Making gnocchi from scratch isn't difficult with a little know-how and one special ingredient.
The best gnocchi is made by an Italian grandmother somewhere in Naples, whose gnocchi is silken and golden like a rich egg pasta.
But if you're here, you probably aren't an Italian grandma in Naples who has been making gnocchi her whole life. I know I'm not, but I've researched gnocchi enough and made enough gnocchi to give some great tips on how to make light, tender gnocchi.
Gnocchi should be melt-in-your-mouth, delicate little morsels that are almost addictive in quality. Sure, the first try might not come out the best, but with these tips you should come pretty close. And the second time, it may even come out perfect.
First things, first: the potato.
The most important part of gnocchi is the potato. It's at least 85-95% of what gnocchi is made of, and the last thing you want is your potato choices ruining the hard work you just did.
Take 1 potato per serving as a guide while making and cooking these; I've used 10 potatoes to make (then freeze) 10 servings of gnocchi.
There are three things about the potato you need to pay attention to: the type, the cooking technique, and the mashing technique.
The type of potato must be a starchy, dry texture that doesn't hold water well. The most used is a Russet potato. The waxier, thin-skinned potatoes like red or yellow potatoes hold a lot more water and can lead to gummy, tough gnocchi. They can still be made into gnocchi if you know what you're doing, but as a beginner or an occasional gnocchi maker, I say stick with the Russet potato.
The best cooking technique to make sure you have dry potatoes (because wet potatoes equal dense, gummy gnocchi) is to bake your potatoes on a wire rack over a baking sheet. This will make sure you don't end up with overcooked potatoes and the air-flow will be even.
There are tons of gnocchi recipes that tell you to boil your potatoes, but then tell you how awful water is for the potato in your gnocchi! It never made any sense to me, so I don't do it. Boiling the potato puts your gnocchi at risk (and waste your time and potatoes) so baking them makes the most sense to do. It lends to a dry potato, every time ;).
And finally the mashing. Honestly, I'm telling you as a friend, the easiest, quickest way, with the fluffiest result, is with a potato ricer. A potato masher or a fork will still leave lumps, no matter how much you mash them. But a potato ricer will turn the potatoes into an almost floury-rice quality, making it easy to have a fluffy, light gnocchi. Just that easy.
Making the dough!
A professional gnocchi maker would tell you that gnocchi only needs flour and potatoes. And yes, that's true. But as a beginner, I suggest adding another ingredient: egg.
Sure, it's a little controversial. But egg yolks will bind your gnocchi together, making sure that when you cook those babies they don't fall apart in the water. And as a beginner, this will ensure your gnocchi will survive the cooking process.
I counted it as 1 egg yolk per 2 servings, that's my usual ratio but play with the ratios as you please and get back to me on your findings! I'd love to know how you make gnocchi and if you use egg in the process.
As for the flour, the less flour you use and can make a coherent dough, the better, since too much flour will make gnocchi dense, hard, and not appealing.
Some people swear by special Italian flours, some by cake flour, but all-purpose flour is perfect for this as well, so don't worry about it.
After chopping the gnocchi from the logs, you can leave them in their 'pillow' form. Or you can buy a gnocchi board (or use a fork) to press ridges into the gnocchi (gently!) so it can hold sauce better (like those new elbow pastas with ridges).
It takes more time, and it's optional, but it creates the classic gnocchi shape and holds sauce well so the choice is yours.
Every single person I talked to and every article I read about gnocchi gave this warning, and so I will, too:
Gnocchi is incredibly inconsistent.
So the amount of flour needed will change, the amount of kneading to get that slightly-tacky, dough feel will vary, and this is important to know. You can follow my recipe and it will work the first time, and maybe the next time you will need less flour or more flour or you will need to knead for a strangely long amount of time or a suspiciously quick amount of time. I think it's because all potatoes aren't equal in size and potato-ness that it makes itself a variable in its own recipe.
Don't blame me, blame the potatoes!
A gnocchi recipe is more about the look and feel of the dough, so I suggest that you watch a couple of videos of chefs making gnocchi so you can see what the dough is supposed to look and feel like.
Once you get over making them, they go great with all types of sauces and in soups as well. And they freeze for up to three months though they never last that long.
Honestly I feel as if as long as you don't over-knead the dough and stick to the guidelines, your gnocchi will be pillow soft and it will become your family's new obsession.
Here are some tools I talked about to help you with your gnocchi journey!
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- 8 Russet potatoes, washed and dried
- 4 egg yolks, optional
- 1 to 1 ½ cup flour, plus more for work surface
- 5 quarts water
- 2 tablespoon salt
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place an oven-safe wire rack onto a baking sheet. Place potatoes on wire racks, about an inch apart and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until potatoes are fork tender.
- Pull potatoes out of oven and slice open to let cool. Once cool, scoop flesh from the skin into a potato ricer. Rice out the potatoes onto a clean working surface, dusted with flour, into a riced potato mound.
- Make a well in the middle of the mound of potatoes, drop in your egg yolks and gently mix into the potatoes with a wooden spoon until just incorporated.
- Sprinkle ½ cup of flour over the potato-egg dough and begin to fold the dough, third by third, gently incorporating the flour. DO NOT KNEAD THE DOUGH LIKE BREAD DOUGH, YOU WILL MAKE TOUGH GNOCCHI. Flatten out dough, patting it down like biscuit dough, to have a wider surface area.
- By now the dough will still be very loose, sprinkle in ¼ cup of flour over the potato dough and fold in once again. If dough still feels pretty sticky, add more flour and fold in until only barely tacky and the dough holds together.
- Dust a sharp knife or bench cutter and your work surface with a bit more flour, then divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Take a piece and roll it into a log about ¾-1 inch thick, then use the knife to cut the log into ½-3/4 inch pieces, each. Repeat until all dough pieces are cut into gnocchi.
- OPTIONAL: Using a gnocchi board or a fork, gently press each gnocchi piece with your thumb or forefinger and roll down the tines to create ridges and a 'cup' in the back of the gnocchi.
- TO COOK: In a large pot, bring salt and water to a boil. Drop 2-4 servings of gnocchi into the pot, wait until the gnocchi floats to the surface, then let cook for 2 more minutes. Strain from water and serve with sauces or soups.
- TO FREEZE: Lightly flour a flat surface that will fit your freezer (like a plate or baking sheet) and place gnocchi onto the sheet in one layer, making sure they are not touching each other. Freeze until firm, then put in a freezer safe bag with little to no air. Keeps for 3 months in freezer.
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Eden Westbrook is the recipe developer, writer, and photographer behind Sweet Tea and Thyme. A classically trained chef, Eden has inspired home cooks into the kitchen with cultural comfort foods, easy family-friendly eats and sweets, and glorious spreads for date night and entertaining since 2015.