If you’ve never made homemade gnocchi, you have no idea what you’re missing. Whether at home or in an authentic Italian restaurant, gnocchi made by hand bear little resemblance to their store-bought frozen counterpart. Traditional gnocchi are potato dumplings that are light and tender, little pillows of perfection. It is not difficult to make, but it can be a tedious task, so I make this delicious dish once a year for Shavuos, and it’s well worth the wait. You can be brave and make potato gnocchi or opt for the easier ricotta gnocchi. Either way, once you’ve made it at home yourself, you’ll never buy premade frozen gnocchi again.
Types of gnocchi. The most popular variety of gnocchi, gnocchi di patate, are made with different varieties of potatoes, combined with other ingredients like flour, eggs, and parmesan to make a fluffy pillow of dough. Gnocchi di polenta from Tuscany are made with cornmeal and generally with leftover polenta. They are shaped into dumplings and tossed with meat or mushroom sauce. Made with leftover bread, gnocchi di pane can be served in broth or in butter or tomato sauce. Ricotta gnocchi are made with ricotta cheese instead of potatoes and making them is as easy as mixing ingredients into a bowl and rolling out the dough. They are lighter than potato gnocchi and there is no precooking involved.
Type of potatoes. The potato should be floury, not waxy. Use Yukon gold potatoes for their nuttier flavor and their yellow flesh. They are the boiling potato of choice, but russets will work as well. Gnocchi can also be made with a combination of potatoes and sweet potatoes.
The prep. Water is the enemy of gnocchi dough, so it’s better to bake the potatoes rather than boil them. Pierce each potato all over with a fork, then bake on a bed of coarse salt, which prevents them from browning and draws out excess moisture. The best way to break apart the potato is to use a fine potato ricer or drum sieve. Don’t use a masher or food mill, which will compress the potatoes and make the dough heavy. You want tiny crumbles so more moisture can be released and the resulting gnocchi will be light and airy.
Type of flour. It is best to use two-thirds all-purpose flour to one-third cake flour, since all-purpose is very fine and will be absorbed more into the potato and it high in protein content, which will make the gnocchi chewy. It is best if you can find Italian “OO” Tenero flour that is milled from soft wheat and is low in protein. Weigh the potatoes after they’ve been cooked and riced to determine the amount of flour to use—one cup for every pound of potato.
Blending. Don’t knead the dough the way you would for bread, because you want to take every step to keep it light and airy. Instead, use a scraper to incorporate the potatoes and flour. Blend in only three-fourths of the flour when mixing it together, and save the last one-fourth to help roll and shape the dough. v
Easy Ricotta Gnocchi
1 lb. fresh whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg
1 Tbsp. olive oil
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan
freshly grated nutmeg, to taste
2 cups flour, sifted, plus extra for rolling dough
Mix together ricotta, egg, and oil. Add grated Parmesan to mixture and sprinkle with nutmeg to taste. Add sifted flour, a little at a time, and mix thoroughly till dough comes together. Dump onto generously floured surface and work with hands to bring together into a smooth ball. Add more flour if necessary for smooth dough that doesn’t stick to your hands.
Cut off slices of dough and roll into ropes to the thickness of your thumb. Cut into 1-inch pieces, then roll each piece off the back of a fork to make ridges that will hold the sauce. Transfer gnocchi to lightly floured baking sheet and put in freezer while you finish forming the gnocchi. You can freeze them completely if you plan to save them for another day.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a generous amount of salt. Boil gnocchi in batches, gently stirring with a wooden spoon to prevent from sticking to the bottom. When they rise to the top, scoop them out with a mesh strainer into a serving bowl. Top with sauce of your choice and serve.
Simple Tomato Sauce
2 cups stewed tomatoes
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup unsalted butter or butter substitute
2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Parmesan
Heat tomatoes over medium-high heat. Add a little pasta water to thin. Stir in the olive oil and butter until melted and incorporated. Remove from heat, stir in parsley, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour sauce over gnocchi and top with freshly grated Parmesan.
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