Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

Olive Oil Hunter News #174

Potato Gnocchi

Easy Potato Gnocchi Recipe, Spotlight on 00 Flour, the Useful Potato Ricer, The Health of Plant-Based Diets, and Exercise to Ward Off Depression and Anxiety

Unless you’re skilled at making pasta by hand, “homemade” can seem like a daunting undertaking. Happily, this isn’t the case with gnocchi—it calls for a deliciously simple prep and can be finished with just a luscious drizzle of fresh-pressed olive oil…or with your most elaborate sauce. In addition to two of my gnocchi-making hacks, this edition of the newsletter includes a look at two thought-provoking research reviews. One analyzes dozens of studies on the health benefits of plant-based diets, and the other looks at studies about the mental health benefits of exercising at a slow or medium pace. Together, they can add up to a healthier lifestyle.

Easy Potato Gnocchi

  • Potato Gnocchi Easy Potato Gnocchi

    Intimidated by the idea of making pasta at home? Gnocchi is a happy compromise because you don’t need a pasta machine or endless rolling to achieve delectable results. A 2:1 potato to flour ratio works best; for accuracy, measure with a kitchen scale. For the smoothest dough, use a potato ricer, a handy and inexpensive tool (see the “Quick Kitchen Nugget” in Olive Oil Hunter News). 


    • 2 pounds Yukon gold or red potatoes, peeled
    • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
    • 1 pound all-purpose or 00 pasta flour, plus more for shaping
    • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    • 3 teaspoons fine sea salt, divided use


    Step 1

    Peel and quarter the potatoes. Steam them on a steaming rack placed over a few inches of water in a large, covered pot until tender, about 25 minutes. The water should stay at a simmer; check halfway through to see if you need to add more. 

    Step 2

    Let the potatoes cool slightly and then press them through a ricer set over a large bowl, working in batches. Add in the egg, flour, olive oil, and 1 teaspoon of salt, and use your hands to mix the ingredients well and knead into a ball. Dust a clean section of your countertop with a handful of flour. Turn out the dough, shape it into a log, and cut it into 6 even sections. One at a time, roll each section into a rope about 1 inch in diameter, lightly flouring your hands as needed. Use a bench scraper to cut each rope into 1-inch pieces.  

    Step 3

    Bring a very large pot of water to a boil. Add the rest of the salt and the gnocchi. Lower the heat to a medium boil and cook until the gnocchi rise to the surface, just a few minutes. Scoop them out with a spider strainer, and top with sauce as desired.

    Yields 4 servings

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Healthy Ingredient Spotlight

00 Flour

Usually I like to use some whole wheat flour in recipes that call for all-purpose flour because it retains all the nutrients of whole wheat. But there are some dishes that truly benefit from the most finely textured (yes, refined) flour—consider them occasional indulgences. That’s the case with gnocchi and 00 flour, also known as doppio (double) zero, one of Italy’s many culinary gifts to us. 

Made from durum wheat, it’s arguably the finest (in terms of texture) and most refined flour available, beloved for making pasta and pizza. It creates a very malleable dough that’s so easy to work with. If you use it, you’ll also notice that it takes less water than all-purpose flour to form a dough, and you may need to adjust proportions when making a recipe that uses all-purpose flour.

Italian brands of 00 flour, like Caputo’s, are readily available here, and American mills, like King Arthur’s and Bob’s Red Mill, have introduced it as well. One important note: There are different versions of 00 flour, some ideal for pasta and others for pizza and bread; read labels carefully so you get the right one for your recipe.  

Quick Kitchen Nugget: Thawing Frozen Fish 

Quick Kitchen Nugget

The Potato Ricer: The Gadget You Didn’t Think You Needed

Potato ricer

No matter how smoothly you mash potatoes, all that elbow grease probably can’t equal the finesse of a potato ricer, a gizmo that turns boiled potatoes (and other foods) into tiny, rice-like pieces that can then be finely mashed or turned into gnocchi. You simply fill the basket with cooked potatoes and press down on a handle to force them through the small holes in the bottom of the basket, then repeat until you’ve riced all your potatoes. 

