I often make gnocchi di patate when I have guests, with a simple tomato sauce. I have yet to find a gnocchi disliker. When Bruno (Australian of Italian origin) wrote to me a little while ago asking me whether I knew how to make gnocchi dolci, I had to admit I was at a loss: I had never heard of them. Bruno, on the other hand, grew up eating his mother's gnocchi dolci.
The tricky part of trying to make gnocchi dolci was that, differently from Bruno, I had no memory associated with them, hence no benchmark to evaluate whatever version of the recipe I would come up with. In any case, I was intrigued by the challenge and got down to work. A bit of online reading told me that the dish comes from Friuli-Venezia Giulia, a region in the north-eastern part of Italy and, though it is sweet, it is served as a primo piatto (first course). Gnocchi dolci are potato dumplings with a fresh or dried fruit or jam filling. They are cooked in boiling water, then seasoned with bread crumbs toasted in butter and finally dusted with sugar mixed with a bit of cinnamon. I have seen recipes that use prugne (plums), prugne secche (prunes) or marmellata di prugne o albicocche (plum or apricot jam) as filling (ripieno).
In my experiments I used a couple of different sugarless fruit spreads, instead of jam, and, in my most recent attempt, some ciliegie (cherries), since plum season has not yet started in my area. Each batch had the following ingredients:
- 500 g (1.1 lb) russet (baking) potatoes
- 1 egg
- about 1/2 cup regular flour
- fruit spread of choice (pitted fresh cherries in a portion of the last batch)
Boil the potatoes until tender (I usually bake the potatoes at 400 F), drain and let cool, then peel and mash them with a ricer or food mill. Add the egg and 2/3 of the flour, sifted, and mix with a wooden spoon. Pour the dough on a working surface and knead until smooth, dusting flour over the surface, as needed, to prevent sticking. The recipes I have seen use more flour than I do, but I am happy with the soft consistency of my dough. Cut the dough into three parts, roll each one into a rope, and cut each rope into six pieces. This size worked well with a small quantity of fruit spread (1/2 teaspoon) or a cherry.
Flatten each piece of dough, place the filling in the center and close the dumpling around it, making sure it is well sealed. Using pitted cherries has made me realize that fresh fruit is easier to handle than fruit spread, because the latter tends to leak when you close the dumpling. Place the gnocchi on a plate, then dust them lightly with flour.
Bring a pot of water to a boil and drop in it some of the gnocchi making sure they are not crowded. When they surface, they are ready and can be retrieved from the pot with a slotted spoon and placed in a covered bowl. In the meantime, prepare the topping. I decided to make a light dish, so I employed very little butter. Also, since the fruit spread is sweet, I limited the amount of sugar I sprinkled on the gnocchi. These are the quantities I used, which can be increased to please your taste:
- 2 tablespoons unflavored breadcrumbs
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon sugar mixed with cinnamon to taste
Toast the breadcrumbs in a small frying pan, then add the butter. Stir on low heat until the breadcrumbs are well coated. Place the cooked and drained gnocchi in a gratin dish and distribute the buttered breadcrumbs over them, then sprinkle with the cinnamon-laced sugar (photo on the left). Place gratin dish in a warm oven with the broil setting on for 5-10 minutes until everything is nice and warm (photo on the right) and ready to be eaten.
Bruno remembers eating the toasted, buttered and sweetened breadcrumbs left in the pan after all the gnocchi had been removed, a sweet memory in more ways than one. I have no idea how my gnocchi dolci compare to the ones made where they are traditional: I welcome comments and suggestions. In any case, I enjoyed eating them and sharing them with guests. I have also enjoyed my email exchange with Bruno on this subject. My special thanks to him for giving me the chance to experiment with a dish I did not know. The experiments will continue and I am planning to write a follow-up post after I make gnocchi di prugne.
Click on the button to hear me pronounce the Italian words mentioned in the post:
or launch the gnocchi dolci audio file [mp3].
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