When I’m in the mood for cold-weather comfort food, a generous plateful of pillowy potato gnocchi immediately comes to mind. Throw in a cozy blanket and a crackling fire (or, in my case, an apartment-safe campfire-scented candle) and I’m set. But what if we take things up a notch and tuck a luxurious filling in the center of those little potato dumplings, then cover them in butter? Or pan fry them until crisp and eat them like popcorn? Yeah, I know.
Gnocchi ripieni (stuffed gnocchi) are “kind of a modern thing,” according to one of my friends from Abruzzo who first introduced me to the concept a few years ago. Sweet plum-filled gnocchi from Friuli in northeastern Italy, known as gnocchi di susine, are as traditional as it gets, she says, so there’s plenty of room for experimentation. And although gnocchi ripieni have started to surface in grocery stores, they’re simple to make at home, very freezer-friendly, and well worth the effort.
I’ve packed this recipe with some of my favorite autumn flavors: earthy mushrooms, rich cheeses, a hint of fresh thyme, and plenty of garlic. Don’t like mushrooms? I hear you! Try the roasted salmon filling on my site instead. I also encourage you to make this dish your own. As long as the filling is thick and firm when chilled, anything goes. Or just keep it simple and use cubes of a melty cheese like fresh mozzarella, taleggio or gorgonzola and call it a day!
Oh, and before I go, I should also say this: I was not always a fan of making gnocchi. In fact, there was a time when I called it my nemesis. Many of the tricks to making great fresh pasta do not apply when making gnocchi, so I’ve learned a lot from failing more than a few times—to the point where gnocchi and I are now pretty much best friends.
Here are some of my biggest tips:
- Keep the skins on the potatoes when you cook them. This provides a barrier so they don’t absorb too much water (dry potatoes are good potatoes!). If you’re really concerned about keeping the moisture at bay and have a little extra time, bake the potatoes for an hour at 400°F until tender instead of boiling.
- Rice or mash the potatoes while they’re still warm, but make sure to cool them completely before making the dough. (You don’t want the moisture from the steam making its way into your gnocchi.) I like to spread the riced potatoes on a paper-towel-lined baking sheet to absorb any excess moisture and allow all the steam to escape. I also pat them dry again before using them.
- If you’re looking for light and airy gnocchi, try to keep the flour to a minimum. This recipe calls for a ratio of approximately 3 parts potato to 1 part flour (in weight), and I’ve found that balance keeps the dough together without weighing it down. Although stuffed gnocchi are a little denser than the classic, unstuffed version, this tip should take you far in all your gnocchi-making adventures!
- Mix the dough until just combined. Once I’ve created a rough dough blob, I knead it very gently for maybe 30 seconds until all of the ingredients are evenly distributed. The more you work the dough, the more the potatoes release their starch and things start to get gluey. —Meryl Feinstein, Pasta Social Club
Test Kitchen Notes
Pasta Social Club is a column by Meryl Feinstein, Food52's Resident Pasta Maker, community builder, and pastaia extraordinaire. Meryl will teach us about everything from semolina to spaghetti to sauce—and will show us how pasta is a great way to make great friends and have lots of fun. —The Editors
- Prep time 3 hours
- Cook time 45 minutes
- Serves 2 to 4
For the dough
1 1/2 pounds
(about 2 large) russet or other floury potatoes
(6 ounces / 150-175 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
large egg, beaten
nutmeg, freshly grated (optional)
For the filling
cremini or similar mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
garlic cloves, minced
fresh thyme, leaves only
(3 ounces) firm whole milk ricotta
(1 1/2 ounces) Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
(1/2 ounce) mascarpone cheese (optional)
salt and pepper, plus more to taste
For the butter sauce
gnocchi cooking water
fresh thyme, plus additional leaves for garnish
For pan frying
olive oil or clarified butter
extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling
fresh thyme and mint leaves, for garnish
freshly cracked black pepper and fennel pollen (optional), for garnish
Prepare the potatoes
Scrub and submerge the potatoes in a pot of well-salted cold water. Bring to a boil and cook until the potatoes are tender and easily pierced with a knife, 20 to 25 minutes. While the potatoes cook, sauté the mushrooms (see step 1 under “make the filling”).
Drain the potatoes thoroughly. When they’re cool enough to handle but still warm, remove the skins (they should peel right off!). Pass them through a potato ricer or gently mash them with a potato masher or fork.
