The Romans out there will know that Thursdays in Rome (and perhaps in the rest of Italy) is gnocchi day. After ten years in Rome, I’ve gotten into the habit and in our house we still often eat gnocchi on Thursdays. In the Fall and Winter, I particularly like gnocchi dresses with the mushroom cream sauce that I enjoyed so much during my days in Vienna. There the sauce is usually made with a kind of wild mushroom called Erswamerel (which I think is a kind of morel) and eaten with Knödeln, a bread dumpling known to Italians as canederli. (I actually had the best Knödln /canederli in my life in Alto Adige, not in Vienna, but that’s a story for another day.) This sauce is wonderfully versatile. It is also wonderful with fresh egg pasta and, if you’ve been following this blog, you will have even seen it paired with boiled ox tongue.
Here’s how you make the mushroom cream sauce: Sauté some sliced or chopped mushrooms in olive oil until well reduced (salt the mushrooms to draw out their water), and when the mushrooms have shed their water and begin to sizzle, mix in a buttuto of finely chopped shallots and parsley and sauté for a further minute or two. Dust with a bit of flour, sauté briefly until lightly browned, then add stock or broth (beef is best for this dish, but chicken or even vegetable would work out fine). Reduce until quite syrupy to concentrate the flavor and then add a generous amount of cream. Let that reduce as well until it reaches a nice “saucy” consistency—not too thick, however, as the gnocchi will absorb quite a bit of liquid and you want this dish to be creamy. (You can adjust later by adding more cream if need be.) Meanwhile, gently boil your gnocchi in salted water until they rise to the surface—vengono a galla, as they say in Italian—then fish them out of the water with a slotted spoon and add the gnocchi to the sauce. (Don’t drain them in a colander, as they are delicate and this may damage them.) Let the gnocchi simmer in the sauce for a few moments—about 15-30 seconds only—mixing them gently with the sauce and serve. Buon appetito!
Of course, this dish is at its best if you make your gnocchi from scratch, but packaged gnocchi will do fine with this flavorful sauce, and turn this into a very quick meal. As for the mushrooms, of course wild mushrooms will give the most flavorful results; porcini would be both typical and lovely, but morels, chanterelles or just about any kind will also be very nice. And in a pinch, shiitake are perfectly fine. You can even resort to simple button mushrooms if that’s what you have on hand, but you may want to use my ‘chef’s secret’ to give them some more character and flavor.
For a more ‘rustic’ effect, you can also make this dish without the addition of either broth or cream. Or you can add chopped or canned tomatoes instead for a version in rosso.