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How to Make Potato Gnocchi

Updated on March 6, 2012
Gnocchi with browned butter and sage.
Gnocchi with browned butter and sage.

Every culture has its dumplings. From the knodeln of Southern Germany to the gnocchi of Italy, from the pierogi of Poland to the wontons of Shanghai, whether filled or sauced, boiled or fried, each one is a pillowy, comforting, and savory delight.

Like so many other starch-based dishes, many forms of dumplings were devised as a way to use up scraps of meat and vegetables that were not sufficient to make a meal by themselves, but could be stretched if made into a sauce or stuffed into a dough. Pasta is a prime example of the practice, as are my favorite little dumplings in the world: potato gnocchi.

If you've never had them before, potato gnocchi are small, bite-sized dumplings made from mashed potatoes, flour, and occasionally egg. (More on that later.) They're treated just like pasta, boiled and then tossed in a flavorful sauce. Most commonly you'll see them in a tomato sauce, a meat sauce, or just dressed in a simple sauce of browned butter, parmesan, and sage.

Gnocchi are comfort food at its finest, and as easy to make as they are humble.

Follow along, and the next time you're at home on a cold winter's day, whip up a batch. You'll be glad you did.

A basket of Russets, ready to be turned into gnocchi.
A basket of Russets, ready to be turned into gnocchi.

What You Will Need

There are four ingredients that go into potato gnocchi, one of which is optional: potatoes, flour, salt, and egg.

The Potato

Your choice of potato will make or break your gnocchi. It's best to choose a starchy potato like the Russet Burbank. It helps if the potato is a little old, since this will make it drier. Avoid Yukons or any other type of waxy potato, because they will not have enough starch to glue the dough together, and your gnocchi will dissolve into little gnocchi flakes when you try to cook them.

The Flour

You can use all-purpose flour here. However, be very careful not to work the dough any more than absolutely necessary. You don't want to develop the gluten in the dough, since that will make your gnocchi chewy, and we want them pillowy soft.

The Egg

This one is entirely optional, and something you should probably strive to avoid using if at all possible, since it can too easily give the gnocchi a rubbery texture. Those who include egg in their gnocchi dough include it as insurance, since it will help to bind the dough. With the right potato, this isn't necessary.

If you don't have the right potato or if this is the first time you've done this and you feel as if you'd like some extra insurance, use an egg. Otherwise, don't bother.


Potatoes, cut and ready to be cooked.
Potatoes, cut and ready to be cooked.
This is a potato cooked just right.  See how the fork slides in but the potato doesn't disintegrate around the tines?  Aim for that.
This is a potato cooked just right. See how the fork slides in but the potato doesn't disintegrate around the tines? Aim for that.
Mashed potatoes.  These are starchy potatoes and mash up fluffy.  That's what you want.
Mashed potatoes. These are starchy potatoes and mash up fluffy. That's what you want.
Dough, just holding.  Don't worry if your mash didn't come out perfectly smooth - small flakes of potato will not be noticeable at all once the dough has rested and the gnocchi are rolled and cooked.
Dough, just holding. Don't worry if your mash didn't come out perfectly smooth - small flakes of potato will not be noticeable at all once the dough has rested and the gnocchi are rolled and cooked.
Gnocchi dough mixed, wrapped, and ready for its nap.
Gnocchi dough mixed, wrapped, and ready for its nap.

The Recipe: Potato Gnocchi with Sage and Browned Butter

Ingredients:

For the gnocchi:

1 lb russet potatoes
6.5 oz all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1 egg (optional), whisked to blend

For the sauce:

4 tbsp salted butter
2-3 tbsp grated parmigiano reggiano
1 tbsp crumbled sage

Instructions:

1. Scrub, peel, and rinse your potatoes.

2. Cut the potatoes into roughly one-inch chunks and put in a pot large enough to hold them with room to spare. (Mine was a little small, but it was what I had on hand.)

3. Fill the pot with cold, lightly salted water. You'll want it to cover the potatoes by one to two inches.

4. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook the potatoes for 15 minutes, or until a fork or a paring knife slips easily into their centers.

5. Dredge the potatoes out, keeping the water for now.

6. Mash the potatoes with a ricer or a potato masher.

7. Add the salt, flour and egg (if you're using it). Mix everything with a wooden spoon until the dough just comes together into a ball.

Don't worry about making sure your dough is perfectly and evenly mixed. The important part here is not to work it so much that it becomes elastic. What you want is for it to just hold together.

If your dough is too dry and won't hold together, add a dribble of the potato cooking water, a tablespoon at a time, until it starts to cooperate.

8. Now - and this is an important step, so don't skip it! - cover the dough in plastic wrap and let it rest for half an hour. This lets the dough fully absorb the water that's in there, which will give you a much softer, more uniform dough to work with.

