Get To Know Gnocchi
Cooking is easier than pronunciation
I wonder how many people avoid ordering gnocchi because they don’t know how to pronounce the word. Those of us with English as our first language are at a definite disadvantage when it comes to the “gn” and the “chi” sounds, so two of them in a 7 letter word is almost a recipe for failure.
My ex-mother-in-law had this silly idea that she could teach me Italian and with an outdated beginner Italian textbook (pennies on the dollar!) from the university bookstore she walked me through some of the basics. Apparently I did rather well with most of the sounds despite the fact that I can’t roll my Rs to save my life. But my knowledge of Italian never progressed beyond food words and knowing when my in-laws were talking about me.
Making gnocchi is actually easier than learning how to pronounce it. You can make them at home and never have to stumble over it with the fear that the wait staff (or mother-in-law) are judging you. It’s far easier than you think.
Gnocchi belong to a family of dishes that spread far and wide over Europe and Asia. They are less a pasta than a dumpling, but easily fill the same space in cuisine: a starchy thing that can absorb whatever little bits of stuff you have around. Some are stuffed with leftovers and others are blended in with the dough but there’s a reason so many cultures have something like this: they are easy and they are delicious.
But packaged products make this sort of cooking easy to outsource to the grocery industrial complex and most of us do so most of the time. But if you’ve got some flour and a potato or two to use up you can do it yourself. You don’t need a ratio, just a sense of what you’re looking for in your dough.
There are some recipes that add eggs and if you’re inclined to do so you can, but I generally don’t find it necessary. Sweet potatoes have plenty of moisture and binding stickiness, and even your standard baked russet potato can hold a decent amount of flour. As mentioned above, there is no exact ratio I would suggest for potato to flour because the moisture content can vary a great deal. What you’re trying to create is a soft dough that comes together without too much mess
It’s easy though. Watch this.
Knife or pastry scraper
Potato masher (or just use your fork)
Baking potatoes or sweet potatoes (about 1 per person)
All purpose flour
Preheat your oven to 400F/200C.
Prick your potatoes all over with your fork.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until soft.
Split potatoes and allow to cool until you can scoop/peel them safely.
Mash thoroughly, removing as many lumps as possible.
Sprinkle with a couple of pinches of salt.
Add flour (about 1/2 to start) and gently knead until you have a smooth soft dough. If it’s still sticking to your hands you will need more flour. I used about 3 cups total, but at this point it was still a mess.
This is about right. Soft but springs back when poked.
Let dough rest, then cut into 4 portions and gently roll into long strips. Add additional flour to work surface to prevent sticking.
Cut strips into 1-2 finger-width portions with knife or pastry scraper.
Roll down the back of fork using gentle pressure, or leave as is. A bit of texture gives your sauce more surface area to grip, but it’s not necessary.
Bring large pot of water to a boil. Add salt (as you would for pasta) and add gnocchi about a dozen at a time.
Boil until they float, then remove with slotted spoon to clean tray. Repeat with rest of gnocchi.
Now, you can snack on these as is, but they are a little bland. I heated a decent amount of butter, added some fresh sage leaves and a scratch of nutmeg, and got them a little browned and crispy. Cheese helps too.
You can use your favourite pasta sauce and have a great side or a simple meal. Freeze them on a tray (not in a lump!) and bag in portions for a quick and cozy dinner a week or a month from now. Revive briefly in boiling water and sauce as you prefer.
If a few turn out a bit too big, a bit too small, or kind of odd-looking they are completely fine. There’s even a type of gnocchi know as malfatti, which translates as “badly made”, the existence of which alone should make you feel better about your beginner skills.
They are pronounced NYOHK-kee, by the way, or at least that’s how I learned it. And even if you don’t get it quite right, technique or pronunciation, no worries - I assure you that no one is judging you when you make them something delicious.