Perfect homemade gnocchi from A to Z
The origins of gnocchi
Gnocchi is an ancient specialty, traditionally associated with Italian cuisine. It's been around since the Roman Empire, and many regions claim to be the original birthplace of these soft, doughy dumplings. Before potato gnocchi, it was prepared with flour and grains. In the House of Sforza, a ruling family during the Italian Renaissance, gnocchi was a typical feast offering but went by the name of Zanzarelli. It was made of a dough prepared with milk, almonds, bread crumbs and Bella Lodi cheese (referred to as Black Parmesan). Later the almonds and bread crumbs were replaced with flour, eggs and water, and the name was changed to Malfatti. Modern potato gnocchi dates back to when Europeans started importing potatoes and cultivating them in Europe.
Seems simple enough...
So you thought making gnocchi simply entails mixing together flour, potatoes and salt? It does, but you have to do it right. Preparing the dumplings is not difficult, provided you comply with certain conditions. Otherwise, you might find yourself with unmanageable, sticky dough in your hands or watch it fall apart when cooking. If you've ever been tempted to add more flour to the recipe, don't. It will clump and be overly chewy. Here, we reveal some tricks to prepare perfect potato gnocchi on the first try.
The work surface
Avoid using a wooden work surface, which will cause the ingredients to stick when trying to mix them together. Marble is best, otherwise use a plastic cutting board.
Which potatoes to buy?
The potato quality is crucial to the success of your dumplings. Purchase starchy, granular potatoes which will absorb less flour when wet, and you'll get that authentic dumpling flavor you're aiming for.
How to cook the potatoes?
Boil the unpeeled potatoes in a large pot of water, and remove from heat when tender and cooked through. While they're still warm, peel then crush them using a potato masher. For the first 30 seconds, you should see a lot of water draining from the potatoes. This is important to achieve a dry dough that requires little flour.
How to mix?
Add your flour, and knead quickly, preferably when the potatoes are still hot. Heat facilitates the assembly of the ingredients. If your dough is taking a while to firm up, go ahead and add 1 tablespoon of cornstarch, but resist the temptation to add more flour. The final consistency should be soft but firm.
How to form the gnocchi?
Remember to flour your work surface prior to shaping the dumplings. Cut the dough into pieces of about 1-inch thickness and 2 cm in length (you can first separate and roll it into several small cylinders and then cut them up). Lightly sprinkle with flour, if the dough is too sticky. Then take each dumpling and lightly press on it with the prongs of a fork to get nice ridges.
Let the gnocchi rest
Many people skip this step, but the dumplings need to rest for 20-30 minutes maximum. It's important for the dough to cool down before being cooked; this will also ensure the ridges stay in place when cooking. However, do not let them sit for longer than 30 minutes, otherwise the dough will dry out.
Pick a large, roomy, high-sided pot to cook the gnocchi. Fill with water, add salt, and bring to a boil. Gently shake the dumplings to remove excess flour, before immersing them in the boiling water. Avoid turning the gnocchi too often while cooking—they're fragile and could break apart easily. Knowing when the gnocchi is done is a no-brainer, as they'll float right to the surface. Simmer for 2 minutes, then drain.
Now it's your turn. Here is the recipe for perfect homemade gnocchi:
- 2 pounds starchy potatoes
- 1 cup flour
- 1 egg
Boil the potatoes in their skins in salted water until soft. Drain, then peel and mash the potatoes using a potato masher, and remove all excess water (the potatoes should be pretty dry). Put the mashed potatoes in a large glass bowl, and gradually stir in the flour by the spoonful. Mix with a fork, and when the dough starts to firm up, use your hands. Add a pinch of salt and the egg. Knead the dough quickly on a floured plastic or marble work surface (5 minutes max). Cut into dumplings, score each one with a fork, and dust with flour. Let sit for 20-30 minutes. Shake once to remove excess flour, then add to boiling salted water. When the gnocchi have risen to the surface, let simmer for 2 minutes more, then drain. Toss with tomato or meat sauce and serve.
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