How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother

How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother Recipe


The other night I took delivery of two huge, fragrant garbage bags full of basil thanks to Julia of Mariquita Farms. I gave half of it away at my book signing, the other half we plucked and pureed into a grassy, green pesto. Earlier this year a friend came to visit from Genoa Italy, her mom taught us her homemade gnocchi recipe. I posted about the pesto we made to go with it earlier in the year, and as promised this post is the gnocchi how-to followup. The basil delivery was exactly the inspiration I was waiting for....

Gnocchi recipes aren't for the faint of heart. Many, many things can go awry. I'm not trying to scare you off or dissuade you, I just want you to know what you are in for. Gnocchi-making takes practice, patience, and persistance. At their best potato gnocchi can be light and delicate. At their worst, dense, rubbery, and/or soggy. The very worst are the gnocchi that come apart in the boiling water before they even reach your plate.

The platter of petite, potato pillows coated with glistening flecks of basil pesto that Francesca's mother made was beautiful. The gnocchi recipe she taught us had just three ingredients - boiled, starchy russet potatoes combined with a minimal amount of flour (too much flour and your gnocchi are going to be heavy), and a bit of salt - no eggs. I've tweaked her version to be a little more user-friendly here, because to be honest, eggless gnocchi are very tricky to get the hang of, very delicate to handle. I speak from experience at this point. I'm afraid if I post the eggless version here, there will be a number of you who will try it, get frustrated, and curse me.

So in the version below, I incorporate just enough egg to act as a bit of a binder. We still aren't using an excessive amount of flour, and the resulting gnocchi are deliciously light. They can also stand up to a toss with your favorite sauce.

If you are committed to trying the eggless version, try this version first. the next time around use half the egg, and the time after that go for no egg. By that time, you should have all the other steps figured out and you'll have a better vantage point and level of experience from which to work You'll also have a better sense of how to handle and work with the dough.

gnocchi recipe

So, here it is - the long awaited gnocchi recipe. Give it a go, and let me know what you think.

 
 
 
 

Gnocchi Recipe

Francesca's mom seemed disappointed we didn't have a potato ricer or potato mill on hand, but said that mashing the potatoes by hand would be fine. I've done it many times by hand now, and it is fine. For those of you wanting to do some of the preparation in advance, in one test I cooked and mashed a batch of potatoes a day ahead of time, put them in a covered bowl overnight, and incorporated the egg and flour the next day when I was ready to cook the gnocchi - no problems.

Scant 2 pounds of starchy potatoes (2 large russets)
1/4 cup egg, lightly beaten
scant 1 cup of unbleached all-purpose flour
fine grain sea salt

Fill a large pot with cold water. Salt the water, then cut potatoes in half and place them in the pot. Bring the water to a boil and cook the potatoes until tender throughout, this takes roughly 40-50 minutes.

Remove the potatoes from the water one at a time with a slotted spoon. Place each potato piece on a large cutting board and peel it before moving on to the next potato. Also, peel each potato as soon as possible after removing from the water (without burning yourself) - I've found a paring knife comes in handy here. Be mindful that you want to work relatively quickly so you can mash the potatoes when they are hot. To do this you can either push the potatoes through a ricer, or do what I do, deconstruct them one at a time on the cutting board using the tines of a fork - mash isn't quite the right term here. I run the fork down the sides of the peeled potato creating a nice, fluffy potato base to work with (see photo). Don't over-mash - you are simply after an even consistency with no noticable lumps.

Save the potato water.

Let the potatoes cool spread out across the cutting board - ten or fifteen minutes. Long enough that the egg won't cook when it is incorporated into the potatoes. When you are ready, pull the potatoes into a soft mound - drizzle with the beaten egg and sprinkle 3/4 cup of the flour across the top. I've found that a metal spatula or large pastry scraper are both great utensils to use to incorporate the flour and eggs into the potatoes with the egg incorporated throughout - you can see the hint of yellow from the yolk. Scrape underneath and fold, scrape and fold until the mixture is a light crumble. Very gently, with a feathery touch knead the dough. This is also the point you can add more flour (a sprinkle at a time) if the dough is too tacky. I usually end up using most of the remaining 1/4 cup flour, but it all depends on the potatoes, the flour, the time of year, the weather, and whether the gnocchi gods are smiling on you. The dough should be moist but not sticky. It should feel almost billowy. Cut it into 8 pieces. Now gently roll each 1/8th of dough into a snake-shaped log, roughly the thickness of your thumb. Use a knife to cut pieces every 3/4-inch (see photo). Dust with a bit more flour.

