We experience many amazing gnocchi dishes on our Italian cycling tours and so recently we decided to venture into the world of gnocchi making as part of our virtual Italian experiences enjoyed with tour guests. One of the first things you realise when you decide to make gnocchi is just how variable the recipes are. You come to understand very quickly that making potato gnocchi is really about a sense of feel, rather than accurate measures of ingredients. So to reach the point where your gnocchi are the soft, fluffy, melt in your mouth pillows that you desire, there’s usually some ‘trial runs’ required and a little ‘magic’.
Growing up, Nancy’s Sunday family lunch often included gnocchi, made with her Neapolitan mum and nonna. Looking back now, Nancy realises just how simple it all seemed as mum and nonna effortlessly made the gnocchi dough, and the siblings each assumed their jobs of rolling, cutting, and running the gnocchi over the back of the fork. They always turned out so consistently delicious, but it’s only now as we carry on family traditions, that we realise there was definitely some ‘mamma magic’ that went into making gnocchi for the family.
Given there really is no foolproof recipe for a dish that seems so simple, to ensure your gnocchi are consistently good, there are a few decisions you need to make upfront about the recipe and method you wish to follow. These include:
1. Potatoes. Which potatoes to use? They say not too waxy, not too starchy…but what does that mean?
2. Egg. Will you make your potato gnocchi with or without egg? Egg helps the mixture to stay together and it is contentious across various regions of Italy as to whether it’s required or not, but if you choose to use egg, how much do you need?
3. Potato to Flour Ratio. Will you follow a recipe that has a 10:1, 5:1, 3:1 or 1:1 ratio of potato to flour….because these are all the variations you will come across when you embark on your search for the ultimate gnocchi recipe, so you do need to decide?
4. Boil or bake? Keeping the potatoes as dry as possible is the main goal and there are so many variations of boiling and baking that can, so what’s best for you?
As we embarked on our journey, we decided to consult our in-family expert, Nancy’s brother who makes gnocchi regularly for our family dinners. Mario’s gnocchi are consistently delicious soft pillows, so clearly he picked up some tips from mum and nonna whilst growing up. Thanks to his recipe and tips, together with Damian’s talent and ‘feel’ for cooking, we think we have a pretty good combination going.
Our recipe is simple; it works on an approximate 3:1 ratio of potato to flour, includes one egg for each 1.5kg of potatoes, and serves 5-6 people; perfect for a family or small dinner party.
1.5kg of Desiree Potatoes
500g 00 Flour
1. Turn oven on to 50 degrees
2. Cover the potatoes with salted water and boil until you can insert a knife easily into the middle, approx. 30-40mins
3. Once the potatoes are cooked, remove from the water and place on a tray in the oven, with a wooden spoon keeping the door ajar
4. After 10 minutes, turn the potatoes over and place back in the oven for another 10 minutes
5. Remove from the oven and begin removing the skins as soon as is possible without burning yourself
6. Beat 1 egg in a small bowl
7. Measure your flour into a separate bowl
8. Rice your potato onto a lightly floured bench
9. The next bit is about feel….. you may not need to use all of the flour and egg
10. Add one handful of flour and mix a little, add some of the egg and then mix further
11. The mixture will become more wet and softer as you blend it
12. Keep adding flour and egg in small amounts until it is no longer sticky
13. You do not want to over mix, as this will develop the gluten in your flour and make your gnocchi hard and chewy
14. Once your ball of mixture is complete, cut off a small section and roll into a long sausage that is 2cm thick
15. Cut this to the desired length for gnocchi, usually around 1cm
16. Roll along the gnocchi board or the tines of a fork
17. You can test one in salted boiling water to see if it holds together
18. If you are happy with the result, keep rolling out the mixture and making the little pillows, allowing them to rest lightly dusted with flour
19. Once finished, they can rest on their floured surface under a tea towel for a couple of hours, or be cooked straight away
20. Use a large pot, so that the gnocchi are not crowded (they like to have a little space when they are in the hot tub)
21. Once they rise to the surface of the water, scoop them out and pop them into the waiting sauce.
So, where is the magic? It’s in the small tips used throughout the method that come with feel….
It’s what is not said in the recipe that makes you realise that when you are making gnocchi, there are many things that can contribute to how the gnocchi eventually turn out, even if you follow the ingredients list and the method.
Here we list our top 7 tips that don’t generally appear in recipes that we know make consistent soft pillows of goodness, whichever recipe you follow, and whichever sauce you choose.
1. Uniform size potatoes
The potatoes are critical to the success of your gnocchi. Use desiree potatoes that are smaller in size and are all of an even size. This is to ensure an even and quicker cooking time in the boiling water. The less time in the water, the less water absorption…which is the ultimate goal.
Resist the urge to keep testing whether the potatoes are cooked. The more times you pierce the potato skin, the more chance the skin will come away from the potato, and the more water will be absorbed into the potato. Be patient; for medium sized potatoes, it does take about 30-40mins.
3. Hot potato. Hot potato
Make sure you’re always working with hot potatoes because if you allow them to cool before you mash them and work them into the mixture, you’ll most likely end up with chewy gnocchi.
4. The Flour Balance
The less flour you use, the softer the gnocchi, but you do need the flour to hold it together and also make it gnocchi, rather than a potato croquette. While our rule of thumb is a ratio of 3:1 potato to flour, how much flour you actually use will depend on how much moisture is left in the potato and how large your egg is.
As an example for two of us, we’ll often use 600grams of potato and 200 grams of flour, of which we actually only use approx. 110grams of flour in our mixture before we decide that it is no longer sticky, and another 70- 80grams to assist in rolling the mixture out on the bench into the long sausage shapes. For these amounts, we will also generally use 2/3 of one 600g egg.
5. The soft and the beautiful
Don’t be concerned if the pre-cooked gnocchi are a little soft and don’t hold the ridges from the fork. The aim is to have little soft potato clouds, and if you add more flour to make the ridges more defined, you run the risk of your gnocchi being harder because of the increased flour. So even a small dent will help absorb the sauce.
6. Space in the pot
It is better to cook the gnocchi in multiple batches and allow them enough space in the pot, combining them afterwards in the sauce. A crowded pot seems to really affect how they cook. Our rule of thumb is for a large pot, only ever have 20 or so gnocchi in your pot at once. If this means you need to do them in batches, you can either spoon into the sauce and progressively serve each plate of gnocchi or you can drop them all into iced water as you take them out of the pot, and before you place them in the sauce. This stops them from cooking further and works really well if you prefer to combine through the sauce all at once.
7. Our favourite sauces
Gnocchi can be accompanied by so many delicious sauces. From the north of Italy to the south, you’ll come across so many different sauces relevant to the region and season. Our favourites include Gorgonzola, Alla Sorrentina, Basil Pesto, Rabbit and Pea, Slow cooked Beef Ragu, and of course when in season, delicious Truffle from Toscana or Piemonte. Whichever sauce you choose, enjoy!
All this talk of gnocchi, is now making us hungry.
It’s time to cook some more.
If you enjoy cooking and cycling holidays in Italy, then be sure to check out our individual tour pages because on each tour, you can enjoy both activities.