Eggplant & Potato Gnocchi With Chunky Eggplant Sauce

Since that very first bite of my Mother-In-Law’s wonderful potato gnocchi over forty years ago, I have had a love affair with gnocchi. A well-made gnocchi should be delicate enough to be described as tender, yet sturdy enough to hold its own when combined with the sauce. Gnocchi are dumplings, and can be made of almost any ingredients that can be formed into a dough. Gnocchi, (pronounced NYOK-ee) are made in most regions in Italy, although they are often made with different ingredients in each. Being a gnocchi lover means that I tend to be a little hypercritical of the quality of any gnocchi I am served. Although my first instinct when dining out is to choose gnocchi if it is on the menu, I have learned that doing so in North America can be very disappointing. I do often order gnocchi when dining out in Italy however and am usually very happy with my dish.

eggplantgnocchi3The perfect gnocchi for me are light pillows of goodness, not gummy or chewy lumps that are often over sauced. I usually prefer to make ricotta gnocchi at home simply because they are quicker than potato gnocchi (you do not have to cook the potatoes), and I find ricotta gnocchi are usually lighter in texture. When I came across a recipe for gnocchi that included both eggplant and potatoes I was so intrigued that I simply had to try it. I will preface this recipe right at the start to warn you that if you do not care for eggplant than this recipe probably isn’t for you. I love eggplant myself, so I decided to pair my eggplant gnocchi with a chunky eggplant sauce. Because this sauce made me think of Pasta all Norma, I decided to top my gnocchi with shredded ricotta salata cheese before serving but feel free to use grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano if you prefer.

Gnocchi can be made with a variety of ingredients, and I have made them with sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and spinach. Eggplant was not something I ever would have thought of using for making gnocchi however because it simply doesn’t have a starchy texture. Mixed with potatoes though, it does work, and although the eggplant flavor is very subtle, you can taste the difference from the usual potato gnocchi. If you have never made gnocchi before, you may find this recipe a little tricky. Even though I added the step to drain the pureed eggplant pulp, the dough was rather wet and therefore, a little loose to handle. I was concerned enough to do a test, and cooked a few gnocchi before I added any additional flour, and found that even though they were quite soft, they cooked up beautifully. When making gnocchi with potatoes, I prefer to bake them rather than boil them to keep them dry. Baking rather than boiling reduces the amount of liquid in the riced potatoes requiring less flour and therefore creating a lighter finished product. Baking potatoes, or Russet potatoes are best for making gnocchi, but unfortunately, all I could find was the Italian equivalent of the Yukon Gold variety. Because the gnocchi were so soft, they were not perfectly shaped once they were cooked, but I find that rustic look appealing and shows that the gnocchi are handmade.

If you are not familiar with making gnocchi, or simply would like a little reminder, you can read my post How To Make Potato Gnocchi Step by Step .

Gnocchi Tips For Preparation And Cooking:

The amount of flour needed for the recipe depends on the moisture content of the other ingredients. The eggplant should be drained of excess liquid in this recipe.

Only add three quarters of the amount of flour the recipe calls for initially. The less flour you use the lighter the gnocchi you can achieve.

Knead your gnocchi dough only as long as it takes for the ingredients to come together into a workable dough. The longer you knead, the more flour you will use, resulting in a heavier gnocchi.

It is a good idea if you are new to gnocchi making to test your gnocchi before you prepare the whole batch. Drop a couple of gnocchi into boiling water and remove as soon as they come to the surface. If they fall apart, knead in a little more flour. If they hold up well, continue cutting the rest of your gnocchi.

To cook gnocchi, always use a large pot of boiling, salted water, and remove them as soon as they float to the surface. If you overcook gnocchi they will turn to mush.

Gnocchi don’t keep well at room temperature; so if you are not cooking them right away, place them on a lightly floured baking sheet in the refrigerator.

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Baking the potatoes & eggplant first.

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Cooking up the eggplant for the sauce.

Buon Appetito!
Deborah Mele 2015

Eggplant & Potato Gnocchi With Chunky Eggplant Sauce

Ingredients:

Eggplant Gnocchi:

  • 1 Medium Eggplant (About 1 Pound)
  • 2 to 3 Potatoes (About 1 Pound)
  • 1 Egg
  • 1/3 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 1 to 1 1/2 Cups All-purpose Flour + Extra For Rolling

Eggplant Sauce:

  • 3 Tablespoons Olive Oil, Divided
  • 1/2 Cup Finely Chopped Onion
  • 4 Cups Diced Peeled Eggplant (Cut Into 3/4 Inch Pieces)
  • 3 Cloves Garlic, Minced
  • 1 (14 Ounce) Can Crushed Tomatoes
  • 3 Tablespoons Tomato Paste
  • 3/4 Cup Water
  • Salt & Pepper To Taste
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Hot Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 Teaspoon Dried Oregano
  • 3 Tablespoons Chopped Fresh Basil

To Serve:

  • Shredded Ricotta Salata (Or Grated Parmesan or Pecorino)
  • Fresh Baby Basil Leaves

Directions:

  1. To make the gnocchi, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
  2. Cut the eggplant in half and place on a baking sheet cut side down along with the potatoes.
  3. Bake the eggplant and potatoes until fork tender, about 50 minutes.
  4. Let sit until cool enough to handle.
  5. Scoop the flesh from the eggplant and puree, then place in a strainer in the sink for 30 minutes.
  6. Scoop out the potato from the skin and pass through a ricer into a bowl.
  7. Once drained, add the eggplant pulp, egg, and cup of flour.
  8. Stir until mixed then dump onto a lightly floured surface.
  9. Use your hands to lightly knead just enough to bring the dough together, dusting with additional flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  10. Roll the dough into 1 inch thick logs, dusting with flour as needed.
  11. Cut the dough into 1 inch pieces and place on a lightly floured baking sheet.
  12. Refrigerate until needed.
  13. To make the sauce, in a non-stick pan, heat the oil over medium heat until lightly smoking.
  14. Add the onion and eggplant, and cook until they are both soft and lightly browned, stirring as needed to prevent sticking, about 8 minutes.
  15. Add the garlic and cook an additional minute or two.
  16. Add the remaining sauce ingredients, and cook over low heat until the sauce is very thick, about 30 minutes.
  17. Heat a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil.
  18. Cook the gnocchi just until they float to the top, then remove to a large bowl.
  19. Add a ladle or two full of sauce to the bowl and gently toss the gnocchi to completely coat in the sauce.
  20. Serve the gnocchi in individual bowls, topped with a little extra sauce, some shredded ricotta salta, and a few baby basil leaves.

Adapted from Gourmettraveler.com