It’s not hard to make gnocchi except that you have to make a jump off the deep end of control by number. There is no such thing as knowing exactly how much is needed of one thing or another sometimes. Think of kissing. If you have the manual next to you while you kiss, and you read as you go, following all of the instructions, and stopping to read the fine print to be sure you get it right, even if you get it to the letter, the kissee could just as well fall asleep or leave all together. A gnocho or a kiss need your attention from the inside out. A vulnerable kind of moving through the dark together with a sense of where you are going and only the moon to guide you. Trust all of your other senses to tell you what is just enough flour to make a dough both light and alive, and when you have turned the potato and flour together with your hand, just enough.
And then we are talking gnocchi.
Don’t worry now; I am going to give you somewhere to jump from. Here is what to start with for about 6 people: 3 fist sized potatoes (I like yukon gold). Peel the potatoes and cut into chunks about the size of a tangerine. Salt the water until it is like a well seasoned soup. Add a tiny spill of olive oil and the potatoes. The water should just cover the potatoes. Bring to a boil, and immediately take it down to a simmer. Set the lid on the pot, slightly ajar. Cook until there is no resistance when you stick a small sharp knife into the center of a potato. Drain and put the potatoes back in the pot for a few seconds to dry them out a bit. Mash them right away with a fork, or put them through a ricer. Cool slightly in a bowl. Add one egg into a well in the center. Beat the egg with your fingertips, and then incorporate it, using your hand, into the potato. Add salt to taste and a little drizzle of olive oil. Now comes the flour. Start with two handfuls. Cup your hand and scrape it along the bottom of the bowl, folding the flour into the potato mixture. If the dough is still really tacky to the touch, add another few tablespoons to a quarter cup. It should not be at all hard and dry, just smooth enough to roll on the board. Rom it into a ball, using cupped, gentle hands, and no squishing. Let it sit on the board and cut into four pieces. Using one piece at a time, lightly dust the board with flour, just enough so that there is a whisper of flour on the board, and roll the pieces into logs the width of your index finger. As you roll your hand should hardly press the dough, more encouraging it to roll forwards and then back, and as you come back, ever so slightly pull the dough out to lengthen it. Kissing didn’t come in a day either. But once you get it, it’s yours.
Slash a head of garlic in half and without pulling it apart, set the halves in olive oil to go golden. Add sage leaves, about 10, and keep those going until translucent. Turn off the heat. Smash about three of the garlic cloves to a paste. Add about three tablespoons of soft butter and a pinch of salt and a grind of black pepper.
Boil the gnocchi a few at a time, lifting them from the pot as soon as they rise to the top, and resting them on a paper towel set on a sieve, before holding them on a warmed and buttered serving plate. When you have them all done, toss them into the sage butter and taste for salt. Give them a flurry of roughly grated parmesan and pour yourself a glass of wine.
The ladies have gone off in the rain with Pino and Marco to wind their way through Montelpulciano, Montelcino, Val d’orcia and Pienza.Â Â I will make dinner and put the candles on the table for their return.Â No class tonight.Â There is just so much you can take on in a day.