Methods & Madness… Class 8: Pasta #2
Recipes & Ramblings from Chef School
The secret behind pasta’s popularity in many cultures is its simplicity; simple ingredients, simple to make, simple to cook. The beauty of pasta is its amazing ability to comfort even the most tormented soul.
The history of pasta is controversial at best and dates as far back as 5,000 years. Interestingly enough, how pasta is made has stayed relatively unchanged for the last 500 years.
If you thought pasta originated in Italy, guess again! Try China. What the Italians are famous for, however, is making pasta famous.
It is estimated that Italians eat over 60 lbs. of pasta per person, per year easily beating Americans, who eat about 20 lbs. per person.
Coming to America
It was Thomas Jefferson who is credited with bringing the first “macaroni” machine to America in 1789 when he returned home after serving as ambassador to France.
The first industrial pasta factory in America was built in Brooklyn in 1848 by, of all people, a Frenchman, who spread his spaghetti strands on the roof to dry in the sunshine.
Americans have been in love with pasta ever since.
Types of Pasta
- Dried Pasta – is made from finely ground semolina flour and water that is mixed into a paste, pushed through molds, and cut into many different shapes. It can be stored at room temperature almost indefinitely. There are more that 600 pasta shapes worldwide.
- Fresh Pasta – is made from a simple dough of eggs and flour. Its delicate texture is best with light sauces made from tomatoes, cream, oil, or butter flavored with herbs.
Which pasta with which sauce?
Choose a pasta shape and sauce that complement each other. Thin, delicate kinds of pasta like thin spaghetti should be served with light sauces. Thicker pasta, like fettuccine, works well with heavier sauces. Pasta shapes with holes or ridges are perfect for chunkier sauces.
In class, Rona cooked with dried pasta and made Basil Pesto on Linguine and Bucatini all’Amatriciana. Click here for the recipe. It was so good.
I was thrilled to be assigned to make fresh Gnocchi [nok-ee, noh-kee; It. nyawk-kee]— it appears even the dictionary is confused as I on correct pronunciation!
My pasta partner for the evening was Dre. We started out by washing our unpeeled potatoes thoroughly before boiling.
TIP: Boiling potatoes unpeeled decreases water penetration while they’re cooking. Also, avoid piercing them during cooking for the same reason. This can ruin your gnocchi.
Cooking time; Small potatoes take 10–15 minutes to boil; medium 20–25 minutes; large 35–45 minutes.
TIP: If you’re unsure about your cooking time, boil one extra potato that you’ll use to test.
Once the potatoes were cooked and peeled, we ran them through a potato ricer to prevent any lumps. I am told a knife works just as well.
Once the potatoes cooled, we mixed the dough for a minute or two, which is much like kneading bread. This is where the art of touch comes in as over-kneading can cause a tough, rubbery texture.
We rolled the dough into a ¾ inch diameter rope, then cut ½ inch pieces.
The fun began while indenting the gnocchi with a fork. Click here to see a video as I can’t explain how to do it. We had lots of help from other students. They might not have been the prettiest, but they worked just the same.
We then boiled the gnocchi for two minutes, then rolled them in a brown butter sauce – see recipe below.
They were amazingly good, but once they get cold… not so much.
Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sauce
From New School of Cooking
- 2 lbs. potatoes – washed and unpeeled
- 2 C. all-purpose flour
- 1 whole egg
- 4 ounces browned butter (see recipe below)
- grated Parmesan cheese
- Fresh herbs (optional)
- Cook potatoes in boiling salted water until soft. Remove from pan. Peel, then mash potatoes in a large bowl until quite smooth. Add the flour and salt to taste. Lightly beat the egg and mix into the dough. Knead for about one minute until completely mixed to a firm dough or paste.
- Break the dough into pieces and shape these into long rolls about the thickness of a finger. Cut the rolls into 1/2” pieces. Press each piece with a fork for indentation, and then spread out on a cutting board or pan to dry for about 20 minutes.
- Bring a large pan of salted water to boil, add the gnocchi a few at a time, and remove them with a slotted spoon as they rise to the surface, draining them well. Put at once into a hot dish and dress with melted butter and Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle with fresh herbs if you like.
- 4 ounces butter
- Melt butter over medium heat.
TIP: Use a pan with a light-colored bottom so you can keep track of the color. Swirl the pan occasionally to be sure the butter is cooking evenly.
- As the butter melts, it will begin to foam. The color will progress from light yellow to golden-tan to, finally, a toasty-brown. Once you smell that nutty aroma, take the pan off the heat and transfer the browned butter into a heat-proof bowl to cool.
Click here to watch a video on how to make brown butter.
It was so much fun to make gnocchi. I think I will try it with purple potatoes next.
Hope you have enjoyed our adventure in the culinary classroom. Join us each week as we continue learning new culinary skills.
You can also read about Rona’s experience on her blog or What’s Cookin online magazine.
Wow & Awesome! I have wanted to learn how to make Gnocchi for such a long time and have never gotten around to it! (bit of an intimidation factor holding me back) Yours look super delish and I’m sure the freshness factor just makes them totally incredible. I love the tip on how to properly cook the potatoes – now that you have paved the way I feel like I have enough info. to dive in a try it myself, hopefully soon! I know my family would love it. Thanks for spreading the joy of cooking! love you and Merry Christmas month!
Hi Cousin Julie,
I guess our Midwestern roots didn’t include learning how to make gnocchi. It is easier than it looks and I know if anybody can make them well, it would be you.
Cathy, it was really nice meeting you today! And I hope to see you soon again:)
I am so jealous that you are taking a cooking class – one of these days I’ll follow your steps:)
I usually make gnocchi from leftover mashed potatoes, but once in a while I bake my potatoes to start from scratch (Lidia Bastianich suggests baking to avoid watery potatoes, but boiling them in skin works, too:) My mom made a lot of potato dough while we were growing up and it’s still one of my favorite comfort foods.
Hope you can make it to cooking school some day as it is such an awarding experience. I am jealous you grew up with lots of potato dough! I can only imagine all the great things you ate!
Looking forward to chatting with you again.
Wow! How cool to follow you along through your cooking school adventures and don’t those gnocchi look divine! I’m living vicariously — and looking forward to your next post! 🙂
Thanks Leslie! I think I need a good cake recipe to complete the meal. Think I will head over to BakeThisCake.com to find one. They have some amazing looking cakes!