Think “dumplings” and what comes to mind? Those old-world dough pillows bobbing in a bowl of soup or topping a savory stew? Perhaps even delectable fruit treats, such as apple dumplings.
Just as most regions of the world have their own pasta and noodle dishes, many also have some form of dumpling, such as the Eastern European spaetzle or halushki. Asian dumplings, also called dim sum or potstickers, are different from other dumplings, because they are actually stuffed noodles. Jewish dumplings, called matzo balls, are made with matzo meal and generally served in a broth. But there are also bread dumplings, potato dumplings, farina dumplings, and the Mexican cornmeal chochoyones. The French make an elegant type of dumpling called a quenelle. Then there is the versatile and diminutive Italian dumpling known as gnocchi.
At its most basic, gnocchi are made simply by combining flour, mashed potato, and salt and shaping the dough into little balls that are simmered in water until cooked. They are then drained and can be sauced and served in a number of ways, the most common being a rich tomato sauce. They can also be tossed with pesto and cooked green beans, or perhaps sauteed with slivers of cabbage, apple, and onion.
The gnocchi themselves can be embellished further by incorporating other ingredients in the dough mixture, such as using sweet potato in place of the white potato (these are especially good sauteed in vegan butter with toasted pecans) or by incorporating cooked, chopped spinach into the mixture, then topping the dumplings with a creamy bechamel sauce. One of the more unusual and delicious ways I enjoy gnocchi is served on a bed of lentils and kale and topped with a creamy winter squash sauce.
Although gnocchi are easy to make from scratch, you can also buy shelf-stable and ready-to-cook gnocchi in the Italian section of most supermarkets. Most brands of prepared gnocchi are vegan (be sure to check the label) and are ready after just a few minutes of cooking.
Whether you prefer to make gnocchi from scratch or use a convenient packaged product, there are lots of ways to keep your cooking interesting with these chewy, bite-sized dumplings. Below are two recipes: one for making homemade gnocchi and another in which you can use either homemade or store-bought gnocchi to make a delicious one-dish meal.
Gnocchi are at once simple to make and yet a bit fussy. When making the dough, be sure the potatoes are still warm. Although gnocchi don’t keep well refrigerated, they do freeze well. To freeze, set the raw, uncooked gnocchi on cookie sheets in the freezer for several hours or overnight. Once frozen, place them in plastic bags and store in the freezer where will keep for a month or so. Gnocchi are delicious served with your favorite tomato sauce, pesto sauce, or simply a bit of melted vegan butter, vegan Parmesan, and fresh cracked pepper.
- 2 large russet potatoes
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (or more)
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach
- 1 (16-ounce) package gnocchi or 1 recipe gnocchi (above)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 Italian vegan sausage links, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
- 4 garlic cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 8 ounces fresh baby spinach, lightly steamed and coarsely chopped
- Vegan parmesan or additional olive oil, to serve
- Bake the potatoes in a 400 degree oven until soft when pierced with a fork, about 1 hour.
- While potatoes are baking, put the flour in a large bowl and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Make a well in the center of the flour and set aside.
- While potatoes are still hot, peel them and run them through a potato ricer or food mill so that they remain fluffy. Place the potatoes in the center of the flour. Gradually draw the flour into the potatoes to form a slightly sticky dough, adding more flour as necessary.
- Knead the dough for a minute or two, or just long enough to make a smooth dough. Do not overwork. Divide the dough into six pieces. On a floured board, using the palm of your hands, roll each piece of dough into a 1/2-inch thick log. Using a knife, cut each dough log into 3/4-inch lengths. Roll each piece of dough between fingers briefly to round off the edges, pressing the tines of a fork against one side to achieve the classic gnocchi shape, if desired.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boil, add the gnocchi and cook uncovered until they float to top, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain carefully and serve hot with your favorite sauce or as desired.
Gnocchi with Sausage and Spinach
- Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water, according to the recipe above or package directions.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned on both sides, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and red pepper flakes and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir in the steamed spinach and cook until hot. Season with salt and pepper, to taste.
- When the gnocchi are cooked, drain well and combine with the sausage and spinach mixture, tossing gently. Taste and adjust seasoning, if needed. For added flavor, sprinkle with vegan parmesan or drizzle on some additional olive oil. Serve hot.