Gnocchi take some time to prepare, but they are among the easiest pasta dishes to make at home. This twist on basic basil pesto brings together a trio of harmonious herbs, and it’s great for working ahead: just prepare as directed, omitting the cheese, salt and butter, cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 3 months. Just before using, whisk in the cheese, salt and butter.
Potato Gnocchi with Mixed Herb Pesto
For the mixed herb pesto:
Kosher salt for blanching basil
2 cups (2 oz./60 g.) firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/4 cup (1/4 oz./7 g.) firmly packed fresh parsley leaves
1 tsp. chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/3 cup (2 oz./60 g.) pine nuts, lightly toasted
1/2 cup (4 fl. oz./125 ml.) extra-virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup (2 oz./60 g.) freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 Tbs. unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the gnocchi:
2 lb. (1 kg.) Yukon gold or other boiling potatoes, unpeeled
1 3/4 cups (9 oz./280 g.) unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1/4 tsp. freshly ground pepper
Kosher salt for cooking gnocchi
Freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese for serving
To make the pesto, have ready a bowl filled with ice water. In a saucepan, bring 4 cups (32 fl. oz./1 l.) water to a boil and add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and the basil leaves. Using a wire skimmer or other wide, flat strainer, stir the basil and then press on it to keep it submerged for 30 seconds. Drain immediately and transfer to the ice water to halt the cooking. Squeeze the leaves to remove excess water, then chop coarsely.
In a food processor, combine the basil, parsley, thyme, garlic, pine nuts, olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, and a few grinds of pepper. Process until smooth, stopping the machine once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the cheese and the butter and process for about 15 seconds. Scrape down the sides again, then process for a few seconds longer. Be careful not to overprocess; the consistency of the pesto should be thick and fluid and have a slightly grainy texture. Transfer to a bowl, taste and adjust the seasoning, and set aside.
To make the gnocchi, in a saucepan, combine the potatoes with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 25 minutes. Drain and, when just cool enough to handle, peel. Pass them through a potato ricer onto a rimmed baking sheet. Spread out and let cool.
In a bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle 1 1/2 cups (7 1/2 oz./235 g.) of the flour mixture evenly over the potatoes on the baking sheet. Using a bench scraper, scoop, lift, and fold the potatoes to mix them with the flour until a coarse dough forms. It should look raggedy.
Transfer the potato mixture to a lightly floured work surface and work in just enough of the remaining seasoned flour so that the dough is soft and smooth, but not dry. Shape the dough into a ball and flatten into a thick disk. To knead the dough, using the heel of your hand, push it down and away from you, fold it in half back toward you, and then rotate it a quarter turn. Repeat until the dough is soft and pliable but no longer sticky, about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into quarters, and refrigerate three of the quarters.
Lightly flour the work surface, place a dough quarter on it, and shape it into a short, thick cylinder. Using the palms of both hands, roll the dough back and forth, gradually moving your palms to the ends of the cylinder as it elongates, until you have a “rope” about 1/2 inch (12 mm.) in diameter. Using the bench scraper or a knife, cut the rope crosswise into pieces 1/2-3/4 inch (12 mm.-2 cm.) wide. Run the pieces lightly over the large holes of a box grater or a ridged butter paddle, or press the tines of a fork gently into each piece to create hollows.
Preheat the oven to 200°F (95°C) and place a large, wide, shallow serving platter in it to warm. In a large pot, bring 5 qt. (5 l.) water to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons kosher salt and the gnocchi and cook, stirring occasionally, until the gnocchi float to the top, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, lift out the cooked gnocchi, small batches at a time, drip-drying well over the pot, and transfer them to the serving dish, arranging them in a single layer. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and return the dish to the oven. Shape, cook and drain the remaining gnocchi in the same way, and add them to the serving dish without layering them.
Stir about 1 tablespoon of the gnocchi cooking water into the pesto to make a saucy consistency. Spoon the sauce over the gnocchi and sprinkle with a little grated cheese. Serve right away, and pass the additional cheese at the table. Serves 6.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma The Pasta Book, by Julia della Croce (Weldon Owen, 2010).