To shape the gnocchi hold a fork in one hand (see photo) and place a gnocchi pillow against the tines of the fork, cut ends out. With confidence and an assertive (but light) touch, use your thumb and press in and down the length of the fork. The gnocchi should curl into a slight "C" shape, their backs will capture the impression of the tines as tiny ridges (good for catching sauce later). Set each gnocchi aside, dust with a bit more flour if needed, until you are ready to boil them. This step takes some practice, don't get discouraged, once you get the hang of it it's easy.

Now that you are on the final stretch, either reheat your potato water or start with a fresh pot (salted), and bring to a boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches by dropping them into the boiling water roughly twenty at a time. They will let you know when they are cooked because they will pop back up to the top. Fish them out of the water a few at a time with a slotted spoon ten seconds or so after they've surfaced. Have a large platter ready with a generous swirl of whatever sauce or favorite pesto you'll be serving on the gnocchi. Place the gnocchi on the platter. Continue cooking in batches until all the gnocchi are done. Gently toss with more sauce or pesto (don't overdo it, it should be a light dressing), and serve immediately, family-style with a drizzle of good olive oil on top.

Serves six.

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Your Comments


Rachel
June 18, 2007

I have heard of using the large holes of a box grater to deconstruct the cooked potato. I haven't personally tried it though.

 

Vincent
June 18, 2007

bloody beautiful

 

Abby
June 18, 2007

I have no less than 3 gnocchi recipes clipped (make that 4 now!) but I'm so intimidated to try it and fail - after ALL that work it be inedible - that I haven't tried a single one.

Sigh.

Daunting.

 

flutter
June 18, 2007

I just drooled. That is SUCH a good sign

 

LeenyDeeny
June 18, 2007

I'm committing to at least three tries. A mere potato shall not get the better of me. I hope others will post their results.

 

Margie
June 18, 2007

Gnocchi are a holiday tradition for my in-laws and I've been fortunate to learn the technique from my grandmother-in-law. It seems that eggless gnocchi or at least "light & delicate" gnocchi are the gold standard for many. But the gnocchi I have come to love are delightfully al dente, dense yet tender, rich with eggs AND butter. I'm wondering if others will admit to this more substantial gnocchi tradition.

 

Steamy Kitchen
June 18, 2007

I don't know why I've been so terrified of making gnocchi....one day last week, I spent 15 minutes working on my bravery and kitchen super-hero powers to try the recipe. So I stomped in the kitchen, fiercly determined to make gnocchi and ....blah....only had 3 potatoes, all of them growing roots. But I did have ricotta, so I forged ahead.

I can't believe I've been so chicken s**t all this time!! It came out amazingly perfect. Will try the potato version after I go to the store.

 

al
June 18, 2007

The best gnoqui that ever eat was my mother's. i bid patato, 1 pint of riccota chesse ,1 egg and butter. So ligth and delicioso

 

Errantk
June 18, 2007

Oooh, this looks delicious. I'd just like to ask - I'm gluten-free, and was wondering if you've any advice regarding using non-wheat flours in this. I guess if the flour's doing a binding rather than a thickening job, non-gluten flours wouldn't really work... Any thoughts?

 

Sara
June 18, 2007

In some parts of Italy (north) we don't use eggs. We add a little more flour. The gnocchi will be more light and will cook quickly. In south Italy sometimes they add some fresh ricotta to the mixture. As always the quantity is up to the woman that makes the recipe :) but - from the pictures - the mixture seems too firm imho.
Great blog, Heidi, thanks for you recipes!

 

Kim H
June 18, 2007

One question-

Why can't you peel the potatoes before you cook them? It would seem a lot easier to me.

