We're expecting thunderstorms this weekend, and we can't think of anything we'd rather do than spend the afternoon making a big batch of gnocchi while the rain is pattering outside. These little potato dumplings are fairly easy to make, but take a little patience. Getting to eat a big bowl of them with a fresh tomato sauce and nutty Parmesan cheese at the end of the day makes it well worth the effort!
What Are Gnocchi?
While there are actually several different kinds of gnocchi (and we talked about some of them a few weeks ago), today we'll just focus on potato gnocchi. This is a half-pasta, half-dumpling that hails from the northern part of Italy. As you can probably guess from the name, they're made from cooked potatoes that get mashed, mixed with egg and flour, and kneaded into a dough.
The best gnocchi are like soft little pillows, and like pasta, get served in a wide array of sauces.
Basic Recipe for Potato Gnocchi
This recipe makes enough gnocchi to serve four people as a main course or six people as a side dish.
2 lbs starchy potatoes
1 egg, lightly beaten
1/2 - 1 cup flour
three-fingered pinch of salt
Use a starchy potato like Russets. They're very absorbent, give the gnocchi a nice texture, and will help the gnocchi to hold their shape in the boiling water. Second best are all-purpose potatoes like Yukon Golds.
Wash the potatoes well, but leave the skins on. Put them in a pot, cover them with cold water, and boil them until completely soft. While still hot, peel off the skin and mash them in a large mixing bowl. It helps to hold the potatoes with a kitchen towel while peeling them so you don't burn your fingers! Mash until the potatoes are quite crumbly, but be careful of over-mashing. If you have one, using a ricer or food mill is best.
While the potatoes are still very warm, stir in the egg, 1/2 cup of the flour, and the salt. Mix until the egg has been completely absorbed and a ball of dough forms. Dust the counter with a little flour and turn out the dough. Knead the dough just until it is smooth and still slightly tacky. If it is very sticky, sprinkle a few tablespoons of flour over the top and keep kneading. This should take no more than 5 minutes.
Shaping the Gnocchi
Cut the dough into four pieces and roll each piece into a thick, long rope about an inch thick. Cut the ropes of dough into one-inch pieces.
Shaping the gnocchi themselves is a matter of personal taste and preference. Traditionally, gnocchi are rolled across the back of a fork or an actual gnocchi-roller, which are paddles about the size of your hand thin grooves carved into one side. You use your thumb to press the gnocchi slightly as you roll to give the gnocchi a slightly crimped appearance.
You can also simply leave them as they are or press a small dimple into each gnocchi so it looks like a pillow.
Dust the finished gnocchi lightly with flour and arrange them in a single layer on a sheet pan so they don't stick together. You can freeze them until you're ready to cook, or once frozen, store them in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to three months. They do not need to come back to room temperature before cooking.
Just as you would for pasta, bring a large amount of water to a boil. Add a handful of salt to the water and cook the gnocchi in a few batches. The gnocchi will at first sink to the bottom and then float to the top of the water. Let them float for about ten seconds, and then scoop them out with a slotted spoon. Transfer them to a colander and let them drain while you cook the rest of the gnocchi.
Gnocchi are great with just about any pasta sauce. We prefer a relatively thin sauce with maybe just a few other vegetables so that the texture of the gnocchi really stands out. In the summer, we like a basic tomato sauce with basil, parmesan cheese, and any fresh vegetables we happen to have around the kitchen. In the winter months, cream sauces with chopped nuts, mushrooms, and strong cheese are an excellent choice.
Gnocchi is also fantastic simply with browned butter and a sprinkling of chopped fresh herbs!
How do you like your gnocchi?
Related: On Making Your Own Pasta
(Images: Flickr members jasja_dekker, Marco Fedele, moohaha licensed under Creative Commons and Emma Christensen for the Kitchn)