I had never heard of gnocchi before a cousins girl weekend in Crested Butte, CO a few years back. We had gone out to dinner at an Italian restaurant and everyone but me was so excited to see gnocchi on the menu. Gnocchi, whatever they were, made my cousins excited. So why not join in the excitement and order some as well. I soon found that these little doughy, potatoey bites were pretty delicious.
In typical fashion, I decided that if it is possible to make something from scratch, I was going to do it. My first attempt was with my mom a year after my first gnocchi encounter. We cut up and boiled some potatoes, mashed them up, added some flour, egg, salt and pepper and made a splendid little dinner. We found that we had to add a lot more flour than the recipe called for, but chocked it up to the fact that using “3 large potatoes” could vary things depending on your definition of a large potato. For years I continued this process of making gnocchi but always feeling like something just wasn’t right. The only time I had ever had someone else’s gnocchi creation was at that restaurant years before and I couldn’t quite remember what “right” was when it came to the texture and consistency. Lately, however, I have change things up a bit. For starters, I have started to use a food mill (like you use to make apple sauce) to mash my potatoes with to get a super smooth, consistent texture out of the potatoes. I have also started to bake my potatoes instead of boiling them to cut down on the extra moisture within them and reduce the amount of flour needed in the dough mixture. Consequently, I have noticed that my batches have resulted in less but more tender product. Note to self, use more potatoes. The whole process isn’t very labor intensive, but some might argue it is tedious. I find that as long as you make a large batch and freeze some for later, it makes it totally worth it.
After the dough is all mixed up, rolled out and cut into bite sized pieces, the gnocchi simply have to be boiled for a few minutes and dressed however you would like to serve them. I personally like to make some browned butter with fresh sage from the garden and then toss the gnocchi in there to brown up a little. After a bunch of failed, messy attempts at this, I found that I need to learn to be patient (something I am still working on) and let the pan heat up a great deal before adding the cooked gnocchi, otherwise they will stick all to holy heck and, while still delicious, they will not look so pretty. To prove how much I still need to work on my patience in the kitchen (and probably in other aspects of life, but that’s a different story 😉 ), the last time I pan fried some gnocchi up, I had one of the terrible messes I described above. Someday I will learn.
Here is how I go about making gnocchi:
-Use 3 large potatoes (or however many you want to make, just adjust accordingly). I usually end up making gnocchi when I have a handful of potatoes that are starting to turn green and sprout; waste not, want not, right?
-Make baked potatoes however you normally do (microwave, oven, grill) and let them cool slightly. Once you can handle the potatoes without burning yourself, peel your potatoes. If you prefer, and if you have a food mill, you can leave the skins on since they will end up getting ground up small enough that they won’t affect the dough later.
-Mash them taters! You are trying to get a nice, smooth consistency so that when you make the dough you won’t have chunks of potato. Do not add any cream or anything you might normally add to make mashed potatoes. This is where I use my food mill; you could also use a potato ricer, blender or good-ol’-fashioned hand masher.
-Once you are satisfied with the consistency of your potatoes, add 1 egg, salt and pepper and ½ cup of flour, and mix well. Keep adding flour as needed (probably 1 cup total, depending on the size of your potatoes), until the dough forms together and stops being sticky. Be careful not to mix too much or you will get tough gnocchi.
-Flour a clean surface, dump your dough out onto it and kneed it gently until combined.
-Divide the dough into quarters and start rolling out 1 piece like a snake until it is the thickness of your thumb. Repeat with the other pieces. Add flour to any surface as needed to keep everything from sticking.
-Once you have all of your “snakes” made, cut them into 1” long pieces and then roll each piece with the back tines of a fork to make them all even more uniform and give them a slight texture.
-Once done, cook them in a pot of boiling water for 3-5 minutes; they will float to the top when they are done, but I usually let them cook another minute just to be sure. Drain when done cooking.
-Lastly, heat up a fry pan until it is good and hot. Add some oil or butter and fresh sage leaves, chopped. Put cooked gnocchi in the pan and let brown on the bottom. Do not attempt to flip them too soon or you will end up with a big mess (like I usually do, remember, I am still working on my patience). Once they slide around a little when you shake the pan you can flip them to make the other side golden and a bit crispy.
-Add salt and pepper to taste, serve warm and enjoy!