 

eat me, delicious
June 19, 2007

yum! i've wanted to make gnocchi for so long - they are one of my favourite things to eat. maybe i'll go pick up some potatoes tomorrow and try it out.

 

wow power leveling
June 19, 2007

That's very nice! and its a good idea to do with fork.I like the idea very much..

 

Maninas: Food Matters
June 19, 2007

lovely!
my mum always makes her own gnochi, too.

 

Maninas: Food Matters
June 19, 2007

Kim, potatoes are very easy to peel after they're boiled. Also, try making potato salad by first boiling whole potatoes, unpeeled. and peeling and slicing them after they're cooked. delicious! it gives them a different flavour. it's very tasty, too!
in croatia, we normally cook them like that, and serve them with sliced red onion and a simple vinaigrette of red wine vinegar and olive oil. It's excellent hot or cold, and the flavour improves with time! try this for a low fat alternative to usual potato salad with mayonnaise. let me know how you like it.

 

adwoa
June 19, 2007

i'm in genova right now! i'm visiting friends, and we're supposed to have a dinner on thursday... perhaps i'll work up my courage enough to try this AND the pesto. i've already made the pesto once before, and it was amazing, so this is the last thing i need to convince people that some americans do, in fact, know how to cook!

 

Mary
June 19, 2007

This is one of my favorite things, but my husband and I have had too many bad batches, so we shelved this one for a while. I think it's time to take it back out and try again. A potato ricer and a gnocchi board definitely make the work easier, but the Italian grandmother, well, I've been threatening to put up an ad on craigslist to find one of those to help me work on this one.

 

Rachael
June 19, 2007

Mmmm... I'd completely given up on homemade gnocchi, actually, after several starchy rubbery messes. I will definitely give this recipe a shot. I recently spent three weeks in Italy and tried gnocchi at least a half dozen times - all of the dishes appeared to be boxed or premade (very disappointing), until I found one restaurant that served the lightest, what-I-now-realize-was eggless pillows topped with an asparagus puree (no cream). It was divine.

I'm sure this recipe works fabulously - but I am wondering if the Italian Grandmother commented on this: doesn't cutting the potatoes in half before boiling introduce more water? I've even heard such tricks as baking the potatoes instead of boiling

Thanks for the great recipes and congrats on all of your successes!

 

Daylynne
June 19, 2007

When I lived in Italy, the best part of eating out at le trattorie was getting to have gnocchi. At our favorite trattoria, the wife of the proprietor made the best gnocchi, and since I've been in America again for over a year, I haven't found a suitable replacement. I am looking forward to trying this recipe so I can feel like I am "home" in our small town again :-)

 

Daylynne
June 19, 2007

When I lived in Italy, the best part of eating out at le trattorie was getting to have gnocchi. At our favorite trattoria, the wife of the proprietor made the best gnocchi, and since I've been in America again for over a year, I haven't found a suitable replacement. I am looking forward to trying this recipe so I can feel like I am "home" in our small town again :-)

 

G
June 19, 2007

Despite my youth, I often play the role of Italian grandmother as I am still being trained. I've made gnocchi many times and I love the variations. Some good spinach gnocchi with a lighter tomato sauce or even pesto or a lemon butter are fabulous.

The egg does tend to make it denser than I love, but we do use ricotta sometimes to lighten it up.

I think this would actually work fine with non-wheat flours. Give it a whirl. They;re really not all that time-consuming.

Buona fortuna!

 

DebS
June 19, 2007

I finally made a gnocchi that worked, in February, using leftover garlic mashed potatoes, and melding 3 - 4 recipes. Pictures click my name; recipe here
https://mywebspace.wisc.edu/dsshapiro/web/recipes/gnocchi.html

 

Carrie
June 19, 2007

David and I are SO excited about the Petaluma book signing. It's the only reason I haven't gotten your book yet (though I've perused through it several times at the bookstore)! See you on the 24th.

 

Jup
June 19, 2007

Oh, how long I've waited for you to post this recipe!

I love gnocchi and now I can finally try making my own with that beautiful pesto recipe you posted a while back! :D

 

Albertomichieli
June 19, 2007

I used holland potato and are best for me when not just pick but few months after.
I ll try the russets now that I am in US.