Spread the potatoes out on a paper towel-lined baking sheet so all the steam can evaporate and allow them to cool completely. Pat them dry with more paper towels to remove any excess moisture before you’re ready to make the gnocchi dough.
Make the filling
Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and, once melted, follow with the sliced mushrooms and a large pinch of salt. Sauté until they release their juices and begin to brown, 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in the minced garlic and thyme leaves, allowing the residual heat to cook the garlic. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cool completely.
Once the mushrooms have cooled, add them to a food processor with the steel blade attachment. Follow with the cheeses and pulse together until thick and well-combined (the texture should be more like a paste than creamy). Adjust seasoning to taste.
Transfer the filling to a bowl and refrigerate until ready to use, or for at least 30 minutes, to firm up.
Note: The filling can be made a few days in advance and stored in the refrigerator.
Make the dough
If you have a food scale, weigh out 1 pound (16 ounces / 450 grams) of the mashed potatoes. If you don’t, keep some additional flour nearby.
Mix the flour and salt together in a large mixing bowl. Then, with your fist, make a large hole (or “well”) in the center. Add half of the mashed potato, half of the beaten egg and a dash of nutmeg, if using, to the center of the well. Repeat with the remaining potato, egg, and a little more nutmeg.
Gently fold the flour from the outside of the bowl into the potato mixture from all directions until everything comes together into a shaggy mass.
Transfer the dough to a flat surface and knead very briefly until everything is evenly incorporated, no more than a minute. If the dough is unbearably sticky (a bit sticky is normal), dust the surface with a bit more flour. You’re not looking for a very smooth dough, so don’t worry if it looks rough around the edges!
Wrap the dough tightly in plastic and pop it in the freezer for 10-15 minutes to rest.
Shape the gnocchi
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust the surface in a light coating of flour. Have a small bowl of flour ready to go near your work station, as well as the chilled mushroom filling.
Cut off a quarter of the dough and keep the rest wrapped. Then, if you have a food scale, cut it into approximately ½-ounce (15-gram) pieces. Alternatively, dust the dough in some flour and roll it into a rope about an inch in diameter. Cut the rope in half, and then cut each half into 5 or 6 pieces as even in size as possible.
If the dough is a little sticky, sprinkle some flour on top of each piece and roll it into a ball between your hands. Gently press the ball into a small, flat circle with your fingers.
Add about ½ teaspoon of filling to the center of the circle. Carefully fold the dough around the filling and press to seal. I like to fold opposite sides of the dough over first and pinch, followed by each of the remaining sides respectively (see photos above).
Turn the piece of gnocchi over and gently roll and adjust the shape into a neat disc. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, and place each finished piece on the parchment-lined baking sheet about an inch apart (you may need two baking sheets).
Place the finished gnocchi in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to firm up before cooking.
Note: For longer-term storage, freeze the gnocchi on the baking sheet until solid, 1 to 2 hours. Then transfer them to an air-tight container for up to about a month. Cook straight from frozen.
Finish the dish
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, then salt it well. Carefully add the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until they float (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer the gnocchi with a slotted spoon to a large plate to hold, or directly to the butter sauce or hot frying oil in the steps mentioned below. Save the cooking water!
If you prefer something crispy (like I do), I’d suggest pan frying: Heat the olive oil or clarified butter over medium-high in a large non-stick skillet. Add the boiled gnocchi to the pan in a single layer (again, you may need to do this in batches). Cook undisturbed until golden, 3 to 5 minutes, then flip and repeat. Snack on these as they are or finish with high-quality olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, freshly cracked black pepper, fresh thyme and mint leaves, and a sprinkling of fennel pollen (if you have it)!
If you prefer boiled dumplings, I’d suggest this butter sauce: Add the butter and a few thyme sprigs to a large saucepan over medium heat. Once the butter has just about melted, add a couple of spoonfuls of the gnocchi cooking water to the butter and stir vigorously to combine. A glossy, emulsified sauce should quickly emerge! Taste and add salt if needed.
Transfer the gnocchi to the butter sauce and swirl gently to coat. (For large quantities, it may be easier to spoon the butter sauce over the gnocchi directly on a serving plate.) Serve immediately, topped with more butter sauce, a generous amount of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and fresh thyme leaves.