One of the dishes many of us grew up on is spaghetti. Actually, pasta is an amazing thing. Whether you use it cold in a salad or hot with your favorite pasta sauce, it’s one of those go-to dishes that nearly everyone, in nearly every culture, enjoys. If pasta is everyone’s favorite uncle, gnocchi is the misunderstood relative that few invite to the family party.
Halfway between traditional pasta and a dumpling, gnocchi [nyoh-kee] is soft dough, usually made from either semolina or ordinary wheat flour and bound with egg. Additional ingredients in some recipes call for cheese, potato, mushrooms, breadcrumbs, various other vegetables, herbs and spices. All of these ingredients give gnocchi a bit more versatility in flavor choices than most pastas have. However, gnocchi’s shape, unlike pasta, is rather standard. Typically, it’s an elliptical, finger-diameter nugget about ¾” to 1” in length. And like pasta, it is simply simmered in boiling salted water until tender.
In Italy, gnocchi is most typically served as a starter course and tossed with anything from browned butter with sage, basil pesto with diced tomato and roasted garlic to sautéed local mushrooms with baby spinach or any number of pasta sauces. One of my very favorites is Nino’s own Salvaggio’s Garden Vegetable Pasta Sauce.
Quite often, the dish is finished with grated or shaved hard cheese and a turn or two of freshly ground black pepper. Unlike traditional pasta, which is a clay-like dough and generally requires a machine to sheet out and cut into shapes, gnocchi dough is more tender and easier to make at home, even without a mixer.
If scratch cooking isn’t your thing, fear not. Nino’s just happens to carry a couple of brands of very good gnocchi, which you can purchase and easily use in any recipe. Speaking of recipes, let me share with you a simple recipe for making potato gnocchi. As I do, I’ll share a couple of key instructions, so you’ll have success right out of the gate. Like all recipes of a few ingredients, technique is the key. Here are a few helpful pointers:
- Use russet potatoes ONLY. That would be your basic Idaho potato or Michigan russets. If it says Idaho or russet on the bag or sign, you’re good to go.
- Cook your potatoes with the SKIN ON until they are tender. Then, peel while hot and mash WELL. The reason you cook with the peel on is so that your potatoes don’t become waterlogged and then make your gnocchi dough gummy. It’s important.
- All-purpose flour is just fine for this recipe, even better than bread flour, believe it or not.
- I recommend you save your potato cooking water for simmering your gnocchi in afterwards. You’ll taste the potato flavor even more.
All potato gnocchi recipes are pretty much the same. Actually, they have to be. Otherwise, you don’t get gnocchi.
Makes enough gnocchi for about 6 to 8 persons as a 1st course.
3 Lbs. Whole Russet Potatoes, Skin ON
2 Cups All-Purpose Flour
1 Extra-Large Egg
1 pinch Salt (Kosher or Sea Salt Preferred)
As Needed Canola or Vegetable Oil (about ½ Cup)
- Boil the whole potatoes until they are soft (about 45 minutes).
- While still warm, peel and mash the potatoes well or pass through vegetable mill.
- Place the mashed potatoes on a flat, clean working surface. (Save the cooking water)
- Put the potato water back on the burner and bring to a simmer (add additional water if necessary). Also, have ready a bowl of ice water to chill the gnocchi as they are cooked.
- Make a well in the center of the warm mashed potatoes and evenly sprinkle with ALL of the flour.
- Place egg and salt in the center of that well, and using a fork, stir into the flour and potatoes surrounding it. Once egg is mixed in, bring the dough together, kneading gently another few minutes or until ball is somewhat dry to the touch.
- Roll a fist-sized ball of dough into a broomstick-diameter rope about ¾” in diameter and about 18” or so long. Cut into ¾” to 1” long pieces. Drop these pieces into boiling water and cook until they float (about 1 minute). As gnocchi float to top of boiling water, remove them to ice water bath. Continue until all have been cooled off. Let sit several minutes in bath and drain from ice and water.
- Toss with ½ cup of canola oil and store covered in refrigerator up to 48 hours, until ready to serve.
Okay, now you have gnocchi. What next? Why not try one of these delicious Nino’s recipes!
Sautéed Shrimp & Scallops with Potato Gnocchi
Potato Gnocchi Pasta Salad with Mushrooms, Asparagus, Colorful Bell Peppers and Pesto
Spinach & Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi with Vodka Sauce