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Potato Gnocchi

Potato Gnocchi
When I was growing up, my mother used to make gnocchi in the basement kitchen (don’t all Italians have a basement kitchen?). The table would be covered in trays containing dozens and dozens of gnocchi that she made with love for her family. My mom was a great cook, whose spaghetti sauce was the best, whose eggplant parmesan was beyond wonderful, but her gnocchi?  Well, let’s just say that they weren’t her strong suit. Gnocchi should be light, almost melt in your mouth when you’re eating them, but it’s not easy to get that consistency. Many times they’re leaden bombs rather than fluffy pillows. There are a couple of pointers you need to know in order to achieve those light-as-air gnocchi. By the way, gnocchi is the plural, and gnocco is the singular. But whoever ate just one gnocco? Well, maybe if they’re the leaden bomb type you did.
The first thing to do is not to boil your potatoes, but to bake them in the oven – no foil or anything else covering them. This will help eliminate some of the moisture in the potato. And that leads me to the second point – not too much flour. The more flour you add, the heavier the gnocchi will be. If your potatoes are too moist, then you’ll have to use more flour to make a dough that will stick together properly. And that will make for heavier gnocchi. So bake the potatoes, rather than boil them, to eliminate some of the moisture.
Peel them while they’re hot – as soon as you can handle them – and press them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have one of these, try using a cheese grater. Spread out the “riced” potatoes on a cookie sheet and let everything cool.
I put the potatoes on a board and make a well for the egg, just as if you’re making pasta. But you can use a bowl if you prefer. Mix in the egg, salt and pepper, then add the parmesan cheese and part of the flour. Don’t add the full amount all at once. Using your hands, just keep incorporating a bit of flour until you have a soft dough that holds together. If the dough is stiff, you’re going to have heavy gnocchi, so just add a little flour at a time.  (Do I sound like a broker record here?) You might need only one cup, you might need 1 1/2 cups. A lot depends on the size of the potatoes, and the flour and the humidity of the day.
Don’t overwork the dough. Just work it long enough to shape it into a fat log, then cut the log into smaller portions. Take each portion, one at a time, and roll into a long “snake.”
 Cut the “snake” into small pieces – 1/2 inch thick or so – an roll it over a gnocchi paddle. If you haven’t got one, do as my mom did and use a fork to create the ridges.
 Some restaurants don’t make any ridges at all, but rather serve the gnocchi as is. I think the ridges serve to help the sauce cling better, but also they make for a prettier appearance.
At this point, if you’ve followed the recipe below, you should have a couple of cookie sheets of these cute little dumplings – maybe 120 – 150 or so. They’re best when eaten fresh the same day, but you can freeze them too, plopping them into the boiling water from their frozen state. I’ve even served the frozen ones to company – they’re perfectly acceptable, but they’re more fragile and do have a tendency to disintegrate more easily in the cooking water when you boil them. Like most things, fresh is best.
You can serve them with tomato sauce, as my mom always did, or try something different, like the accompaniment below, of butternut squash, caramelized onions, swiss chard and mushrooms.
 Or serve them with a roasted red pepper sauce. Once you’re tried these traditional potato gnocchi, you’ll want to experiment with other types too, like these butternut squash gnocchi here or these ricotta and swiss chard gnocchi with a red pepper sauce here.
Potato Gnocchi
3 large brown-skinned baking potatoes
1 large egg
1 t. salt
1/4 t. white pepper
pinch of grated nutmeg
1/4 c. parmesan cheese
1 1/2 cups flour (or more if needed)
Bake the potatoes uncovered in a 375 degree oven for about an hour or until done. Remove from oven and when you can handle them, peel them. Put chunks of the potato through a ricer and spread on a cookie sheet. Let it cool completely, then mix with the egg, salt, pepper and nutmeg and cheese. Add flour, 1/4 cup at a time. You may not need all 1 1/2 cups flour, just add enough until the dough comes together and you can roll it out in a “log.” Cut the log into four or five pieces, then take each piece and roll it out like a snake, about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch thick. Take each gnocco and make an imprint on it, using either a fork or a gnocchi paddle. The recipe makes from 120 to 150 gnocchi.
Butternut Squash, Mushroom and Swiss Chard “sauce” for gnocchi
butternut squash, about two cups diced into small pieces
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 cups sliced cremini mushrooms
5 or 6 large leaves Swiss chard, chopped roughly, stems eliminated
about 1/4 cup olive oil
salt, pepper
4 or 5 sage leaves, minced
2 small sprigs rosemary, minced (about 1 t.)
Take 2 T. of the olive oil and sauté the onions with it in a saucepan, until they’re golden and caramelized, about 1/2 hour or so. Remove from pan and add a couple more tablespoons of oil and the squash. Saute until cooked through, adding a little water to the pan to keep the squash from sticking. Remove from pan. Do the same thing with the Swiss chard, and remove from pan. With the remaining olive oil, sauté the mushrooms at high heat. When they’re cooked, put the onions and squash back into the pan with the mushrooms and season, with salt, pepper and the herbs.
Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water. They’ll need only a few minutes to cook. When they rise to the surface, they’re done. Gently strain them from the water with a slotted spoon or “spider” and place them in the saucepan with the butternut squash, onions and mushrooms. Mix everything gently, drizzling more olive oil on top and sprinkling with parmesan cheese.
This Post Has 17 Comments
  1. What a wonderful lesson. Everyone has such fear of the leaden bombs you mention, and heaven knows I have produced plenty in my time. This should clear it all up for everyone. I love seeing your hands at work. Does this mean there is now a photographic assistant nella cucina?

