italy as well as other countries including France (gnocchis à la parisienne), Croatia (njoki) and even South America (ñoqui).
Chef also stressed the importance of using the best quality, freshest ingredients available. His favorite Parmesan cheese is the Vacche Rosse Parmigiano Reggiano. “Vacche Rosse” literally means “red cow,” and refers to the special breed of Italian cow whose milk is prized for its high butterfat and protein content. The Vacche Rosse Parmigiano is also aged for a minimum of 30 months, compared to only 24 months with other Parmesans. Chef also clarified that buffalo mozzarella is a fresh cheese made from the milk of the Italian water buffalo. And much like Italian wines, certain high quality foods including these cheeses carry a DOP classification (“Denominazione di Origine Protetta,” or “Protected Designation of Origin”) which ensures they are from a specific region and have met certain strict production criteria.
Chef also suggested baking the potatoes on a bed of salt to prevent the bottoms from burning (brilliant!). After divesting the pre-baked potatoes of their skins, he deftly worked them through a food mill. This broke them up while also imparting a light, airy texture. Either a food mill or potato ricer can be used for this task and I’m a big fan of the ricer. I’ve used mine to make heavenly mashed potatoes for many years and I especially like this one. While incorporating the flour into the potato and egg mixture a little at a time, Chef stressed the importance of not overworking the dough. This will make it tough and could possibly ruin the finished product. Once the dough has been rolled into “ropes” and cut into the classic bite-size pieces, each gnocchi must be rolled over a “gnocchi paddle.” This essential piece of equipment gives the gnocchi their hallmark, groovy appearance. At under $10, this is a worthwhile investment for the gnocchi lover.
After boiling the gnocchi in a large pot of salted water (when they float, they’re done!) our lesson was complete. We then had the pleasure of sampling Chef Nick’s Gnocchi all Sorrentina. The dish featured the freshly prepared gnocchi in a flavorful marinara sauce dusted with grated Vacche Rosse Parmigiano. It was pure heaven and we enjoyed the dish with a bottle of Castello di Bossi Chianti Classico Riserva. This Sangiovese-based red wine from Tuscany paired perfectly with the gnocchi and savory red sauce.
Inspired by Chef Nick’s class, I recently made plans to have some friends over for gnocchi. Perfecting any recipe takes time and you have to start somewhere, right? I’ll also have lots of Chianti on hand just in case.