If you’re the kind of person that is always tempted by house made gnocchi at restaurants, it might surprise you to know that it’s really not hard to make at home. It requires just two ingredients, a good potato masher and can be done in under half an hour for a two person serve.
Once you’ve had home made, fresh gnocchi – I promise you’ll never go back to the packet stuff. It’s pillowy soft potatoey goodness and nowhere as tricky as all the write ups would have you believe. Start with small quantities, so you get a feel for it – it’s very therapeutic really. It gets trickier as you make bigger quantities which is why gnocchi quality can vary widely at restaurants.
There are a so many questions that are up for debate with gnocchi – what potatoes to use, whether to boil or roast them, whether to use egg or not, how much flour to use,… but with some sound research, I’ll help you get to the bottom of these – with the help of Australia’s pre-eminent consult on such matters, Stephanie Alexander (or her book, anyway); one of Australia’s most famous nonnas, Mietta O’Donnell and Marcella Hazan, the godmother of Italian cooking.
For a start, a lot of the potato varieties specified are not readily available in Australia – Yukon Gold anyone? The debate is really between using waxy or floury potatoes, although with the introduction of newer all-purpose variety spuds it starts to get difficult to say which is which, and consequently, which potatoes to use for gnocchi. The choice of potato is critical, says Marcella Hazan, who recommends Desiree potatoes for making gnocchi. Stephanie Alexander concurs, recommending Desiree, Nicola or Toolangi Delight. Avoid using white potatoes, and if you can, use old potatoes (new potatoes hold too much moisture).
Although a lot of newer recipes recommend roasting the potatoes to reduce the moisture, Stephanie, Mietta and Marcella agree that they should be boiled – skins on, in a large pot of water. Avoid testing them too often as piercing them can cause them to become waterlogged. Choose similarly sized potatoes so that they cook at the same rate, and don’t require too much testing. The potatoes must also be mashed, or better still, put through a ricer while still hot.
The egg question is an easy one. The nonnas are all in agreeance – eggs are a no-no in potato gnocchi. Some people *ahem, Tobie Puttock* do use eggs because they make the dough easier to handle, but this ‘Paris style’ method results in a tougher, more rubbery product says Marcella Hazan.
How much flour to use? Between 250-320g per kg of potato, but erring on less flour where possible. The less flour used, the lighter the gnocchi will be. With all that in mind, hope you’re ready to make your first batch of gnocchi!
A couple of other tips – the sauce must be ready before you start cooking the gnocchi. Gnocchi must be made by hand – there are no shortcuts; do not use the food processor for this or you’ll end up with gluey dough. Lastly, pay attention to the second last step where Marcella details how to cook the gnocchi and test for doneness – I think this is where most people think the hard part is over and cook them until they float.
from The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan
115g plain flour
continental flour (for dusting, optional)
- Put the potatoes, skin on in a large pot of water and bring to the boil. Cook until tender – avoid testing too often as puncturing them makes them waterlogged.
- When they are done, drain and mash (or run through a potato ricer) while still hot. If you are using a ricer, you don’t even have to remove the skins.
- Add most of the flour to the potatoes and knead just until it forms a smooth mixture – do not overwork the dough. Some potatoes absorb less flour than others, so it’s best not to add all the flour until you know exactly how much they will take. Stop adding flour when the mixture has become soft and smooth, but is still slightly sticky.
- Dust the work surface lightly with flour. Break off a portion of dough and roll into a long thing sausage shape about 2.5cm thick. Slice the rolls into 2cm lengths.
- Holding a fork in one hand (or a gnocchi board if you have one) press each cushion of dough into the fork to make ridge on one side and a finger indent in the other. When gnocchi are shaped in this manner, the middle section is thinner and more tender in cooking, while the ridges become grooves for the sauce to cling to.
- To cook the gnocchi, bring a big pot of water to the boil, and salt it. When boiling, drop in just two or three gnocchi – ten seconds after they have floated to the surface, drain them and taste. If they are too floury, add 2-3 seconds to the cooking time and if they are too sloppy/disintegrated/almost dissolved, subtract 2-3 seconds from the cooking time.
- Cook 2-3 dozen gnocchi at a time, drain and set aside in a 100C oven- either in a platter with a sliver of warmed butter, or with a bit of sauce you are planning to serve it in.