With the abrupt change in weather and frigid winds blowing heaps of snow around outside, there couldn’t be a more appropriate time to hole up indoors and make a batch of gnocchi (pronounced nyoh-kee). These fluffy pasta dumplings are of Tuscan Italian origin. The first written reference to the pastas, whose literal meaning is “lumps,” dates back to the 14th century; they were, as per Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking, made with breadcrumbs and flour before the arrival of the potato in Italy. Ingredient variations can differ greatly: ricotta, spinach, and pumpkin all make a fine base for gnocchi. The following recipe uses potatoes.
The components are simple and affordable: potatoes, flour, egg yolks, and salt. Unlike other pasta recipes, gnocchi require very little in the kitchen tool department — though a potato ricer is a useful aid. Allot two hours for preparation (including baking time for the potatoes), and by all means, remember patience — the end result will be worth the time. These pillows of pasta pair nicely with a classic pesto, rich tomato sauce, or freshly grated parmesan and butter. Or, simply saute them in a splash of olive oil until they’re a light golden brown and then add a pat of butter.
A few tips to consider:
- Use Idaho or Russet potatoes. (They are drier and you don’t want much moisture in your dough.) Old potatoes are traditionally preferred over newer potatoes, for their lower water and higher starch content.
- Be careful of over kneading dough.
- Don’t let gnocchi sit too long before cooking. (Freeze immediately after cutting if you plan to use later.)
- Boil water rapidly before dropping them in.
2 lbs potatoes
1 ¼ c all-purpose flour
3 egg yolks
1 tbsp salt
- Bake potatoes at 350ºF for one hour (add 15 minutes if large).
- Remove, split, and spoon out flesh.
- Press through potato ricer, or press the bottom of a fork into the potatoes to break them apart. The goal is a fluffy heap of potatoes.
- Make a small hole in the center. Add ½ cup flour, followed by egg yolks.
- Add another ½ cup flour and salt.
- Cut up and mix using a dough scraper or a rubber spatula (again, not overworking the dough). Add flour as needed to prevent stickiness.
- Mound dough into ball.
- Pull off a section. Roll out onto lightly floured space, making a long rope, until dough is ½- to 1-inch thick.
- Using a sharp knife, cut ½-inch pieces off dough rope and set aside (dip the knife in flour as needed and cut with confidence – edges of gnocchi should be clean). Continue until you’ve used all of the dough.
- Roll pieces into small balls. Using your thumb, press them lightly into a fork, creating little rows of small indentations. (If you’re feeling lazy, please note that I found this didn’t seem necessary — perhaps it’s more for appearances. You can also just use chopped gnocchi.)
- If you aren’t going to consume your gnocchi immediately, line baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly flour. Position gnocchi in rows and freeze. Once they’ve solidified in freezer, place in airtight bag. They will keep for several weeks in the freezer. When you plan to use, simply follow the next step.
- Boil a large pot of lightly salted water. Drop gnocchi in, in groups of 25 at a time.
- Once they float, they’re done. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in large bowl of ice water. Let them cool for a few minutes, remove from water, and dry on kitchen towel.