Having been in Italy for two weeks, it has been a bit difficult to keep up with the competition in Project Food Blog, away from home and without access to a kitchen for half of my trip. In case I would participate in the 4th challenge, I paid attention to the food around me in Rome, and tried to find what I would be able to make in my miniscule (update: and *very* ill-equiped) Trastevere apartment. After seeing it served as a primi piatti in countless restaurants, I decided I would make gnocchi.
The great thing about gnocchi is that they’re made with few ingredients: potatoes, flour, eggs, olive oil, salt. They also require no special equipment. You can make a large quantity of gnocchi for a few dollars and roll them pretty much anywhere, as I found out when I made a batch on my apartment’s wooden bedside table.
My kitchen in Rome (minus the bedside table).
Although gnocchi are simple to prepare, they are also easy to mess with. Too much liquid and your gnocchi will be gummy; too much flour and they’ll be dense and heavy on the stomach. When perfect, they’re light and plump.
If I succeeded in making a delicious dinner in such limited conditions, you can certainly do the same at home! Here’s the walkthrough to your perfect homemade gnocchi.
Based on Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino’s tried-and-true family recipe
1 kg (2.2 lbs) russet potatoes (about 5 large), unpeeled
300 g (1 ½ cups) all-purpose flour
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Step 1: Cook the potatoes
Wash your potatoes thoroughly without peeling them. Boiling them unpeeled lessens the water that penetrates the potatoes while they’re cooking. Water is a gnocchi downfall. This is also why you must use the exact cooking time. Avoid piercing them during cooking as it’ll allow water to get in. Small potatoes take 10–15 minutes to boil; medium 20–25 minutes; large 35–45 minutes. If you’re unsure about your cooking time, boil one extra potato that you’ll use to test.
Cooked and peeled potatoes.
Step 2: Mash the potatoes
Once your potatoes are done, drain them and let them cool until you can handle them. Peel the potatoes and mash them into a large bowl: the tool that will help you breeze through this step is a potato ricer. It guarantees lump-free gnocchi. If you don’t have a ricer, mash your potatoes with a fork (like I did) or a potato masher. Pay extra attention to make sure you eliminate as many lumps as possible.
Let the mashed potatoes cool to room temperature.
Mashing potatoes with a fork, until no lumps remain.
Step 3: Prepare the dough
Mix flour and salt together in a small bowl. Mix the mashed potatoes with the egg yolks and olive oil. Sprinkle the flour mixture over the potatoes and mix gently until the flour is moistened and the dough looks crumbly.
Mixing the ingredients together until the flour is moistened and the dough looks crumbly.
Lightly flour your work surface. Put your dough on the surface. Knead it gently to incorporate the flour: press on the dough with your hands, fold it in half, turn it by a quarter turn and press it again. You should do this for about 1 minute: over-kneading is another gnocchi downfall. It leads to a tough, rubbery texture.
Kneading the dough using both hands for about 1 minute.
After kneading, your dough should feel soft and smooth. If it sticks to your work surface, sprinkle a bit more flour — but keep in mind that you must limit the amount of flour you add to the gnocchi to make sure they don’t become heavy and dense.
When you dough is ready, put it in a bowl and cover with a clean kitchen towel.
Kneaded gnocchi dough, ready to be rolled into bites.
Step 4: Roll and cut the dough into bites
Clean your work surface, dry it thoroughly and sprinkle lightly with flour. Tear off a lemon-size piece of dough and roll it into a rope (about 3/4 in. diameter). Use a knife to cut out square bites.
Gnocchi dough ropes, cut into squares.
Now you have two choices: leave your gnocchi plain, looking like miniature pillows, or indent them using a gnocchi board or a fork.
Leaving them plain is a good choice when you want to fry them in butter, or serve them with a classic brown butter (see this recipe). I really like the crunchy texture it renders, a nice contrast to the creamy interior.
Plain pillow-looking gnocchi.
Indenting gnocchi is ideal when you want to serve them with a sauce, because the pattern allows it to better cling to the pasta.
To indent gnocchi, you can use either a special board or a fork. The method to roll and indent is a bit intriguing and difficult to explain in words. I’ve put together a 30-second video that demystifies the process:
My dough was a day old when I filmed this video so it was firmer than usual. When the dough is fresh, the gnocchi needs just a soft press to be indented.
Two kinds of gnocchi side by side: rolled on a special board, and rolled on a fork.
As you roll your gnocchi, arrange them in a single layer on baking sheets, making sure they don’t touch. Gnocchi are best cooked within 2–3 hours of being made (keep at room temperature).
To freeze: put the gnocchi on the baking sheets straight into the freezer. Once hard, transfer them to freezer bags in portion sizes. They’ll keep for two months.
Step 5: Cook the gnocchi
Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Put about 12–15 gnocchi into the water at once and wait until they come back to the surface. When they do, they’re ready. Don’t turn your back on them because it takes just two minutes! Use a slotted spoon to fish them out, put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to keep them warm. Repeat the process until all the gnocchi are cooked.
Gnocchi are lovely with different sauces, from a simple fresh tomato to a slowly simmered meat ragù. They’re also delicious au gratin, mixed with a cheesy white sauce and broiled in the oven. Use your imagination! You’ll be so proud that you made your own that I’m sure you’ll find them delicious any way you serve them.
My gnocchi, as I served them in Rome: sauteed in butter and olive oil, with pesto, sprinkled with parmigiano-reggiano, accompanied by a fresh-from-the-market side salad.
This is my entry to Project Food Blog 2010 Challenge #4. If you liked this post, click here to vote for me. Voting is open from Oct. 11th through Oct. 14th. A big thank you to all who voted for me in the first three challenges!