Homemade Potato Gnocchi

With an abundance of homemade Italian sausage and Rick, my father-in-law, in town for the week, Claire suggested that I should make gnocchi again. And realizing that I could still get some heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market on Wednesday, gnocchi with an Italian sausage-fresh tomato sauce sounded just about perfect. Not to mention the fact that Fall weather is definitely here in Park City with chilly evenings, making heartier dinners ideal.

Given that the ingredient list for potato gnocchi consists of cheap pantry staples: Russet potatoes, AP flour, eggs, salt, and parmesan cheese (if desired), why is homemade gnocchi not made by more home cooks? For one, the process is rather time intensive – it is at least a one to two hour process, not including the time it takes to bake the potatoes (at least an hour). That is why when I make them, I make a batch big enough to ensure that Claire and I have at least a couple of meals (the gnocchi freeze well).

But more importantly, making gnocchi strikes fear into many a home cook. But any good recipe, or any activity in life, takes time and practice to develop. I admit that the first few times I had to make gnocchi, at work no less for paying guests, I was nervous, but I soon got over my slight fear, knowing a few basic principles: 1) the goal is light fluffy gnocchi that practically melt in your mouth; 2) moisture is not your friend; 3) don’t over work your dough.

Some recipes instruct you to boil the potatoes, but the problem with this is that by cooking them in water, you are actually introducing more moisture into the potatoes instead of drawing out the moisture. This is why I prefer baking the potatoes. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork which will help release steam. Shortly after the potatoes are done roasting, you will want to peel them with a small sharp knife, being careful not to burn or cut yourself (a kitchen towel aids in the not burning part; caution and practice in the not cutting).

After you peel the hot potatoes, you will want to pass them through a food mill or a ricer. Or if you are like me and do not own either one of these, grate the potatoes on a box grater, again using some caution as the potatoes are still hot. Just be careful to also avoid any large lumps. Once the potatoes are mashed, spread them out on a clean surface to cool briefly, around five minutes.

Now comes the tricky part: incorporating the flour and egg into the mixture. Luckily for you and me, America’s Test Kitchen solved that problem for us. In their recipe, they found that for every pound (about 3 cups) of mashed potato, you want to use four ounces (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) of flour. This allows you to add the flour all at once and knead once, preventing the formation of too much gluten, which will lead to heavy, chewy gnocchi. Mix and knead the dough until it is smooth but still rather tacky.

Once the dough is formed, flatten it out into a disk. Cut a small strip off (a bench scraper works great), and roll it into about a one half inch thick rope. Using a bench scraper (a knife or a pizza cutter will also work), slice the rope into about three quarter inch pieces. At this point you can leave them alone, or you can roll them along the back of a fork to make the indentations, traditionally associated with gnocchi. If you choose to do this, make sure your fingers are floured and the gnocchi so that they will not stick to the fork. Transfer the raw, formed gnocchi to a rimmed baking sheet dusted with flour, dusting the gnocchi with more flour, again to ensure that they will not stick. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use.

You will want to cook the gnocchi in a large pot of heavily salted water (as salty as the sea). The gnocchi will float to the surface after a minute or so, and after another 30 seconds to a minute, they are done. Because the gnocchi are so delicate it is best not drain them in a colander as they will fall apart; rather use a slotted spoon to retrieve them from the water. I like to immediately sauté them in some butter in order to crisp them ever so slightly. I will then add the sauce to the pan.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I guarantee you that with a little practice you will be making gnocchi that will beat anything you can get at the store or most Italian restaurants not helmed by a truly great Italian chef.

Potato Gnocchi

(The recipe on-line has more pictures and instructions to help you along in the process.)

From America’s Test Kitchen Season 12: Gnocchi and Panzanella

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:

The method for making gnocchi is simple: Knead the mashed potatoes into a dough with a minimum of flour; shape; and boil for a minute. And yet the potential pitfalls are numerous (lumpy mashed potatoes, too much or too little flour, a heavy hand when kneading, and bland flavor). We wanted a foolproof recipe for impossibly light gnocchi with unmistakable potato flavor. Baking russets after parcooking them in the microwave produced intensely flavored potatoes—an excellent start to our gnocchi base. To avoid lumps, which can cause gnocchi to break apart during cooking, we turned to a ricer for a smooth, supple mash. While many recipes offer a range of flour, which ups the chances of overworking the dough (and producing leaden gnocchi), we used an exact amount based on the ratio of potato to flour so that our gnocchi dough was mixed as little as possible. And we found that an egg, while not traditional, tenderized our gnocchi further, delivering delicate pillowlike dumplings.

 Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish, or 4 to 6 as an appetizer

For the most accurate measurements, weigh the potatoes and flour. After processing, you may have slightly more than the 3 cups (16 ounces) of potatoes recquired for this recipe. Discard any extra or set aside for another use. Besides the browned butter sauce, try our Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, Parmesan Sauce with Pancetta and Walnuts, and Porcini Mushroom Broth (related).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1. FOR THE GNOCCHI: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Poke each potato 8 times with paring knife over entire surface. Microwave potatoes until slightly softened at ends, about 10 minutes, flipping potatoes halfway through cooking. Transfer potatoes directly to oven rack and bake until skewer glides easily through flesh and potatoes yield to gentle pressure, 18 to 20 minutes.

2. Holding each potato with potholder or kitchen towel, peel with paring knife. Process potatoes through ricer or food mill onto rimmed baking sheet. Gently spread potatoes into even layer and let cool for 5 minutes.

3. Transfer 3 cups (16 ounces) warm potatoes to bowl. Using fork, gently stir in egg until just combined. Sprinkle flour and 1 teaspoon salt over potato mixture. Using fork, gently combine until no pockets of dry flour remain. Press mixture into rough ball, transfer to lightly floured counter, and gently knead until smooth but slightly sticky, about 1 minute, lightly dusting counter with flour as needed to prevent sticking.

4. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and dust liberally with flour. Cut dough into 8 pieces. Lightly dust counter with flour. Gently roll piece of dough into ½-inch-thick rope, dusting with flour to prevent sticking. Cut rope into ¾-inch lengths. Holding fork with tines facing down in 1 hand, press each dough piece cut side down against tines with thumb of other hand to create indentation. Roll dough down tines to form ridges on sides. If dough sticks, dust thumb or fork with flour. Transfer formed gnocchi to sheets and repeat with remaining dough.

5. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Using parchment paper as sling, gently lower gnocchi from 1 sheet into water and cook until firm and just cooked through, about 90 seconds (gnocchi should float to surface after about 1 minute). Using slotted spoon, transfer cooked gnocchi to skillet with sauce. Repeat with remaining gnocchi. Gently toss gnocchi with sauce and serve.

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