Parmesan gnocchi with shaved carrots and basil
I won’t lie to you: gnocchi are a little tricky. They need some time and some love, and approximately every bowl in your kitchen. But for all of their intimidating reputation, these fat little potato pillows were actually pretty fun and relatively simple to make. And at the end of it all, oh boy. It’s like mashed potatoes and pasta had a love child and dressed him in Parmesan, and it’s worth it in a big way.
Here’s the breakdown: we bake a couple of potatoes, grate them finely, and mix them up with flour, eggs, and a hefty dose of cheese. We roll the dough into snakes, then cut it up into little bowties and boil them. And then because we don’t know when to stop, we throw them in some clarified butter to crisp up the outsides and top them with mounds of sweet, curly carrots, fresh basil, crunchy almonds, and more cheese. And then we swoon, because it’s just that good.
I love the short, squat gnocchi dressed with long, loopy strands of carrots that drape and curl like the elegant updo I can never quite get my hair to hold. The delicate strands of carrot and the toasty almonds play perfectly against the chewiness of the gnocchi, and the butter brings it all together in rich simplicity.
It may seem like a supporting character, but the clarified butter really plays an essential role in this dish. We use it to fry both the carrots and the gnocchi, and butter is the obvious choice for maximum flavor. The problem comes with heat: regular butter at this temperature would brown and then quickly burn, leaving us with nothing more than a pile of black carrots. We need an upgraded version of butter that tastes just as good but can also handle the high temperatures. Enter clarified butter. Without the heat-sensitive milk proteins, pure butterfat delivers rich flavor along with the performance of oil.
- 2 lb. russet potatoes (about 2 large)
- 2 c. flour
- ½ c. grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 eggs
- 2 t. salt
- Olive oil, for coating
- ½ c. (1 stick) butter
- ½ c. blanched slivered almonds
- 3-4 carrots
- 5 leaves basil
- Wash and prick the potatoes, and bake them at 350 degrees F for an hour and 15 minutes.
- While the potatoes cook, prepare the toppings.
- Toast the almonds in the oven until light brown and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
- Clarify the butter: melt it in a small pot over medium heat. It will bubble as the water boils out. When it stops bubbling, there will be a film of milk protein on top of the butter and another layer at the bottom. Use a spoon to skim the foam off the top, then carefully pour the liquid butterfat into a heatproof bowl until the color changes from yellow to white. Discard the white layer.
- Peel and cut the ends off the carrots. Use a vegetable peeler to shave thin strips of carrot. Staying in one place (not rotating the carrot like you do to peel it) will give you wider strips.
- Chiffonade or chop the basil.
- Heat a tablespoon of clarified butter over medium-high heat. Add the carrots and cook, turning frequently (tongs work well here) until softened. During the last minute, add most of the basil.
- When the potatoes are cool enough to handle but still warm, use your hands to remove the peel. Grate the potato on the small holes of a box grater.
- Add the flour, cheese, eggs, and salt to the potato and use your hands to gently mix it together. Turn it onto a floured surface and knead just until you have a smooth dough.
- Break off an apricot-sized piece of dough and roll it between your hands into a thick rope. Continue to roll it on the floured surface until it is about as big around as your finger. Use a knife to cut the rope into one-inch pieces.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and prepare a bowl of ice water to cool the cooked gnocchi. Add about a quarter of the gnocchi at a time, stirring immediately to prevent them from sticking together. Cook for 4 minutes, then use a slotted spoon to transfer them to the ice bath.
- Once they are cool, remove them from the cold water, place them in a bowl, and toss them in olive oil to prevent them from sticking. Repeat until all of the gnocchi are cooked.
- Heat another tablespoon of clarified butter. Add the boiled and cooled gnocchi in a single layer and fry until they are golden on one side, then flip. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi. *Note: any water on the surface of the gnocchi will spit in the hot oil. You can shield it with a screen or just step to a safe distance until it calms down.
- Divide the gnocchi among four bowls. Top with the carrots, the toasted almonds, and a drizzle of clarified butter. Garnish with Parmesan and the reserved basil.
Gnocchi recipe adapted minimally from Stephanie Izzard’s Girl in the Kitchen.