How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother

How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother

This gnocchi recipe was taught to me when a friend came to visit from Genoa, Italy. Her mother came with her, and one night, alongside a small mountain of beautiful, fragrant basil, she taught us her homemade gnocchi recipe. I posted about the pesto we made to go with it in a separate post, and as promised the gnocchi as a followup. You ready!?

How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother

Gnocchi takes Patience

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 persistence. 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.
How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother

The Simplest Ingredients

The platter of petite, potato pillows coated with glistening flecks of basil pesto that Francesca's mother made us that night 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'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, a bit of egg it is.
How to Make Gnocchi like an Italian Grandmother

This Gnocchi Recipe: The Details

In the version here, I incorporate just enough egg to act as a bit of a binder for the gnocchi. 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. You can see them pictured at the top of this post, tossed with this favorite pesto.

If you are committed to trying the eggless version, try this version first. After that, perhaps 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.

So, here it is - the long awaited gnocchi recipe. Give it a go, and let me know what you think. If you know how to make pesto, this is the time to do it! A simple toss is perfect. And if you haven't tried making your own homemade pasta, that can be next on your list!

Gnocchi Recipe

3.53 from 110 votes

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.

Ingredients
  • 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
Instructions
Prepare the Potatoes
  1. 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.

  2. 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. Save the potato water. 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 noticeable lumps.

  3. 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.

Make the Gnocchi
  1. When you're 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. 

  2. 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.

  3. To shape the gnocchi hold a fork in one hand (see photo) and place a gnocchi pillow against the tines of the fork (or gnocchi board), cut ends out. With confidence and an assertive (but very 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.

Boil the Gnocchi and Serve
  1. Now that you're 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
6
Prep Time
1 hr
Cook Time
10 mins
Total Time
1 hr 10 mins
 
If you make this recipe, I'd love to see it - tag it #101cookbooks on Instagram!

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Comments

  • 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.

    Alessandro
  • 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!

    Rachael
  • 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.

    Mary
  • 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

    Karina
  • 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.

    Maninas: Food Matters
  • lovely! my mum always makes her own gnochi, too.

    Maninas: Food Matters
  • 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.

    eat me, delicious
  • 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!

    G
  • 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!

    Sara
  • 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?

    Errantk
  • 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
  • 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
  • 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.

    Steamy Kitchen
  • 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!

    adwoa
  • I just drooled. That is SUCH a good sign.

    flutter
  • 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.

    Margie
  • 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.

    LeenyDeeny
  • 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.

    Abby
  • bloody beautiful

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

    Rachel
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