For sauce I suggest butter and sage or butter and cinnamon and padano or parmigiano

 

Albertomichieli
June 19, 2007

I put also some ground nutmeg in the dough

 

sarah mac
June 19, 2007

thank you, thank you, and THANK YOU again!!! my life is vastly improved with this recipe. you're the best, heidi...

 

Karina
June 19, 2007

I never use potatoes for my gnocchis, only the following:
1 cup of flour
1 cup parmesan cheese
1 pint ricotta cheese
1 egg
salt an peper
Easy to make and they always turn perfect
Thanks for the pesto recipe

 

Alessandro
June 19, 2007

The recipe looks really good. Like many others I have been waiting for it since the pesto recipe.
I would comment though that not cutting the potato before boiling will keep the gnocchi drier and also after ricing I recommend letting the potatoes cool so more steam (moisture can evaporate).
But I will try this recipe this week - maybe the pesto too.

 

Sean
June 19, 2007

For some reason, in my family we don't do the fork-tine thing. We roll the gnocchi off the tips of our fingers to create little indentations, resulting in something more like fat orecchiette. Guess it's an abruzzese thing.

 

Nori
June 19, 2007

I'm not going to try the egg version, since I'm vegan. Do I just omit the egg entirely, to achieve your eggless version?

Thanks, Heidi!

 

Mario
June 19, 2007

You are really brave! Gnocchi are a challenging recipe, even for an italian mum, really. It is not the kind of cooking where you can be sure of the result... Potatoes quality, quantities, even the air humidity can cause a failure, and a gnocchi's failure is kinda a big one :-) But it's nice to see the recipe here, even with the eggs (which we never use)...
A message for all the volenterous who try it... don't be discouraged by a failure, it is not your fault, sometime it happens even to a perfect cook !

 

Amy
June 19, 2007

I agree gnocchi can be very tricky. The first time I made them I pulverized the potatoes making them really sticky and difficult to work with, then I added too much flour. I'll try making them again soon. :)

 

Joy
June 19, 2007

I made the pesto after reading your previous post a couple of months ago, and it was great! I've been waiting for this gnocchi recipe, can't wait to try it.

Will you be doing any more book signings in or closer to San Francisco? (I missed the Berkeley one and Petaluma is a bit far...)

 

Marichan
June 19, 2007

Yum! I made the gnocchi and the pesto...the basil in Naples is absolutely wonderful right now...and oh, Yum! this is better than I get at the restaurants. Next time I am trying it without egg.

Next time I'll sauce it with an uncooked marinara, because the tomatoes are also divine. The sauce just has tomatoes, basil, garlic, and a bit of sea salt. A few shavings of parm over the top and live is very good.

Ciao, Bella!

 

Karen
June 20, 2007

We also roll the gnocchis with just our fingers, but the fork method looks pretty. I think baking the potatoes, then peeling them and using a ricer makes them very light. I used to boil mine and getting the right amount of flour was hard - they were too waterlogged. Baking uses less flour, hence light and tender gnocchis.

 

Tiffany
June 20, 2007

My grandmother made homemade gnocchi with my sisters and I years ago, which involved boiling more potatoes than I could count, sliding them down a cheese grater into a mountain, and putting egg and flour inside of a crater in the top of the mountain before mixing. We all kneaded and then we all rolled them down forks for the indentations. They were beautiful and they tasted amazing.

I'm still begging her for the recipe.

On another note, I tried the pesto recipe with my boyfriend and his little sister last month, and we were all so pleased with how it came out. I've saved it and will definitely use it often!

 

ceresero
June 20, 2007

we make these all the time but with no eggs, they are great and do not last long when we make them, all kids want to take the rest home. If there is any left

 

Alice H
June 20, 2007

Crazy question - could these be made with sweet potatoes?

 

Stephen
June 20, 2007

As always, looks amazing! I love fresh gnocchi. I eat mine with a vodka tomato sauce. Delicious.

 

Sarah
June 20, 2007

WOW! Your pictures are a huge help. I've only made gnocchi once and it wasn't a huge success - it fell in the rubbery category. But knowing what it's supposed to look like really, really helps. And I love the idea of eggless gnocchi. Mmmm.

