Gnocchi are tiny doughy dumplings that are often substituted for pasta in the Italian menu. Although Italian in origin, they are also well known in French and Spanish Cuisine. As a child, they were one of my favourite meals and I would constantly pester my grandmothers and mother to make them for me.
Generally, they are based on a combination of potato and flour but they can also be made with pumpkin, sweet potato, cheeses and herbs and the flours used can vary from plain, semolina, durum or cornmeal (polenta) dependent on where you are from. As with most Italian recipes it depends on what is available in your region and what you have grown up with, as to the type of gnocchi you have experienced.
During my travels and contact with others, I have often found that there are those that could eat them everyday (like myself ) because we adore them and then there are others that hate them with a passion and will never allow a single ‘gnocco’ to pass their lips. I suspect it has a lot to do with the texture of the ‘gnocco’ rather than the taste. Some people make them soft as butter which tend to disintegrate very easily when cooked and then there are others who make them so hard, it’s like trying to eat rocks.
Having a bad experience with this dish, seems to put people off for life.
The secret to making good gnocchi is about the ratios of flour, potato and sometimes eggs to each other – the more flour and eggs the harder they become and the longer they take to cook.
Makes – 4 to 6 serves
4 large waxy potatoes – (800 grams approximately)
½ to 1 cup plain flour (approximately)
pinch of salt
Italian sauce of preference
Grated cheese of preference
1. Boil potatoes with their skin on (I personally believe the gnocchi have a better flavour when the potatoes are boiled in their skins).
2. Once cooked allow the potatoes to sit in the pot and boiling liquid for 30 minutes as they cool.
3. After cooling, peel the potatoes and set aside in a bowl until all potatoes are peeled. It is important to peel the potatoes whilst they are still warm, it will assist in removing the skins. Also, they need to be warm for step 4. If you don’t have ‘asbestos hands’, use a cloth to hold the hot potato as you peel.
4. Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer or fine sieve. You want the potatoes to be silky smooth and simple mashing won’t do it. If the potatoes have gone cold you can always place them in a microwave oven for 30 – 45 seconds to heat them a little.
5. Place potatoes, flour and salt in a bowl and mix slightly before adding egg. Mix more thoroughly and then turn out onto a floured board.
6. Knead the doughy mass so it becomes a smooth, pliable ball. If the dough is sticky on your hands, you will need to sprinkle some more flour onto the dough and work it into the mixture.
7. Take a baseball size amount of the dough and gently roll it into a rope approximately 1-2 cm in diameter. Then cut the rope into 2 cm long pellets. You can use the cut pellets as is and move to step 9 or shape them by going to step 8.
8. To shape the gnocchi pellets you can use a dedicated gnocchi mould or a fork. Dab the pellet of dough in a little flour and then place it onto the mould or the fork’s curved surface. Push softly into the centre of the pellet and pull towards you, so the gnocco becomes slightly curved and has ridges on its surface.
9. Set aside and continue forming the rest of the pellets and the remaining ball of dough. Keep gnocchi under a damp cloth until ready to cook.
10. To cook the gnocchi, place a large pot of water onto the stove and add a good pinch of salt. Allow the water to boil and then gently drop the gnocchi into the water. Generally the gnocchi will be cooked when they all float to the top of the water, it usually takes about 5 minutes.
11. Drain well and coat with your favourite sauce and cheese.