Saturday, November 6, 2010

Potato Gnocchi

What do you consider the perfect gnocchi? I’ve been to Little Italy in both Baltimore and NYC, and I’ve ordered gnocchi in both places. In Baltimore, the gnocchi was somewhat dense, doughy and sturdy – but in a good way. It also had the what I consider the classic gnocchi ridges. In NYC, they were light as air, pillowy and delicate. They actually looked like little pillows, so I’m guessing they were just cut from a long roll of dough and thrown right into the water to cook.
I obviously don’t know what it’s supposed to taste like or what texture it should have, because I loved both of those plates of gnocchi. I have heard that ‘good’ gnocchi is very difficult to make, and that there is definitely a specific technique needed. I’ve also seen recipes saying things like ‘I don’t know why I never tried to make it before, it’s so easy! It just seems difficult!’
Now I’m confused.
Because I apparently am not very picky when it comes to carbs and I’ve yet to meet a gnocchi I didn’t like, I figured I’d give this potato pasta dish a try.
The process itself doesn’t seem to difficult.
Step 1: Cook potato.
Mash potato.
Add egg and flour to potato and mix.
Shape, cut and plop dough into boiling water until they float.

Easy, right?

Apparently, the devil is in the details. I’ve read so many things about gnocchi before even trying it, my head started spinning. I’ll give you a *short* recap of my inner monologue as I began to break down these four ‘simple’ steps. (PS - If this is too much writing for your eyes to take, you can always just skip to the end to hear about the result.)
Step 1: Cook potato. Boil or bake? Some sites say boiling puts too much water into the potato, yielding a much denser gnocchi. So maybe I’ll bake it to prevent excess water from entering the recipe equation. Other sites say it’s the classic way to cook the potato. So I should boil it like apparently all the Italian grandmothers do. If it works for them, it should work for me. Ok, step 1 = confusion. I ended up boiling my potatoes because it was easier for me than baking them (I had other stuff camping out in the oven)
Step 2: Mash potato. Pretty much everything I have read proclaims the potato ricer is the perfect tool for the job, and is a kitchen necessity if you want perfect gnocchi. Ok, so checking out some places to buy a ricer... Sur La Table ( has three, the least expensive being 24 dollars. BBB ( has one for 19.99, which I guess isn’t terrible, but I am in the same camp as Alton Brown with the concept of ‘Kitchen Unitaskers” – you know, the things in your kitchen that only serve one purpose? He believes the only unitasker in your kitchen should be a fire extinguisher. While I do have a few miscellaneous uni-taskers in the kitchen (love my pizza wheel!), I don’t have a lot of surplus drawer space for a ricer. I figure I’ll make do with a fork and my potato masher. Great. At least until I got to Step 3.
Step 3: Add egg and flour to potato and mix. Whole eggs or just the yolks? Not enough flour and the dough won’t hold together, too much flour and you’ll get a dense gnocchi. Apparently I’m supposed to know by the ‘feel’ of the dough when it’s ready. How do I know what it feels like if I’ve never made it before? Ok, so I’m going to have to go with my gut. Fine. I mixed everything together and started using my hands to mix the dough. That’s when I discovered little pea-sized pieces of unmashed potato in the bowl. While I don’t know what the dough should really feel like, I did know that chunks of potato would make a strange texture in the finished gnocchi. My solution? I found the next best thing to a ricer in my kitchen – my garlic press. Yes. You heard me. I put the entire mixture, essentially two tablespoons at a time, through my garlic press until all the lumps were gone. Italian grandmothers everywhere must be cringing by now.
Step 4: Shape, cut and plop dough into boiling water until they float. Finally! A step I understand! I was able to make little logs with the dough, and then I used my bench scraper to slice off my gnocchi. I decided to just keep them ‘pillow shaped’ because this process has been taking me long enough already – running each of those over the tines of a fork (or better yet, a gnocchi board) would take me until next week.
I also didn’t realize how many gnocchi this recipe would make. I filled 2 1/2 baking sheets with them. I froze some of them to use later, and the others I dumped into boiling water. Once they began to float, I took them out of the pot and dumped them into a bowl lined with sauce. Then just stir to coat the noodles, and serve!


End Result

While the process did have my head spinning with all the variations I had read about, my gnocchi somehow managed to come out slightly pillowy, with just a minimal doughy chew. The best part? It was absolutely delicious. I actually really enjoyed making them, and look forward to trying it again, now having my inaugural attempt under my belt. It’s actually a relaxing process for me, even though it takes a while. It also makes a lot. But freezing the raw gnocchi works wonderfully, and you drop the frozen gnocchi into boiling water as your would fresh ones and you have a delicious, easy, homemade dinner.

Though, I may be adding a potato ricer to my list of unitaskers if I decide to try it again...

My husband likes his with your basic tomato sauce.
I like mine with parsley and fresh tomato.

Potato Gnocchi
Paraphrased From ZoomYummy
4 larger (1 kg) Baking Potatoes
1 egg
2 c AP Flour
1 tsp Salt

Place potatoes in a pot filled with water, bring to boil and let cook until the potatoes soften. You can check whether they are cooked by sticking a knife in their centers – if it runs smoothly and there’s no resistance, then it’s done. This process should take about 25-30 minutes.

Strain the potatoes and let them cool – just until they are cool enough to be handled with your hands.(You can speed up this process by placing the cooked potatoes into a pot of cold water for a couple of minutes.)

Peel the potatoes

Using a potato masher/ricer/fork (or in my case, garlic press) mash the potatoes.
Add the flour, egg and salt and combine with a rubber spatula.

Mix by hand until combined. Turn out onto a cutting board or counter top and knead the mixture by hand a couple of times until a compact ball forms. The dough is not going to be extra smooth so don’t worry about that.

Place the dough onto a well floured surface.

Then using a sharp knife, cut the dough into eight even pieces.

Form a ball from each piece and then roll each ball into this long skinny cigar-shaped log.

Cut the log into 3/4"-1? segments - however big you want your gnocchi to be.

Continue, until all of your dough is cut

Pour water into a large pot and bring to boil

Drop about 20 pieces of gnocchi into the boiling water, let cook and stir them gently once (so that they don’t get stuck to the bottom of the pot).

When the gnocchi float to the top, let them cook for additional 20 seconds

Remove them from the water and put into your favorite sauce.


erica said...

What an amazing job you did! I am definitely not that adventurous! Love your blog i`m a new follower!


Caroline said...

Thanks so much! I figure the only way to learn is to try things that are out of my comfort zone. Sometimes they turn out great first try, like the gnocchi - but sometimes it takes more than one attempt to arrive at something even edible!

oneordinaryday said...

I'm a little embarrassed to admit that I've never had gnocchi before. It sounds so good though! What's not to love, really?

Wanted to thank you for commenting on my blog. Hope you keep coming back.

What Happens After Five said...

I'm always scared to try gnocchi on my own - I'm impressed that you pulled it off!!

Sharon said...

found your site off foodieblogroll..i'm going to try this recipe sometime! thanks for sharing
check out my food blog if you have time :)

Petra (Zoom Yummy) said...

Wow! That's some amazing work you've done! I love this post and your gnocchi look wonderful! :) Petra

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