Gnocchi have always been one of my favourite Italian food items. They are small, soft dumplings of dough, most commonly made of mashed potato, flour and eggs but they can and are also made using pumpkin, sweet potato, herbs or cheese. They can easily be substitute for pasta in any Italian dish.
Making perfect gnocchi is all about getting the correct ratios of potato to flour to egg. Put too much flour or too many eggs and they will be rock hard and take forever to cook – not enough flour/egg and they will melt like butter and disintegrate when cooked.
Here is my fool-proof method of making perfect Gnocchi:
Makes 4 Serves
800 grams starchy potato (Desiree or Kipfler)
2 cups plain flour
Salt and pepper
1. Wash and scrub potatoes well (leave skins on) and place in a pot of cold water so they are just covered. Bring to the boil and cook for 15 minutes, so the potatoes are just cooked.
DO NOT OVER COOK THE POTATOES – they must have a sightly firmness.
2. Allow the potatoes to sit in the water for 20 minutes until the water cools.
3. Place the potatoes on a cloth tea towel to remove any moisture and gradually remove the skins. The potatoes need to still be warm to allow the skins to be removed easily.
4. Once all the skins have been removed pass the whole potatoes through a potato ricer or fine mouli. If you don’t have these kitchen tools you can simply mash them with a potato masher or fork, just make certain to work the mashed potato again and again so that they are very smooth.
5. Place into a bowl, add the other ingredients and mix together well.
6. Dust a work surface with some extra plain flour and turn the mixture out onto the dusted surface. Dust your hands with flour and knead the mass so it becomes a solid smooth ball.
7. Cut the ball into 4 or 5 sections, dust each section one at a time and gentle roll each piece into a cylindrical rope of dough about the thickness of a finger.
8. Once a rope is formed cut into small pillows approximately 2 cm wide and set aside on a cloth tea towel before moving to next rope of dough.
Traditionally, gnocchi are given a textured surface by gently pressing each pillow on a gnocchi mould or against a fork. It is not essential to do so … it is predominately a decorative feature.
9. To cook the gnocchi gently drop them a few at a time into a large pot of well salted boiling water, until all are immersed and allow them to cook for approximately 8 to 10 minutes.
The claim that gnocchi are cooked when they float to the surface is a cooking myth. You need to taste them to tell if they are truly cooked. Also, do not over-cook them otherwise they may commence to disintegrate.
10. Drain and coat with your favourite pasta sauce.
A simple Spring time sauce to accompany gnocchi is as follows:
400 grams broad beans (peeled)
400 grams semi-dried Italian sausage or Spanish Chorizo
600 grams spinach leaves
1 large bunch of fresh basil leaves (approximately 1 cup)
1 garlic clove (crushed & finely diced)
Splash of olive oil
Salt and pepper
1 cup white wine or chicken/vegetable stock
½ cup of parmesan cheese
1. Place oil, garlic and sausage in a heavy based pan and gently cook so it develops some colour and crispness.
2. Add the broad beans and cook for 2 minutes before adding the spinach leaves and stir so the spinach leaves wilt and soften.
3. Add the wine/stock, basil leaves as well as salt and pepper and allow to cook for 2 minutes so all the flavours incorporate.
4. Remove from heat and add the cheese and stir through.
5. Pour the sauce over freshly cooked pasta or gnocchi and serve.
You can substitute fresh asparagus for the broad beans if you prefer, you can also substitute bacon or spicy fresh sausage (pieces) for the semi dried versions and you can certainly add a dollop of thickened cream to the finished sauce to give it a richer, smoother texture.