  2. I believe all Italians do have a basement kitchen where they can spread out and work on on those culinary projects. I remember sitting in my neighbours kitchen as she stirred Sunday sauce.

  3. I have to admit I have produced leaden bombs before so I avoided making potato gnocchi for a long time by just making ricotta gnocchi. You gave me the confidence to try again because I dearly love homemade gnocchi. Everything looks beyond mouthwatering here Linda! I remember well those basement kitchenstoo.

  4. So delicious. I have always used a fork for rolling and forming the grooves, which is the way my mom did it. But one of the guests on our culinary tour bought me one of those gnocchi boards! This gives me the motivation to use it. Lovely!

  5. These look excellent! My mother used to help her mother make them, but in her later years, she'd order them at the Annex, requesting they be well cooked so they'd be pillow-y rather than chewy – but to me, they were water-logged! That put me off them for years.

    Now. what is that cloth with your name on it that I see in one of the photos above?

  6. Wow! No wonder I cannot eat gnocchi – they lay there in my stomach making me miserable. Too much moisture, too much flour… and mine are ugly! Thanks for the pointers. And yes, all Italians have basement kitchens.

  7. Just put an order in for a potato ricer and gnocchi board. I have not been a fan of gnocchi either, but Doug and Gabriel are. Your post gives me hope that I can put this on my table and make each of us happy.

  8. gli gnocchi sono un primo piatto da giorno di festa, bellissimo riunire un gruppo di amici e mangiarli insieme, molto interessante quel sugo con i peperoni rossi !buon fine settimana Linda, un abbraccio !

  9. An excellent tutorial, Linda! I like the idea of baking the potatoes—I usually steam them in their skins with the same idea of keeping the moisture out, but baking seems like it would work even better. Will try it next time!

    And I admire your ability to shape those gnocchi so uniformly. Mine always come out rather misshapen (still delicious, though.. )

  10. My mother-in-law made heavenly potato gnocchi and I was fearful all my marriage that mine never lived up to hers! It definitely is better to use baked and not boiled potatoes. Like Marie I more often make ricotta gnocchi as they always come out light and delicious, but I will try your recipe and try to make V very happy this week, Linda!

  11. I made these this weekend and I think they turned out wonderful. I baked my potatoes on a bed of salt and used a ricer. I actually boiled all of them prior to freezing after reading the NYTimes article. Cooked in a butter/water emulsion and dusted with parmesan cheese resulted in a light and fluffy gnocchi. I hope that was the texture I was working towards…Now, to test the pre-boiled frozen gnocchi! Thank you!!

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