The first time I tried gnocchi was from a vacuum-sealed pack I picked up at my local grocery store. At first bite I immediately wondered how I had gone so long without even once consuming these tasty little dumplings. Seriously, what was I doing with my life? You can imagine how I felt the first time I ordered a plate of fresh, handmade gnocchi from a reputable Italian restaurant. I was floored by how much more light and pillowy they were than their prepackaged cousins. With that meal I decided that I needed to learn how to make gnocchi myself… which unfortunately led to a series of failures that never measured up to the quality I came to expect from an Italian kitchen. Through trial and error, plenty of research, and a bit of patience, I’m happy to say that I’ve finally married each of the elements needed to making a soft, delicious gnocchi!
Making a dish like this is certainly a labor of love, but the results are very much worth it. Even though the entire process is rather lengthy, the majority of that process is waiting. Handling the dough is arguably the most tedious step, particularly if you choose to roll your gnocchi on a gnocchi board or a fork to get the iconic grooves in each dumpling. The nice thing is that you don’t have to roll your gnocchi. It’s perfectly fine to simply cut up the pieces and cook them as is. There is a benefit to the grooves however – they provide a lot of “grip” for holding onto sauces. If you want a compromise you could simply press a small indentation into each dumpling and forgo the grooves.
Here is a list of the things I’ve learned when it comes to making quality gnocchi:
- Choose the right potato. You want a mealy, starchy potato (such as a russet).
- Make sure your potato flesh is dry and lump-free. I use a ricer to get an even, fluffy texture.
- Use only enough flour to bring the dough together.
- Do not over handle the dough. This runs the risk of producing dense, heavy gnocchi.
- Cook your gnocchi at a gentle boil, not a rapid one that will throw them around in the pot.
- They cook quickly, be ready to scoop them out as soon as they float to the surface.
I started by boiling 3 medium sized russet potatoes in well-salted water. Once fork tender (about 30 minutes) I took them out and removed the skins with the help of some paper towels. The potatoes were still warm and the paper towels not only have an uneven texture that pulls the skins away easily, it also makes it possible to handle the hot potatoes. The naked tators were pressed through a ricer onto a cookie sheet lined with paper towels. This is a step that I made up myself after having experienced problems with too-wet potatoes in the past. I preheated the oven to 200F, put the cookie sheet in the oven, left the door cracked open, and turned off the heat. The potatoes were left there to cool completely and the residual warmth from the oven helped dry them out a little further. Once cool, the riced potatoes were put onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkled with about 3/4 cup of cake flour. One recipe I read suggested 1 cup of flour per pound of riced potatoes – 3/4 cup ended up being the right amount for me. I used cake flour because of its lower protein content, which during my intense gnocchi studies I learned helps promote a lighter texture in the end. Work the flour into the potato until it become a soft, pliable dough. Cut dough into 3-4 equal pieces and roll the pieces into ropes. Line the ropes up next to one another and cut your gnocchi into approximately 1″ pieces. You can either cook them this way or choose to roll your gnocchi on the back of a fork (or gnocchi board) to get the grooved texture. Place the gnocchi at the top of the fork tines and gently press down, rolling it across the fork with your thumb. It will be slightly curled with the indentations on the opposite side.
That’s all there is to it! Yeah ok, I know it is kind of a lot of take in. The only way to really master the technique is to buy some potatoes, flour up your hands, and get to practicing! The beautiful thing about gnocchi is that once you’re done making them, they cook in a flash, and there are dozens of super quick ways to serve them. Gnocchi have a very simple flavor on their own, making them ideal vehicles for rich, flavorful sauces. I prepared (and photographed) my finished gnocchi three different ways to give you some ideas for serving. Each of these preparations took under 10 minutes.
The top image on the page is the vegan option where I sauteed garlic in a bit of olive oil and threw in the gnocchi (straight from the pot it was boiling in) with some pine nuts. Just before serving I squeezed lemon juice over the top and tossed it with fresh parsley and black pepper. The second dish shows one of the more common ways of serving gnocchi. Browned butter with sage. It’s hard to beat a classic! The final image (at the bottom) shows an oven-baked variation. I sauteed some garlic in a bit of butter, threw in my cooked gnocchi to get a quick sear, added chopped tomato, torn basil, and cubes of soft, fresh mozzarella. Popped it under the broiler for a few minutes to brown the top and it’s done. Now all you need is some fresh handmade gnocchi and you’re good to experiment on your own!
- 3 small to medium sized russet potatoes
- 3/4-1 cup cake flour (amount used depends on the size of your potatoes)
- Salt, both for boiling and for seasoning the gnocchi
- Preheat oven to 200F.
- In generously salted water, boil potatoes until fork tender (about 30 minutes for the potatoes I used).
- Remove potatoes from boiling water and carefully remove the skins. Press potatoes through ricer. If you do not have a ricer I’ve heard that grating the potatoes works quite well too.
- Transfer potato to cookie sheet lined with paper towels and place in oven. Turn off heat, crack open the oven door, and allow potatoes to cool completely.
- Put fresh pot of salted water on to boil while you make your gnocchi.
- Spread cooled potato mixture onto lightly floured surface. Sprinkle with a bit of salt (maybe 1/4 teaspoon) and cake flour. Work flour into the potato until it becomes a smooth, pliable dough.
- Cut dough into 3-4 equal pieces and roll into ropes. Line ropes up side-by-side and cut your gnocchi into roughly 1″ pieces.
- If desired roll your gnocchi on the back of a fork for added texture.
- Put cut gnocchi into gently boiling water (if the boil is too rough it can bounce them around more than necessary). When they float to the surface they are cooked. Remove immediately from water and toss in hot oil, butter, or other prepared sauce of choice.