Thursday, June 15, 2017

The Great Gnocchi Experiment #100daysofAS Day 13

Last month's Baronial A&S night was on how to make gnocchi.  However, neither Emmelina nor I could be there.  She'd only ever had gnocchi from Trader Joes and I'd recently had some amazing gnocchi at a restaurant so one Sunday in May, I invited her over to try making gnocchi ourselves.

I wanted to do a potato based version, to show Emmelina how much tastier fresh gnocchi was.  But since potatoes are a new world food, I got to wondering about period gnocchi recipes.  What did they use to make gnocchi before potatoes?

Thanks to the nice folks on the SCA cooks board, I was introduced to multiple pre-1600 gnocchi recipes.  They seemed to fall into 2 main types:  bread crumbs, flour & egg or cheese, flour & egg.   I was kind of curious about the difference in taste so the plan was to make one of the cheese based recipes, one of the breadcrumb based (from a 15th C Italian cookbook) and then a batch of the potato based, from Mark Bittman's: How to Cook Everything.   This was primarily a taste comparison, so things were a bit fast and loose historical research wise; I didn't redact the recipes myself and had to make some substitutions on ingredients.  At some point, I may redo the experiment for higher accuracy..  depending on the cost and availability of real Neufchâtel cheese (or try my hand at making it myself).

 Ready to start making gnocchi!

 Emmelina mixing the cheese gnocchi

From right to left:  Scappi's breadcrumb version, cheese gnocchi and potato based.

Cheese gnocchi (original recipe & redaction on the link)
Interestingly, the Aethelmarc redaction specifies Neufchâtel cheese. Doing a little research, I  found out that while the production of Neufchâtel dates back to approximately the 6th century what we call Neufchatel today is not really comparable. There was no real Neufchâtel cheese to be had at the gourmet Kroger with the extensive cheese department (which is the first place I tried) so I didn't try anywhere else.

Preparation wise, these went together pretty easily because I  remembered to pull the cream cheese out in advance and let it get closer to room temperature.  We did have to add significant additional flour to get the "soft bread dough" stage.  The quantity of flour was specified in the redaction, not the original recipe, I was pretty comfortable with adding the flour.

Breadcrumb Gnocchi  Recipe 69 from Libro B of Anonimo Meridionale: Due Libri di Cucina at the link.  Anonimo Meridionale is a 15th-century Italian book of recipes and there is a nearly identical recipe in Scappi's L'Opera.    The grocery bakery didn't sell fresh breadcrumbs (the woman at the bakery counter looked at me like I was from Mars when I asked) and I'd waited until the day before the experiment so I didn't have time to bake bread and make my own, so Panko breadcrumbs were substituted, mostly because I already had them in the pantry.  Ironically, it was in writing this that I thought about the option of making them from store bought bread.

 Like the cheese gnocchi, we had to add more flour than anticipated.  I didn't have high hopes for this recipe as we were putting it together. It was coarse and lumpier than the cheese gnocchi and felt like "peasant food"

Potato Gnocchi
I'd made Mark Bittman's recipe (at the link and in his How to Cook Everything) years ago, so I decided to use that recipe again.  Because you have to boil the potatoes (and peel them) and then roll each one over a fork for the classic ridged appearance, this one takes a lot longer to come together than the other two.  Like the other two, we had to add more flour to get a dough consistency that was workable. Emmelia was a pro in adding the ridges from the first gnocchi.  The other 2 recipes did not call for the ridges, which makes me wonder when the ridging started.  Like other 2 types of gnocchi, we piled them up on a plate in layers to await cooking.

We had a bit of a disaster cooking the potato gnocchi.  When we went to pop the top layer in the boiling water, we realized that they were sticking to each other and the ones underneath them.  In hindsight, I would add a little more flour and place them individually on a cookie sheet lined with parchment once they came off the fork.  The only thing to do was to just pull off chunks & toss them into the boiling water -all of Emmelina's beautiful ridges disappeared.  We dubbed them "post modern gnocchi" and ate them anyway.

The Taste Test

We put butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese on all three types.  Scappi suggests a little cinnamon in addition to the butter and cheese for the breadcrumb so we added that for the breadcrumb gnocchi.

Not sure if it was the additional cinnamon or what, but the unanimous agreement what that we liked the breadcrumb recipe the best. (Jay got home just in time to taste test so there were 3 of us voting) Both the cheese and the potato were both very good though.

And so concluded the Great Gnocchi Experiment.