Gnocchi in general are much easier to make than most people think. Although I generally prefer to make Ricotta Gnocchi simply because they are simpler to prepare as the ingredients do not require pre-cooking, there are times when I crave a nice bowl full of potato gnocchi topped with a rich meaty sauce as in the photo. This is my basic potato gnocchi that can be topped with almost any sauce you prefer from a meaty ragu, to a fresh tomato sauce, or even a tasty cream sauce with Gorgonzola cheese. A good potato gnocchi should be soft, but not mushy, and never, ever chewy. I feel the trick to making good gnocchi is to not over knead the dough, and to use only as much flour as is needed to create a soft, workable dough. Try to knead your gnocchi dough only as long as it takes for the ingredients to come together into a smooth dough. The longer you knead, the more flour you will use, which will result in a heavier gnocchi. I also feel that by using the potatoes while they are still a little warm allows you to use a little less flour which also results in a nice light gnocchi.
It is a good idea if you are new to gnocchi making to test your gnocchi before you prepare the whole batch. Drop a couple of gnocchi into boiling water and remove as soon as they come to the surface. If they fall apart, knead in a little more flour. If they hold up well, continue cutting the rest of your gnocchi. Once you have your gnocchi cut, place them on a lightly floured baking tray and refrigerate immediately until you are ready to cook them as gnocchi generally do not hold up well at room temperature. I would not keep any gnocchi in the refrigerator longer than a few hours. You can precook gnocchi made with potatoes by quickly blanching them, and then reheat the gnocchi by dropping back into boiling water. Generally gnocchi don’t freeze well unless they have a good deal of flour added. Since you can prepare them so quickly, it is easier to make them fresh each time.
When it comes to cutting and shaping your gnocchi, you can create as small (usually called gnocchetti) or as large a gnocchi as you like. If I am using a more delicate cream sauce, I tend to cut my gnocchi smaller, but with a heavy ragu sauce as shown in the photo I tend to leave my gnocchi fairly large. Some folks like to roll their gnocchi over a fork to create ridges which are said to hold the sauce better, but I find by simply creating an indentation with my thumb works just as well although as a general rule I simply cut the gnocchi to the size I want and leave them round.
To cook gnocchi, always use a large pot of boiling, salted water, and remove them as soon as they float to the surface. If you overcook gnocchi they will turn to mush. I find that baking my potatoes instead of boiling them also adds a lot of flavor to the gnocchi and keeps them dry which reduces the amount of flour needed. I also use a fine mesh potato ricer which creates a more delicate textured gnocchi.
I have read that using tipo “00” flour or cake flour creates a lighter gnocchi, but I really do not find a big difference myself. I also had an Italian friend tell me to squeeze the cooked potatoes between my fingers rather than use a ricer which creates a lighter gnocchi but this is one trick I’ve yet to try. You may notice my potatoes look very yellow in the photos, but the potatoes we have here in Umbria are much more yellow in color similar to Yukon Gold potatoes back in North America. Choose a nice baking potato for the best results.
Place your potatoes on a baking tray and bake in a 375 degree F. oven until they are fork tender.
Slice the potatoes in half, and once cool enough to handle use a spoon to scoop out the interior of the potatoes.
Use a potato ricer and push all of the potatoes through.
Place your riced potatoes in a bowl and add 1 teaspoon of salt and two egg yolks.
Add about 3/4 of the flour to the bowl and stir briefly with the spoon to mix.
Dump the dough mixture onto a floured surface and knead with your hands, adding the rest of the flour as needed until you have a smooth dough. Knead as briefly as you can to create your dough being careful not to over-work the dough which makes it tough.
Break off a fist full of dough and with your fingers roll the dough into a tube. Depending on how thick your tube is will determine how large your gnocchi turn out.
Use a sharp knife to cut your gnocchi to the size you desire. Generally as a rule, I cut them them the same size as they are thick. If I roll my tube one inch thick, I will then cut the gnocchi in one inch pieces.
Although once cut, the gnocchi are fine just the way they are, you can roll your thumb over them to create an indentation which will help them hold the sauce.
Some folks like to roll the gnocchi over the back of a fork applying just a little pressure which will create groves along the gnocchi to help it grasp the sauce also. Once your gnocchi are cut, place them on a lightly floured baking sheet and refrigerate until you are ready to cook them. To cook the gnocchi drop them into a large pot of lightly salted water and as soon as most of them rise to the top (a few minutes) they are cooked and ready to sauce.
A plate of perfect potato gnocchi topped with a meaty Umbrian sauce.
Deborah Mele 2011