Gnocchi — pronounced “nyo-key” — is an Italian dumpling usually made with potatoes and tossed in a pasta sauce. It is served traditionally as an appetizer alternative to pasta or salad (or pasta salad, for that matter). You can buy gnocchi premade (cooking directions: boil) or you can make it the old-fashioned way: by rolling up your sleeves and applying a little time, sweat and culinary know-how. Wait — you do have gnocchi know-how, don’t you? If not, relax: My Rouses Everyday is here to help.
“It’s not hard to make gnocchi,” says Marc Ardoin, the corporate chef of Rouses Markets. The first step, he says, is to bake — not boil — the potatoes that you are going to use. Baking your potatoes in an oven helps get rid of a lot of the excess moisture, and will lead to a lighter, fluffier dish. Once the potatoes are finished baking, slice those brown beauties in half and scoop the potato flesh from the peels. Run your yield through a ricer or food mill.
Here is where you need to bring you’re A game, though, because the next step involves good judgment. In order to turn your potatoes into a dough, you will need to mix them with flour (and season them with a little salt and pepper). In general, it will take around one cup of flour for every three potatoes you use, though the amount of flour will vary depending on the amount of moisture in the potatoes and the humidity in the air.
“After that first cup of flour, you might need to add more, though carefully. It is more about feel than it is a set amount,” says Ardoin. Add the extra flour as you are working the dough. “You don’t want your dough to be very wet, but you also don’t want it to be very dry.” The goal is to have it just wet enough to handle without sticking to a cutting board or your hands, but not so dry that it begins to crack. Once you hit that sweet spot, you are set.
Form a big ball of dough and cut it into smaller pieces. Now use your hands to roll each of the pieces lengthwise and continue working the dough outward until it gets long and skinny, like a Play-Doh snake. You can even name it — something like Nagini or Sammy or Sir Hiss, for example. Next, take a lightly floured knife or dough scraper and cut Sir Hiss into smaller “pillows.” (Your snake will now look like the “Join, or Die” flag from the American Revolution.) Though the ideal size of each piece is a matter of personal preference, a good rule of thumb is to cut them, well, about the size of the tip of your thumb. Unless you have freakishly large thumbs. If that’s the case, go a little smaller.
If you’re looking to make next-level gnocchi — the sort of gnocchi that wows your friends and wins the begrudging respect of your lifelong enemies — use a gnocchi spatula when preparing the dish. Your current spatula is probably flat, and maybe has little holes in it. That’s amateur hour in the high stakes world of gnocchi making. Instead, you want to get hold of a special spatula with ridges on it. After you’ve cut your dumplings, roll over each with the gnocchi spatula, gently imprinting those ridges. This will help sauces stick to the final dish.
After you’ve formed and textured your perfect pillows of gnocchi, they need to be blanched. First, bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add a few gnocchi at a time to the boiling water. (Don’t boil too many dumplings at once, as they will stick together.) When first introduced to the water, the gnocchi will sink to the bottom; when they float back up to the top, they’re done. Your gnocchi are geniuses! You have played God with your appetizers, imbuing them with intelligence — and they are telling you, “Get us out of here!” But look, you can’t let brainy potato-dough balls push you around. Let them cook for another 15 seconds or so before pulling them from the water. (This also helps keep your new gnocchi servants in their place.)
So how do you serve these things, anyway? You have options. There is the tomato sauce option: Take them straight from the water and add them to a pan of your preferred sauce. Let them cook in said sauce for a minute or two in order for the gnocchi to absorb the flavor. Note that you don’t often see gnocchi served, as a rule, with creamy sauces. (Though it’s possible. You can do anything. This is America!) Instead, if you’re going with a sauce, consider using a pesto or a spicy tomato sauce like arrabbiata. (If you need ideas, see our story this month on local pasta sauces. This is a dish that’s just begging for “Red Gravy.”) And keep in mind that this is not an appetizer where you just pour the sauce on top, spaghetti-style, and call it a day. You definitely want to toss it in the pan a bit before serving it to coat it well.
You are not limited to using red sauces, though. With gnocchi, less can be more. Another option is to add them to a skillet with butter. The butter will give them a rich, nutty flavor, and as the butter cooks onto and into the dumplings, the gnocchi will get a little bit crispy on the outside, acquiring a lovely brown color. In springtime, you can add a little fresh thyme or basil. “Gnocchi is simple to make,” says Ardoin, “and you can keep it simple in those final steps before serving.”
Since gnocchi is generally offered as an appetizer, you’re going to put no more than eight to 10 dumplings per guest on an appetizer plate. And that’s it! Your dinner party is saved. That wasn’t so hard, was it? And if it was, well, you can always buy the premade stuff and a jar of sauce, and just boil, toss and serve. You can still claim to friends that you made it from scratch. We promise not to tell.