Marcella Hazan's Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce

Marcella Hazan's Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce
Marcella Hazan's Potato Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce served with a simple pan-fried pork chop.

On my recent vacation, I came across Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking at a used bookstore. I had heard of Marcella Hazan, in particular her Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter, and figured now was the time to try her sauce. So I bought the cookbook, looked up the recipe, and decided to serve it as she recommends, with her Potato Gnocchi.

As soon as I began reading, I knew I was going to like the cookbook, as well as the author herself. She has such a clear perspective and viewpoint, and from ingredients, to kitchen tools, to recipe combinations and variations, her opinions are well written. This woman knows her stuff and she's going to tell you the right way to make her food. Not the easy way (although many of the recipes in the book are very easy, the tomato sauce just may be the easiest I've ever made,) not the fast way, not the low-calorie way, but the right way. Anyone with her passion and experience is worth their weight in saffron (more valuable than gold, I hear) and I was eager to get started.

Marcella Hazan's Tomato Sauce with Onion and Butter
This sauce has just 4 ingredients (5 if you count the parmigiano reggiano for the table) and is crazy easy to make. It is somehow the essence of tomato in a sauce, and she was right, it was perfect with the gnocchi. For the tomatoes, she gives you a choice of peeling/prepping your own or using high quality canned tomatoes. I went with canned.

2 cups canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, cut up, with their juice
5 tblsp butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese for the table.

Put the tomatoes in a saucepan with the butter, onion and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for 45 minutes, or until the fat floats free from the tomato. Stir occasionally, making sure any large pieces of tomato are mashed in the pan with your spoon. Taste and correct for salt. Remove the onion before tossing the sauce with pasta.

That was it, so simple and tasty, and completely different from any tomato sauce I've ever made.

All the ingredients in the saucepan, 45 minutes later, the sauce was done.

Marcella Hazan's Potato Gnocchi
Marcella Hazan uses no egg in her gnocchi. At first, this scared me, I was worried about the dumplings falling apart. She claims that adding eggs to make the dough easier to handle is not traditional, but rather "Paris style" and yields a tougher, more rubbery dumpling. I shouldn't have been afraid. Following her directions carefully, I ended up with perfect potatoey pillows much better than any potato gnocchi I've eaten in restaurants. She also specifies that the choice of potato is crucial. Neither the baking potato, such as the Idaho, nor any kind of new potato, is suitable. She prefers plain, large, round "boiling" potatoes. Most recipes for gnocchi I've seen use russet potatoes, so again I was nervous, but I went to the grocery store, found large boiling potatoes (I only needed 2) and the recipe turned out great.

1 1/2 pounds boiling potatoes
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

You simply boil the potatoes in their skins until they are cooked through, then skin and puree them through a food mill (I don't have one so I used my ricer) onto a work surface while they are still warm. You then add the flour (not all at once, but gradually) and knead it into a smooth mixture. Stop adding the flour when the mixture has become soft and smooth, but still slightly sticky. Mine got to this point when I had almost 1/4 cup of flour left.

Now you roll the dough into 2 logs, about an inch thick, then slice into dumplings into 3/4 inch pieces. So far so good. My only struggle was cutting the dumplings all perfectly even by sight, then her fork-flip method to shape the gnocchi. Mine weren't perfect looking, but not bad either.

Since the recipe was for 6 servings. I used half the gnocchi for dinner tonight, and froze the other half. Marcella doesn't recommend this, but I saw a different cook (Nigella Lawson) pan fry frozen gnocchi for a quick potato side dish, so that's what I figure I'll do with my frozen batch.

Half for dinner.
Half for later.

When the time came to boil the gnocchi, Marcella has a great suggestion. For your first batch, cook just 2 gnocchi in boiling, salted water. Once your gnocchi float, give them 10 seconds then taste. You can then adjust for all the rest of your gnocchi how long they'll need to cook by adding/subtracting seconds based on your test batch. So easy, so yummy.

To serve, I added a simple brined then pan-fried porkshop and garnished everything with a little chopped parsley and freshly grated parmigiano reggiano cheese. I can't wait to cook my way through more recipes in her book.

So what do you think? Have you tried any of Marcella Hazan's Recipes? Any favorites? 

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