Another of the staples of our childhood was freshly made pasta. At the top of that list was Gnocchi (nee-oh'-kee). Gnocchi are essentially small, potato dumplings made from a minimum of ingredients. The key to a making soft, fluffy Gnocchi is to add just enough flour to the mixture and don't overwork it.
We use Russet potatoes because they're dry and fluffy, just like we want our Gnocchi. To make the lightest and fluffiest version, a potato ricer is best. If you don't have a potato ricer (you don't have a potato ricer?!?), you can mash them with a potato masher or fork, but expect a denser result.
If you want the classic look, press the cut Gnocchi pieces against the tines of a fork, starting at the top, and roll them down to the bottom of the fork. It's not a required step, but it will impress your friends and family!
In Italy, pastas, including Gnocchi, are served after appetizers as the first course, especially when followed by a meat course. You can serve them as a main course, and you can serve them with a variety of rich, hearty sauces; standard "gravy", creamy gorgonzola, pesto, Alfredo, or vodka sauce, among others.
- 4 pounds russet potatoes
- 1 cup all purpose flour (or "00" Italian flour)
- 4 egg yolks (optional)
NOTE: Before you get started, it's worth noting that gnocchi-making is an inexact activity. There are variations in potato moisture and starch levels, even if you use the same type of potatoes consistently. To make consistently light, fluffy gnocchi, you need to develop a certain feel for how to adjust the flour to the characteristics of your potatoes. For an in-depth discussion of how to make gnocchi, here's an excellent post from Lucky Serious Eats.
Bake the potatoes, whole and uncovered/unwrapped, until they are cooked all the way through, dry and fluffy.
For the best gnocchi, you need to handle the potatoes right away, keeping them as hot as possible. Scoop the flesh into the ricer, food mill and press them through onto a clean, dry work surface. If you don't have a ricer or food mill, you can use a fork to mash the potatoes, but work them as little as possible.
If you are using egg yolk, drizzle it all over the potatoes in a thin stream.
Take about two-thirds of the flour and sift it all over the top of the potatoes. You can use a fine mesh strainer to sift the flour.
Cut the mixture with a pastry fork or pasty cutter. Chop the mixture until there is a fairly uniform crumble.
Using a scraper, gather up the bits of the mixture and collect it into a mass. Pat it all together into a loose ball, then fold it over and press to make a flat area.
Sift most of the remaining flour onto the flat surface, then gently fold and press the dough, stretching it as you would when kneading bread, until all of the flour is incorporated. Don't overwork the dough so as not to develop the gluten in the flour, which will result in dense, chewy pasta.
Pat it into a log, dust it with flour, and let it rest for a few minutes. Meanwhile, scrape your work surface clean.
Slice about an inch wide piece of dough from the slab, dust it lightly with flour, and gently roll it into a small, long strand to about 1/2 inch diameter.
Using the scraper, cut them strand into small dumplings about the width of a dinner fork. If you want to create the ridges, roll them along your fork, pressing down lightly to create the ridges.
Drop the gnocchi into a pot of boiling water, then give them a gentle stir. They'll float when they're done cooking, in about 2-3 minutes. Gently scoop them out with a strainer or slotted spoon, dump them into your sauce of choice, and a a little of the pasta water to the mixture.
Gently stir to combine the gnocchi and the liquids, and serve.