Potato gnocchi are actually quite easy to make, although I don’t think we have them often enough in our house. We were recently asked to teach how to make them at our Cooking with Giuliano at Home class. Making gnocchi at first seems challenging, but as one gets the hang of it, they can be expertly made by anyone interested in cooking. Our students were at first a bit leery, but then had fun shaping them – and later when eating them, figuring who made which one! Everyone was surprised by how light and delicate properly made gnocchi turn out, and all were planning to make them again soon.
Many people are so intimidated by gnocchi that they never try making them. Our students learned that gnocchi are not heavy dumplings, rather they are buoyant bits of dough that float to the surface of boiling water. What causes them to be too gluey, tough, or heavy is either the wrong potato or too much flour. The secret to making good gnocchi is in using the right potato, which should neither be too waxy nor too starchy. We find that Yukon Gold potatoes work best. It is also important to stop adding flour as soon as the potato dough is smooth and only slightly sticky.
The word gnocchi in Italian, is thought to be derived from the word nocca, meaning knuckle. Indeed, the tines of the fork that is used to create them, do give a knuckle like look. Potato gnocchi are mostly found in northern Italy, but the word gnocchi can mean any kind of dumpling and there are many variations throughout Italy. Not all gnocchi in Italy are made with potatoes, which are a rather recent addition to Italy’s food repertoire. The classic Roman gnocchi are made with semolina. Some are made with just flour and water, such as the ones our students in our Cooking with Giuliano in Italy course get to taste at a fabulous restaurant on the banks of the Po River. One of our favorite places to go in the mountains of the Veneto has a “father gnocchi” festival at Christmas instead of a Father Christmas. Like many recipes, the origins are lost to history. However, it is thought that gnocchi originated somewhere in the Middle East and a type of gnocchi was eaten by the ancient Romans. Because they are simple to make, inexpensive, and filling, as Italians migrated, so did the gnocchi recipes. In Argentina, the 29th of each month is called Dia de Noquis (Gnocchi Day), when a coin is put under the plate of each person to encourage prosperity. The 29th was chosen because the next day is usually pay day and many laborers had run out of money by then.
Gnocchi made at home are undisputedly the best, and once people realize how easy they are to make, there is no reason to purchase the industrial kind. There are many pasta sauces that can be used with gnocchi. Rich and creamy Gorgonzola is a classic one. Marcella’s famous butter and tomato sauce goes very well, although we recommend pureeing the tomato sauce through the coarse disk of a food mill as gnocchi are best with smooth sauces. A simple butter and sage sauce is also lovely, and one of our favorites is with Genovese basil pesto. Whichever way you choose, enjoy in prosperity. Buon appettito!
(From How to Cook Italian by Giuliano Hazan)
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Total time from start to finish: 45 minutes
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 as part of a multi-course Italian meal
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1. Wash the potatoes and put then in a sauce pan. Cover with water, place over high heat and cover with a lid. Once the water comes to a boil, adjust the heat so that the water simmers. Cook until the potatoes are tender when pierced, about 30 minutes. Try not to test them too often or they may become waterlogged.
2. Drain the potatoes and peel as soon as possible. Sprinkle some of the flour on a counter and mash the potatoes through the medium disk of a food mill or potato ricer onto the floured counter. Add half of the flour and work it with your hands into the potato to form dough. Continue adding flour a little at a time until the mixture is smooth and only slightly sticky. You will probably have a little flour left over.
3. Divide the dough in two. Take one piece and roll it to form a long tube about 3/4” thick. Cut the tube into 1” dumplings. Place one on the tines of a dinner fork. Push your index finger in the center of the dumpling and roll it down along the tines of the fork letting it fall on the counter when the tines of the fork stop. The finished gnocco will have a cavity on one side and convex ridges on the other. Collect them single layer (do not let them touch each other) on a clean kitchen towel. Gnocchi are best when they are cooked within a couple of hours of being made. Do not refrigerate.
4. Fill a pot with at least 4 quarts of water, place over high heat, and bring to a boil. Add 2 tablespoons salt and use the towel to slide half of the gnocchi into the boiling water. Once they rise to the surface, cook for 10 seconds then scoop them up with a strainer and put them in a warm serving bowl with half of the sauce you are serving them with. Slide the remaining gnocchi in the boiling water and cook the same way. Scoop them up and add them to serving bowl with the rest of the sauce. Serve at once.