Potato gnocchi are one of the easier types of ‘pasta’ to make at home and are most definitely worth the effort. The mini-hockey pucks that are sold commercially are, to put it bluntly, hardly worth eating—especially after you’ve tried the real thing. The best homemade potato gnocchi are as light and airy as a down pillow and really do taste of potatoes. Once you’ve gotten the method down pat, they will take you no more than an hour to make, including the initial cooking of the potatoes. It is a skill well worth cultivating.
Makes enough gnocchi for 4-6 persons
- 500g (1 lb.) Russet or other mealy potatoes (see Notes)
- 125g (1/4 lb) flour, more or less
- 1 egg (optional)
Boil (or even better, steam) the potatoes with their jackets on until quite tender. To test for doneness, stick a pairing knife into one of the potatoes; if you can slip it out easily without picking up the potato, then it’s done.
Working very gently with a wooden spoon or spatula, mix into the puréed potato a generous pinch of salt, the egg (optional) and enough flour to make a smooth, soft and only slightly sticky dough. Do not knead the dough or it will become gummy, just mix the ingredients together as gingerly as you can. Form the dough into a ball and place it on a well floured surface.
Then break off a handful of the dough and roll that with both hands until you have a ‘rope’ about the thickness of your thumb.
Cut this rope into 2.5 cm (1 inch) lengths. Take each bit of dough and flip it with your index finger against the inside of a fork (or if you have one, the special rigagnocchi, or ‘gnocchi paddle’ pictured below, which you can find in some speciality food shops). This will cause the gnocchi to take on a concave shape with ridges on the outside, which will ‘catch’ any sauce you put on them, like so:
Place your gnocchi on a lightly floured baking sheet as you make them.
Cook them in a gently boiling well-salted water. They are done just as soon as they rise to the surface of the water, or “vengono a galla“, as they say in Italian (see photo below).
Transfer to a bowl immediately and then dress them with the condimento of your choice.
Making potato gnocchi is simple, but it is all too easy for them to come out too stodgy, on the one hand, or so light that they fall apart when you cook them, on the other. The key is the ratio of potato to flour. The more flour you add, the more chewy your end product will be. Most people like light, fluffy gnocchi—the ‘al dente‘ concept does not really apply to gnocchi—so, generally speaking, the less flour you add to the dough, the better. But if you add too little, the gnocchi will fall apart when you boil them. (It is a good precaution, especially if you are early into your gnocchi-making career. to make a single gnocco and boil it to test it out. If it stays together as it cooks, then continue.)
The measurements given above usually work well, but be flexible—as for making fresh egg pasta, the exact amount of flour you’ll need will depend on a number of factors, most importantly how much moisture your potatoes may have absorbed while cooking, which is why it’s important to boil your potatoes with their skins on or, even better, steam them with their skins on. This will minimize the moisture in the potato and you’ll need less flour. If you have some time on your hands, another trick, featured in our recent post on crocchette di patate, would be to leave the potatoes to dry out for several hours, or even overnight.
The choice of potato is also very important. You want a mealy, white-fleshed varietal like Russets—the kind you would use for mashing or baking, not the firm, yellow-fleshed kind for a salad or gratin. Finally, as mentioned, be sure not to work the dough any more than you have to. The more you work the dough, the more you will develop the gluten in the flour—good for bread or pasta, bad for gnocchi. For the same reason, do not use a standing mixer or food processor to mix the dough. This is one of those recipes you need to make entirely by hand.
One key variation is whether to add egg or not. I usually do add a small amount of egg (1 for the measurements given above, just the yolk for a smaller batch). I find adding a bit of egg makes gnocchi making a lot easier. Many purists will tell you that the egg tends to make the gnocchi too firm, but I find a small amount of egg helps make a workable dough and produces a perfectly acceptable gnocco. Why not try both methods and see which gives you the more agreeable results.
They say a picture if worth a thousand words, but a video is probably worth two thousand. So, for a demonstration of making potato gnocchi, see this excellent video lesson from my fellow blogger, Nicoletta Tavella, of Cucina del Sole, aka The Sunny Kitchen.