You can also run any fruit or vegetable that’s been steamed or boiled to a tender consistency through a ricer. Some people love it for making fruit butters and coulis or for making spaetzle—fill the bucket with your dough and press down on the handle as you hold the ricer over simmering water. 

Look for a ricer with a large bucket—you won’t have to refill it as often—and ergonomic handles that require less effort to press. Some brands offer interchangeable plates with different hole sizes. Note: It won’t rice potato skins, so you’ll miss out on those nutrients. If you forget to peel the potatoes before cooking, it’s no calamity—the skins will collect in the bucket, and you’ll just need to remove them before you add the next batch.

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For Your Best Health

Food for Thought: Assessing the Health of Plant-Based Diets

We know that eating too much meat, refined grains, sugar, and salt and too few plant-based foods increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Vegetarian and vegan diets have been linked to better health outcomes, but no one had really taken a deep dive into the overall benefits reported in various research papers…until now. Dr. Angelo Capodici and colleagues at the Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies in Pisa, Italy, set out to do just that and see what could be gleaned. 

They reviewed 48 papers published between January 2000 and June 2023, which had themselves been compiled as evidence from multiple prior studies. They extracted and analyzed data on links between plant-based diets, cardiovascular health, and cancer risk.

Their analysis, published in the open-access journal PLOS ONE, showed that, overall, vegetarian and vegan diets have a robust statistical association with better health status on a number of risk factors associated with cardiometabolic diseases, cancer, and mortality, such as blood pressure, management of blood sugar, and body mass index. Such diets are associated with reduced risk of ischemic heart disease, gastrointestinal and prostate cancer, and death from cardiovascular disease. (One interesting note: Among pregnant women specifically, those with vegetarian diets faced no difference in their risk of gestational diabetes and hypertension compared to those on non-plant-based diets.)

Taken as a whole, these findings suggest that plant-based diets are associated with significant health benefits. The authors summed it up this way: “Our study evaluates the different impacts of animal-free diets for cardiovascular health and cancer risk, showing how a vegetarian diet can be beneficial to human health and be one of the effective preventive strategies for the two most impactful chronic diseases on human health in the 21st century.”

However, the researchers pointed out that the strength of this association is limited by the many differences between past studies in terms of the specific diet regimens followed, patient demographics, study duration, and other factors. Moreover, some plant-based diets may introduce vitamin and mineral deficiencies for some people. So, they also cautioned against large-scale recommendation of plant-based diets until more research is completed.

Fitness Flash: Forget the Calendar: What Counts Is Your Biological Age

Fitness Flash

This Type of Exercise May Ward Off Depression and Anxiety

A new study review conducted at Anglia Ruskin University in Cambridge, UK, has found a significant link between participating in low-to-moderate-intensity exercise and better mental health.

Researchers carried out a review of studies from around the world to examine the potential of physical activity as a mental health intervention. Their analysis, published in the journal  Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews, found that physical activity reduced the risk of depression by 23% and anxiety by 26%. It was also significantly associated with reduced risk of severe mental health conditions, including a reduction in psychosis/schizophrenia by 27%.

A particularly strong association was found between low- and moderate-intensity physical activity—which included activities such as gardening, golf, and walking—and a reduced risk of depression. Somewhat surprisingly, this was not strongly observed for high-intensity exercise. The results were consistent in both men and women, across different age groups, and around the world.

Healthy female gardner

Lead author Lee Smith, PhD, professor of public health and an epidemiologist with expertise in physical activity and sedentary behavior, said, “Preventing mental health complications effectively has emerged as a major challenge, and an area of paramount importance in the realm of public health. These conditions can be complex and necessitate a multi-pronged approach to treatment, which may encompass pharmacological interventions, psychotherapy, and lifestyle changes.

“These effects of physical activity intensity on depression highlight the need for precise exercise guidelines. Moderate exercise can improve mental health through biochemical reactions, whereas high-intensity exercise may worsen stress-related responses in some individuals.” 

Dr. Smith added, “Acknowledging differences in people’s response[s] to exercise is vital for effective mental health strategies, suggesting any activity recommendations should be tailored for the individual. The fact that even low to moderate levels of physical activity can be beneficial for mental health is particularly important, given that these levels of activity may be more achievable for people who can make smaller lifestyle changes without feeling they need to commit to a high-intensity exercise program.”

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