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I'm Beth, a vertically-challenged photographer, stylist, recipe developer and explorer. Welcome to my blog!

Fool-Proof Gnocchi with Brown Butter & Sage

Fool-Proof Gnocchi with Brown Butter & Sage

A view from the Castello - the town of Grinzane Cavour and surrounding vineyards of the Langhe in Piedmonte.

Memories of a fabulous lunch at the Castello di Grinzane Cavour led me to sacrifice umpteen innocent potatoes in pursuit of perfect homemade gnocchi. Numerous techniques and recipes were tested in my quest to recreate the tender, light, fluffy dish that I enjoyed so much in Italy. More often than not, my efforts resulted in dense chewy little bullets, not remotely akin to the soft little pillows of potato heaven that I remembered.

Finally, I discovered the secret to making fool-proof perfect gnocchi, and you'll never guess what it is!

fried sage brown butter gnocchi

Instant mashed potatoes, yes it's true. 

Instant mashed potato gnocchi and fresh sage

Purists may scoff, but I feel no shame, this little trick/shortcut has made me a gnocchi goddess. These gnocchi turn out perfectly every time and they are ready in about half an hour. Just remember, not all instant mashed potatoes are created equal. Avoid brands which advertise 'just add water' because they will likely contain a variety of additional ingredients other than dehydrated potatoes. Things like milk solids or a ton of extra sugar and salt, all of which affect the texture and flavour of your gnocchi. Read the labels and look for a brand that lists dehydrated potatoes and a couple of common preservatives, try to avoid those with a long list of unpronounceable ingredients.

fool-proof gnocchi with brown butter and sage

Fool-Proof Gnocchi with Brown Butter & Sage

This recipe makes two generous servings, but it can be easily doubled or tripled if you'd like. 

Gnocchi:

  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 3/4 cup instant mashed potato flakes
  • 1 large eggs
  • 6 tablespoons all purpose flour

Brown Butter Sauce:

  • 1/4 cup butter
  • small handful fresh sage
  • 1 slice prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup reserved cooking water
  • freshly shaved or grated Parmagiano  

Heat the milk and butter in the microwave until the butter is melted, don't let it boil, but it should be hot to the touch.

Add the milk and butter to the potato flakes in a medium bowl, and stir to combine. The mixture will have a dry crumbly texture.

Let the potatoes cool for about five minutes or so, until the mixture is just warm to the touch. Then add the egg and flour and stir until everything has been thoroughly incorporated.

forming gnocchi on a gnocchi board

You are ready to roll!  Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a long rope about 3/4 of an inch in diameter using the palms of your hands working on a lightly floured surface. If you find the dough a little bit sticky, flour your hands as well. Try not to add too much flour to the dough, it will make the finished gnocchi tough. Use just enough to prevent sticking.

Cut each roll into 3/4 inch pieces to make your gnocchi.  

The next step is totally optional, but I think it's worth the tiny bit of time and effort it takes to form perfect dumplings.

Sprinkle a little flour on a gnocchi board (or dinner fork) and, one at a time, roll the little dumplings along the ridges of the gnocchi board (or fork) pressing lightly with your thumb to create a ridge pattern on one side and a dent on the other. The little gnocchi will curl slightly into little crescent shapes and result in lots of sauce-trapping dents and pockets.

While you bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, you can prepare your sauce.  In a big frying pan over medium high heat, melt the butter until it starts to bubble a bit and smell toasty, it will also start take on a light brown honey colour. Add the fresh sage leaves to the pan, and tear a slice of prosciutto into little pieces and add to the butter. Reduce the heat to medium and sautée until the sage begins to crisp up.  It will only take a minute or two. Remove the pan from the heat while you attend to your gnocchi.

Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water in small handfuls, I start with the biggest ones first. Cook them for 2-3 minutes, just until they float to the top. Skim them off the top with a slotted spoon and add them to the brown butter in the frying pan. Ladle out about 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and add it to the gnocchi. Put the pan over medium heat and cook the gnocchi in the brown butter sauce for just a minute or two, stirring gently to thoroughly coat each little dumpling in sauce.

instant mashed potato gnocchi with sage butter

Just before serving, shave some Parmagiano Reggiano over each plate with vegetable peeler or paring knife.

The view of the Langhe from the tower in Castello di Grinzane Cavour, on a clear day you can see the snow capped peaks of the Alps in the distance.

The view of the Langhe from the tower in Castello di Grinzane Cavour, on a clear day you can see the snow capped peaks of the Alps in the distance.

The terrace of the restaurant at the Castello di Grinzane Cavour.

The terrace of the restaurant at the Castello di Grinzane Cavour.

I would definitely include the Castello di Grinzane Cavour on my list of 'must see' attractions in Piedmonte. We happened upon it by accident, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip. In addition to an excellent restaurant, the Castello houses a very well stocked Enoteca and a fascinating cultural museum. There's lots of information about the history of farming and wine production in the area, and many exhibits depicting typical Piedmontese household settings from the 17th and 19th centuries. My kind of museum!  Click here for several virtual tours of the exhibits at the Castello, it's almost like being there!

The enoteca at the Castello sells a nice selection of wine, spirits, and specialty products from the Langhe.  It also hosts a super swanky white truffle auction during the annual truffle festival in nearby Alba.

The enoteca at the Castello sells a nice selection of wine, spirits, and specialty products from the Langhe.  It also hosts a super swanky white truffle auction during the annual truffle festival in nearby Alba.

Castello di Grinzanne Cavour enoteca

While the better half studied wine labels, I was fascinated by the fresco on the ceiling of Vino e Salute room, so many bats and birds and bugs!.

ceiling fresco Castello di Grinzane Cavour

Click this link to a virtual tour of the room where I took these shots.  Just look up to see the whole ceiling.

And finally, a little travel photography tip.

There are so many beautiful architectural details and elaborately decorated ceilings in Italy, but all too often they are in large dimly lit spaces, making them difficult to photograph.  To capture a good quality image in a low light situation a long exposure is required, but many museums and cathedrals will have restrictions against the use of tripods, so how do you avoid the inevitable camera-shake and resulting blurry photo?

Lay your camera down on the floor with the lens pointed straight up, and use the self timer to take the shot.  No fear of camera-shake, and no tripod required. 

Detail of ceiling fresco.

Detail of ceiling fresco.

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