Gnocchi 101 | Best Italian Food Recipes
Of all the different kinds of Italian food, Gnocchi is my favorite. There aren’t many places near me where I can get homemade Gnocchi. So, every once-in-a-blue moon, if I can’t find homemade Gnocchi, I bite-the-bullet and make it myself, something I can do, but would rather not if there’s another Italian I can pay to do it for me! Today is one of those days. It’s Sunday and all of my favorite places for authentic Italian food are closed.
Many people think that Gnocchi is not an easy Italian food to make and there’s truth to that. It can be a finicky dough. It’s not a complicated recipe, but the dough responds best to the human touch and most of the Italian women that I know have developed a feel for when the dough is perfect. This is the case for me, too, but there was a lot of trial and error before I got it right. Hopefully, I can save you some of that! But, really, don’t be discouraged if you don’t get it right the first time. And expect a big mess. It’s just a messy recipe and there’s nothing to be done about that, so mentally prepare yourself for the post-op clean up.
I’ve loved Gnocchi since my teens, and that’s also when I learned to make it along with a lot of other Italian food. However, when I moved to Florida, I realized that the humidity can throw a monkey wrench into Gnocchi-making, which is already a delicate process, resulting in a big mushy mess and thereby making it harder than normal. So, I’ve had to do a few things to adapt my recipe for the humidity, including omitting the egg whites and over-baking the potatoes. It’s good to point out that in Italy they also make Gnocchi with ricotta cheese, especially in Rome, and that’s good, too, but I prefer the potato version.
Not every Italian makes Gnocchi, but every Italian that makes Gnocchi has their own way and I’m preparing myself for the posts from the people that will tell me I shoulda done this, or I shoulda done that! Frankly, I don’t have an exact recipe. I go by the feel of the dough in my hands, but I tried to measure as I was doing this tonight, so I’m including an ingredients list, but don’t follow it to a “T.” Instead follow my step-by-step photos so you can learn how to make adjustments as you go along. You don’t have to be Italian to make great Italian food, but you do have to learn the basics. (And, honestly, I’ve eaten in some of the best restaurants in the world and I’m still going to tell you that Italians make the best Italian food. There are many Italian nonnas who can out-Michelin and Zagat some of the best-trained chefs in the world!)
Jenifer Mangione’s Simple Gnocchi (Serves 2)
About 3 Large Russett (Idaho) Potatoes
About 3 Egg yolks, large brown eggs are best
About ½ cup of grated Parmesan, fresh is best
1 cup of flour
Sprinkle of nutmeg
You’ll also need…
A large wooden board
A slotted spoon
Very clean hands!
1. The ingredients you’ll need to make Gnocchi.
2. Bake the potatoes at 425° for about 45 minutes, or until you start to smell them charring slightly. The key word being slightly. You want to bake the moisture out of them. This is key to good gnocchi because if there’s moisture in the potatoes, it will make it difficult for the dough to congeal the right way. Some people say you should boil the potatoes. I don’t agree with that and the years have taught me that baking them is better.
3. Let the potatoes cool and then peel the skin. You don’t need to get the second, interior layer off entirely—just the exterior skin. There will still be some charred spots on the potatoes and that’s OK.
4. Press the potatoes against the large holes on a cheese grater. Some recipes ask you to use a ricer. I’ve never used the ricer. Use a fork to mash the potatoes against the side of the bowl. Don’t try to make the potatoes perfectly smooth. A little lumpiness will make the gnocchi lighter.
5. Make a well in the middle of the potatoes and add ½ cup of Parmesan cheese.
6. This is what the mixture will look like after you add the cheese.
7. Add a sprinkle of nutmeg.
8. Add 3 egg yolks.
9. At this point, if you haven’t already, wash your hands really well. I’ve never known an Italian to use a Kitchen Aid with gnocchi. This is “hands on” pasta! Your hands are the best tool with gnocchi. Start kneading the mixture between your fingers. It will be sticky.
10. When it looks a little like egg salad you’re good. It’s OK if its a little lumpy.
11. First, add just ½ cup of the flour and mix it in with your hands. The dough will still be sticky and will stick to your hands.
12. Gradually begin to add the remaining half cup of flour, kneading and mixing the dough between your fingers. Th stickiness will start going away and you’ll feel suppleness to the dough. It’s perfect when its slightly springy.
13. Sprinkle flour and spread it across the wooden board. At this point you should have a ball of dough, which you’ll place on the board and dust with the flour.
14. On the board, continue to roll the dough, dusting it with the flour, creating one large ball. Cut the ball into four equal pieces.
15. Roll each piece into a long string about 1 inch in diameter.
16. Cut the string into ¼ to ½ inch pieces. You’ll be creating what many people call “little pillows.” Now, here you can make a decision. A lot of people like to push each piece against a fork to create a texture that they feel will hold the sauce better. I prefer not to do this, and most of the Italians I know from Italy don’t do it either. But the choice is yours.
17. Place the gnocchi pillows on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Now, here’s my tip, but you only need to do this if you live where there is humidity. Place the gnocchi in the freezer for no more than 15 minutes just to let them set.
18. Boil a pot of water with olive oil and a little bit of salt. The olive oil is important with gnocchi so don’t skip it.
19. You’ll need a slotted spoon.
20. Place the gnocchi into the boiling water in batches, just a handful at a time. They’ll start to boil to the top of the water. Before you remove them, wait about 3 minutes and just let them boil.
21. Don’t use a strainer with gnocchi. Instead, remove them using the slotted spoon.
22. This is what they should look like. If they do, you’ve done a really good job and you should feel really good—especially if this is your first time making gnocchi! If they’ve become one big mushy mess, don’t feel bad because that is what happens to most people the first time they make gnocchi. Email me and I’ll troubleshoot with you email@example.com.
23. My favorite way to serve gnocchi is with my Bolognese sauce. It’s taken me over 10 years to perfect my sauce, so if I gave you that recipe, I really would have to kill you !
As a final touch, in the photo at the top of this article, you’ll see I’ve added some grated Parmesan and a basil leaf.
You’ve just finished the Gnocchi 101 course that most Italians get from their Nonnas. But, you don’t have to be Italian to make good gnocchi. You really just need to be patient and to pay attention to the details. With each batch, I promise, you’ll get better and better.
Good luck and let me know how it turns out!