I really don’t know of anything messier than making gnocchi from scratch (which reminds me, you will have to scratch your nose once your hands are covered with flour and potato). I absolutely love gnocchi, and my favorite is the old, traditional kind made with potatoes. I am going to attempt to pass along my family’s age-old recipe for potato gnocchi, even though it was passed on from one generation to the next with no written recipe. The trainee was instructed in the art of gnocchi making by helping the expert prepare them, and it was a very hands-on experience. (Hands, arms, face and everything else, too).
Adding to the difficulty of making the tasty little dumplings is the fact that water content of potatoes is a variable that is inconsistent at best. You may need to use more or less flour as you work the dough. Your best bet is to always use Russet potatoes, as they are usually mealy and fluffy when cooked. Don’t use leftover mashed potatoes in your gnocchi, because you don’t want them to have milk and butter added.
Also, if you are the type of person who can’t stand getting your hands gunked up in messy, sticky dough, then you won’t want to try making gnocchi. I don’t think a food processor or mixer would work good, as it would be likely to make the dough too gluey and tough. You also can’t be fussy about making a mess. You will end up looking like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, with all that flour. I hope you and your family enjoy the gnocchi experience as much as mine does.
Old family gnocchi
I think potatoes taste better when cooked unpeeled. The key to this gnocchi recipe is to use equal parts of potatoes and flour.
About 1 dozen medium-sized Russet potatoes, scrubbed (or enough to make 1 1/2 quarts, boiled, peeled and mashed)
1 1/2 quarts all-purpose flour (I use a glass Pyrex measuring container)
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 large eggs, beaten
1. Peel and mash the potatoes and measure out 1 1/2 quarts into a very large mixing bowl. Mix flour with salt and Parmesan cheese; add to mixing bowl. Add beaten eggs.
2. With hands, mix all ingredients together until a heavy, sticky dough is formed. It will stick to your hands and at first will seem impossible to mix, but as the flour is absorbed, it will get easier. Just hope you don’t get any phone calls or an itchy nose while you are in the mixing process!
3. Using a ball of dough about the size of an orange, roll and shape it (with hands) into a long rope, about the thickness of your thumb, on a well-floured surface. With a knife, cut the rope into small pillows about 3/4-inch size. At this stage, I usually toss a small handful of flour over the gnocchi and toss them around so the cut edges get floured. Otherwise, they might stick together. You can roll them off the tines of a fork if you wish, but I usually don’t do that. Place the uncooked gnocchi on a platter or large dinner plate that has been dusted with flour. When you have a couple of dough balls cut into pieces, you can drop the gnocchi into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water to which a few drops of olive oil has been added. Give them a little stir to make sure they aren’t clinging or sticking to the bottom of the pot.
3. Now, most recipes tell you that they are done as soon as they float to the top, but I find that they are much better if left long enough for me to roll out and cut at least one more dough ball. With a slotted spoon or ladle, remove the cooked gnocchi to a large baking dish that has about 1 or 2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce spread on the bottom. Mix them up, a batch at a time, adding more sauce as needed.
4. When ready to serve, sprinkle generously with grated Parmesan cheese. Accompany with any green vegetable or tossed salad and some crusty garlic bread. They are even better the next day. This recipe will fill a 9-by-13-inch pan to the point of being mounded on top. I have never made a smaller batch.
Andy Trinchero’s ricotta gnocchi
If the traditional old-Italian way of preparing gnocchi seems intimidating or just too much work, never fear. One of my relatives (passed away now) was fond of making a much simpler version that hardly takes any time at all. It doesn’t even call for any potatoes, but it’s still good. I have always thought it would be a good idea to add some cooked, chopped spinach (squeezed dry) to the dough.
1 container (large size is best) ricotta cheese
Equal amount of all-purpose flour
Salt to taste (optional)
1. Mix ricotta, flour and salt together; roll into ropes and cut into small, 3/4-inch dumplings. Boil in salted water (3 to 5 minutes), remove and drain.
2. Blend with melted butter and grated Parmesan cheese or use your favorite pasta sauce.
Instant potato gnocchi
I have not tried this, but everyone else who recommended it to me said it worked great. Legend has it that it was passed down from a Sicilian restaurant owner. If it flops, you have permission to throw mashed potatoes at me.
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 cup water
1 beaten egg
1 teaspoon butter, softened
2 cups instant potato flakes
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon dried parsley
1. Mix first 4 ingredients at low speed in a food processor. In a bowl, mix together the last 4 ingredients. Add to food processor and mix on low until a dough forms.
2. Flour hands and counter top and knead dough. Roll out flat, cut into strips and roll the strips into ropes. Cut the ropes into bite-sized pieces and roll each piece with the tines of the fork (for that gnocchi look).
3. Boil in salted water for about 3 to 5 minutes. Drain with large slotted spoon rather than a colander because they are a bit delicate. Add sauce of your choice. Feel free to doctor up the dough by adding Parmesan, minced sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, whatever you like.
This recipe calls for prepared gnocchi, usually available in vacuum sealed packaging.
For the pesto:
Large handful of fresh basil leaves (about 1 cup)
3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove, skin still on
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
For the gnocchi:
1 16-ounce package gnocchi
About 2 cups chopped asparagus (raw), tough stems removed
About 3 cups fresh arugula, washed and patted or spun dry
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
1 tablespoon toasted pine nuts, optional
Pinch of crushed red pepper, optional
1. While the water for the gnocchi is coming to a boil, prepare the pesto. Toast the garlic clove (with its skin still on) in a skillet for about five minutes, flipping it occasionally so it is lightly browned evenly. Remove from the skillet and peel before adding to a food processor along with all of the other pesto ingredients. Process until smooth and add a generous pinch of salt and black pepper.
2. Prepare the gnocchi according to the package directions. When there is one minute left in the boiling time, add the asparagus to the pot with the gnocchi to blanch it.
3. After draining the gnocchi and asparagus, add it back to the pot and mix in the pesto. If you want your arugula to be slightly wilted, add it at this time to the pot. If you would like it to remain crisp, simply wait a few more minutes for the gnocchi to cool a little. Toss all ingredients well and season with additional salt, pepper, a few more pine nuts and some crushed red pepper for a bit of spiciness. Makes 2 to 3 servings.