Christine Hickman, instructor of Umbra’s Gnocchi Making night, first learned how to make homemade potato gnocchi on the shores of the beautiful Umbrian lake, Lago Trasimeno in the small but charming town of Castiglione del Lago. While studying the intricacies of la cucina italiana she learned the recipe from a local restaurant owner Anna Maria Rodriquez D’Amato, who she came to know as her Gnocchi Mamma.
Gnocchi is plural for gnocco, which translates to “lump” and can be purchased in various forms—dried, frozen, fresh and vacuum sealed. But store-bought gnocchi can often be gummy and dense. Christine says it best when she states, “Well-made gnocchi, on the other hand, are light pillows with a creamy texture, a divine pleasure to the palette.” It seems as though just as with everything else, homemade is best.
As students kneaded the dough, Christine explained that the secret to good gnocchi is not to work the dough too much. Her explanation is simple, in the end, the mixture of flour, egg and potato should feel like a baby’s bottom—in weight and texture.
Once the dough is just right, students rolled it out into long strands to be cut into small half-inch pieces. Once the pieces are cut they must be given a quick roll on what’s called a gnocchi paddle. The paddle is very small and ribbed, giving the gnocchi its trademark texture. Rolling the gnocchi across the paddle may seem tedious, but its importance is vital as it helps allow the sauce to stick to each gnocco. The small dents can also be made with a fork, but Christine suggests purchasing a wooden gnocchi paddle, pointing out that it also makes a great souvenir.
The popular dish can be made out of potato, semolina (durum wheat) as well as with ricotta cheese, sometimes combined with spinach in the Tuscan region. Gnocchi is commonly accompanied by classic sauces such as tomato, butter and sage. Sometimes their fluffy goodness may simply be enjoyed with a pat of butter and grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese sprinkled on top.
Just as Christine’s Gnocchi Mamma taught her how to make the perfect little lumps of pasta and potato, Christine passed on the “art of gnocchi-making” to Umbra students. At then end of the evening the students exclaimed, “You’re now OUR Gnocchi Mamma!”
Umbra will be hosting a third gnocchi making night next Thursday, June 21st. For more information on gnocchi or cooking with Christine Hickman, visit her website www.sonomarcella.com