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How to Make Potato Gnocchi

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: James Beard Award-nominated chef Jonathon Sawyer proves Gnocchi shouldn't just be reserved for restaurants -- here's how to make it at home with ease.

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What are gnocchi? Gnocchi are so different from most of the noodles we eat. They are voluptuous and pillow-y because there isn’t much gluten development. I think for pasta to be gnocchi, it has to have egg, flour, and a third major component. That third component can be potato or ricotta or even ground beef -- meatballs are even gnocchi!

Keep in mind the difference between biscuits and bread when comparing gnocchi with noodles. With bread and noodles, you want a chewy texture gained by working the dough. When it comes to gnocchi and biscuits, the dough should be worked as little as possible, just enough to stay together in form.

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Like so many Italian recipes, gnocchi are frugal. They are designed to feed lots of people without luxury ingredients. We make potato gnocchi a lot at home -- it really shows off sauces well. Although gnocchi are usually paired with a simple tomato sauce, I am a classicist at heart who prefers a brown butter sage sauce dusted with Parmesan. It also tastes great with my simple recipe for Bolognese sauce.

More: Learn how to brown butter -- it will change your life.

Gnocchi are easy to make ahead and freeze. Here's what you need to do: First lay the little pillows on a pan individually so they're not touching one another, then place pan in the freezer. Once frozen, you can place as many as desired together in a plastic bag or container for storage up to 2 months in the freezer.

Here's how to make classic potato gnocchi:

Classic Potato Gnocchi

Serves 6 

For the gnocchi:

2 Idaho potatoes
1 1/2 to 2 cups organic all-purpose flour
3 large organic eggs, beaten
1 tablespoon cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
6 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (Choose your favorite: oregano, parsley, basil)
2 tablespoons Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons toasted bread crumbs

Tools:

A cake tester (optional)
Food mill or potato ricer or masher
Stand mixer with paddle attachment (optional)
Knife
Cookie sheet
Large saucepan
Pasta pot with strainer

  

Preheat oven to 325° F and roast the potatoes until fully and cooked through, about 50 minutes. (Tip: A cake tester makes a great potato tester. When it goes through the potato without resistance, the potato is done.) Allow potatoes to cool to room temperature.

Spilt the potatoes and scoop out all of the flesh, leaving the skin behind. Use a food mill, potato ricer, or potato masher to mash the potatoes.

Combine potatoes with 1 1/2 cups flour in the stand mixer or on a cutting board. If using the cutting board, shape the potato-flour mixture into a volcano shape to contain the eggs during the mixing process. Add eggs to the mixer or the “volcano” and stir until just combined. The dough should be slightly sticky, but if it is too sticky, add more flour. 

  

Think of toothy fresh linguine as a nice chewy Parisian baguette bread, and airy potato gnocchi as tender southern biscuits. When you are making linguine or a baguette, you are trying to develop gluten, which gives them their structure. With gnocchi, however, you don’t want lots of gluten to develop. To avoid it, be careful not to knead the batter more than absolutely necessary.

  

Shape the dough into a rectangle and allow to rest for 15 minutes.

  

Dust a wooden cutting board with flour. Cut a 1-inch-wide piece from the dough rectangle and roll the piece of dough with your hands on the cutting board to make a long cylinder or snake about as thick as a roll of quarters. Cut the cylinder into 1-inch pieces. Place on a flour-dusted cookie sheet and store in the freezer.

  

STOP (if you want)! At this point, the gnocchi can be frozen until you are ready to use them. 

Otherwise, warm up your sauce of choice while you cook the gnocchi. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Blanch the gnocchi in small batches until they bob to the top and float there for a minute. 

Transfer each batch of gnocchi to the sauce and simmer for an additional 3 minutes to allow the noodle and sauce to become one. Garnish with olive oil, herbs, bread crumbs, and Parmesan and enjoy.

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by James Ransom