 

Deborah Dowd
June 21, 2007

I love gnocchi and just reading your description makes me want to tackle the reipe myself! Tossed with pesto and served with a caprese salad a perfect summer meal!

 

Deborah Dowd
June 21, 2007

I love gnocchi and just reading your description makes me want to tackle the recipe myself! Tossed with pesto and served with a caprese salad a perfect summer meal!

 

Sarah
June 21, 2007

I was so proud when I saw you in Glamour this week! I said, "Look, there's my lady!"

 

Mark Ely
June 21, 2007

Heidi,

I can't wait to try the recipe, I just made cavatelli by hand last weekend so I can appreciate the time it takes. I think the longer it takes though, the better they taste.

If anyone is interested in seeing how to make cavatelli in a similar fashion the post is here:
http://www.eatingcleveland.com/?p=232

 

Candace
June 21, 2007

just made it...it was successful and DELICIOUS. I paired it with a creamy red sauce. The only thing different is that I ended up using a lot more flour than the recipe calls for. I'm in Egypt right now, it's terribly humid, and I had a hard time getting the dough to be as billowy as it should have been- it was unusually sticky, most likely due to the weather. Surprisingly it turned out perfect and deliciously light. :)

 

Hadley
June 21, 2007

Wow! Glamour mag! Dang! I can't wait to make these with Emory who LOVES making gnocci and more so, eating them by the platefull. They look so yum!

 

Valkyria
June 24, 2007

In my country we have it so you buy the packet from the supermarket, add water and there you go! we get to the fun part of rolling them on the fork, although we have a special wood thing carved with thinner and narrower lines, and the gnocchi look much better.
But still I miss my grandmother home-made gnocchi and ravioli
Good luck everyone on this!

 

home cook
June 24, 2007

I have some recipes of how to make gnocchi. Every time when i see the new one i have to try. Your way is the classical and very easy to make even for beginners. Cool idea with the fork, thanks.

 

Chad
June 25, 2007

I gave this a whirl this weekend as a practicing home hobbyist with chefing I absolutely found this very easy to make and it came out flawless with the right fork. Took me two forks to try and a little more flour than was recommened. One tip, don't let this sit out too long, it gets goopy and I had to put it int he freezer to harden it up a bit. Guest was late and kind of threw off the timing. I decided to make my own pesto witht his with 2 Cups Basil leaves fresh and 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 cup rich olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Added some butter and itallian cheeses to thicken to my desire and it was truly delightful.

 

Fran
June 25, 2007

I make my own Gnocchi as well. My recipe is 2, 2, 2. 2 Cups flour, 2 eggs and 2 cups of mashed potatoes. They come out perfect every time. My dad makes his without the egg and I dont care for them as well. They seem to be much denser. I will try your recipe next time I make them.

 

Sarah
June 25, 2007

I must try this! I have some friends who LOVE this stuff. I'm daring in the kitchen and willing to spend hours working on something.... perhaps I should have become a cook and not a technician.

I'm starving now! Perhaps I'll post the results on my blog

 

Chad
June 25, 2007

Forgot, I also threw in pine nuts for the pesto.

 

Matty
June 26, 2007

Used this recipe last week and my partner and I were simply delighted.

I had no idea making the gnocchi would be so easy, not mention fun!

They tasted great. To save some time, after our busy work day, we used a (uh oh) jar of sauce, but it still worked out wodnerful.

Thanks so much for the wonderful recipe!

 

rachel
June 26, 2007

I made home-made gnocchi (casalinga) alone for the first time when I was 11 years old. It is important that the potatoes be hot and mashed before working the flour into them...of course, we had real potatoes then..in season...now called slow food. It's ok with pesto but better matched with something heartier like gorganzola or red sauce with lamb riblets...best for winter. Try pumpkin (zucca) gnocchi. Replace potatoes with pumpkin...butter garlic sauce. Now I am hungry...must go to kitchen.
Beautiful photos!!

 

Katie
June 26, 2007

I made these for lunch today and my 18 month old seemed to love them as much as I did. I made half with marinara for him and the other half with brown butter and parmesan for me. Next time I am going to try your pesto. Yummy.