9. After the dough has rested, lightly flour your work surface. Begin pinching off pieces just large enough to fit into the palm of your hand and rolling them out into ropes. If you've ever made pretzels, you know how to do this. If not, watch the following video for a good demonstration of the general technique. (The relevant portion starts at 1:07.)

10. Cut the rolled dough at roughly one-inch intervals such that you have little "pillows" of dough.

11. You can either leave your gnocchi like this, or you can go for broke and shape them! Shaping them takes time, but it does give you a better result when it comes time to sauce the gnocchi, since shaping them form little grooves that hold the sauce better.

To shape your gnocchi, it's easier to have a wooden gnocchi board, like this one from Amazon - or, if not that one, they're easy enough to find with a quick internet search. Type 'gnocchi board' into your search box and see what comes up. One board is more or less the same as another, with the only difference being wood quality and thickness, so don't worry about the particulars.

However, if you don't have a board, don't worry! You can do the same thing almost as easily with the back of a fork, and I can show you how.

The technique being a little tricky to explain without a visual aid, I decided to whip up a quick and dirty video demonstration. (Pay no mind to the dough-covered hands. They come with the territory.)

Gnocchi ropes, with a few already cut.  You can leave them here, or go ahead and shape them.
Gnocchi ropes, with a few already cut. You can leave them here, or go ahead and shape them.
Gnocchi, all shaped and ready to go!
Gnocchi, all shaped and ready to go!
Gnocchi with browned butter and sage.
Gnocchi with browned butter and sage.
An easy alternative: gnocchi with tomato sauce.
An easy alternative: gnocchi with tomato sauce.

As you can see, you can simply keep the fork on the table, face-down, and roll the gnocchi down the back of the fork with the side of your thumb. You don't want to apply pressure down towards the table, but you do want to push the dough down and along the tines of the fork. Remember: not down, but down and along.

As you begin, the dough will start to flatten out a little. Then - if you get the pressure and angle right - it'll just roll around your finger to form into a ridged, shell-like shape.

If your gnocchi don't come out perfectly shaped, don't worry about that, either. Remember: this is humble home cooking. Mine are neither evenly sized or perfect, and I've made quite a few batches by now. As far as I'm concerned, a little imperfection is part of the charm!

As you work, it helps to lay the gnocchi out on a lightly floured or parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. If you're not cooking them immediately, keep them covered with a clean kitchen towel.

12. To cook the gnocchi, bring a shallow, wide pot or deep skillet (woks work wonderfully) of lightly salted water to a boil. While you're waiting, melt the butter in a small pot or skillet over medium heat until it begins to brown and give off a nutty aroma. Remove the pot from the heat and sprinkle in the crumbled sage. Swirl to combine, pour into your serving bowl of choice, and set aside.

Working in three or four batches, slide the gnocchi into the boiling water and cook them until they begin to float to the surface. With a slotted spoon or long-handled sieve, remove the gnocchi as they rise to the top and transfer them to the serving bowl.

Once all of the gnocchi are cooked, add the parmesan and, using a wooden spoon, mix them gently until the sauce is evenly distributed and the cheese is melted.

Serve, and enjoy!

Serves 4-6 as a main or 6-8 as an appetizer.

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    • azahorik profile image
      Author

      azahorik 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Glad I won a convert! Trust me, they're easy as long as you use the right potatoes. And if you're a little uncertain, just add an egg to keep them together. Many commercial varieties actually do that, which is why they're a little chewier than homemade sans egg.

    • Emma Harvey profile image

      Emma Harvey 5 years ago from Berkshire, UK

      Hi azahorik, I love gnocchi but am ashamed to say I've always just bought it in a packet!

      My future husband has Italian blood and loves his Italian food. Now I know how simple it is I will cook this recipe for him.

    • azahorik profile image
      Author

      azahorik 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Thanks for the kind words! I find that a lot of people are absolutely capable of making these things, but are intimidated because the process seems a mystery. I tried hard to remove the mystery and make everything nice and clear. I'm glad that I seem to have succeeded. :)

    • jdpowerman profile image

      jdpowerman 5 years ago

      A truly excellent hub. You make a complicated dish seem easy with your excellent directions.

    • azahorik profile image
      Author

      azahorik 5 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      Really? Would you believe I've never even heard of doing it that way? Not that I'm doubting you, I've just totally drawn a blank on it. :D I guess our teachers all have their own ways.

      Thanks for commenting. :)

    • I Am Rosa profile image

      Rosa Marchisella 5 years ago from Canada

      Cool hub :-) We never used a fork to roll gnocchi or pasta. just thumbs. Interesting to see another technique :-)