Learning With a Cause: A Gnocchi Class From Work Options for Women
The finished product: potato gnocchi with an heirloom tomato and basil sauce.
Making gnocchi is a true labor of love, and after making it from scratch once, you’ll appreciate those little pillows of potato heaven even more. This month I had the pleasure of taking a cooking class led by chef Isabel Ranney of the Magnolia Hotel as part of the the monthly program Work Options for Women — a local non-profit that helps impoverished women gain the skills needed to obtain employment in the food industry — has been hosting. We made a delicious gnocchi and heirloom tomato sauce, leaving me thoroughly impressed by Ranney and feeling good about supporting a great organization.
All of the proceeds from the monthly cooking classes go directly to W.O.W. Each month has featured a different Denver chef and it’s a great way to try cooking something you otherwise might be too intimidated to attempt. Ranney was an infectious dose of liveliness, with constant laughs traveling across the room. She was informative and very hands-on, guiding the class as participants helped mash, mix and roll. Another chef, Jason Linam, handled duties in the sauce department, showing everyone how to macerate heirloom tomatoes and how butter makes everything taste better.
Chef Isabel explaining if you don't have a ricer, you can use a whisk to mash!
The fruits of our labor were savory and satisfying. Taking a pile of potatoes and creating an Italian masterpiece makes you feel like you can conquer on any culinary challenge. And that’s how Ranney got her start. With no formal training as a chef, she worked her way up in the kitchen over the course of several years by taking every opportunity she could to learn from other chefs and diving head first into the culinary world, fearlessly trying new things until she made her way into the kitchen at the Magnolia Hotel. The hotel's restaurant offerings are currently going through a massive overhaul; after tasting the gnocchi recipe, I can’t wait to try the new menu Ranney and her staff are creating.
The W.O.W. cooking classes are more than just instruction though. It's a great way to become part of the community, meet new people, have one-on-one conversations with local chefs and understand that just being there is helping others make their way to permanent employment. W.O.W. takes women through a program lasting 8 to 12 weeks, depending on competency, teaching necessary skills and helping with food-service job placement.
That gnocchi sounding pretty good? Here’s the recipe:
2 pounds (about 4 or 5) baking potatoes, russets are preferred
1 teaspoon salt
1-½ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Pierce the potatoes several times so that moisture can escape during baking. Bake the potatoes in a preheated 400 degree oven for one hour until tender when pierced with a fork. Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch (don’t let them cool completely- you want them to be as warm as possible but still able to handle them), remove skins and place the peeled potatoes in a large bowl with the salt and eggs.
Add the flour a little at a time and mix with your hands until the mixture forms a rough dough. Do not over-work the dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and gently knead the dough for one to two minutes until smooth, adding a little more flour, if necessary, to keep it from sticking.
Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Tear a piece off and roll into a long rope about ¾ inch in diameter. Cut the rope in half, then with the two ropes next to each other, slice them into ½ inch “pillows”.
Boil the gnocchi in batches in plenty of salted water. The gnocchi are done about two minutes after they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon and serve.
Note: If the gnocchi start to feather and fall apart in boiling water, you need more flour.
Storage: If not cooking immediately, place the gnocchi in a single layer on a baking pan and dust with flour. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 12 hours. Once the gnocchi have cooled, place the baking sheet(s) in the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer them to an airtight container and freeze until ready to use. They will keep in the freezer for one to two months.
In the land of gnocchi.
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