As recently as the 1970’s (it seems recent to me), Gnocchi were rarely seen on menus in the States. They have always been widely served in Italy, but, here, they were so unfamiliar, we couldn’t even figure out how to pronounce the word without mildly humorous consequences. We Americans have a hard time understanding WHY a “G” before an “N” (or an “L”) should indicate the sound of a “Y,” but that’s the way Italian is. Gradually, “nyoki” started showing up in contemporary Italian/American restaurants, and, now, purists and authenticists complain that the dish has been “bastardized” by the indiscriminate incorporation of ingredients other than potatoes.
So Many Gnocchi, So Little Time
The definition of which gnocchi are authentic, or “real,” is a subject of great debate, even among Italians. I, myself, have been trapped in such heated discussions on several occasions. I even tried to assert that gnocchi are more of a “shape” than anything else, like other pastas, and it doesn’t really matter what they’re made from, as long as they look like gnocchi. I wuickly realized that there are a few shapes that are all referred to as gnocchi (including malfatti).
Let us agree for the moment that gnocchi are indisputably dumplings, and that potatoes are the most common ingredient in them. Even the question of whether eggs belong in gnocchi can start a heavily gesticulated argument. I usually make them WITHOUT eggs, because, eggs add moisture, which means more flour. After a while, the dumplings don’t even taste like potato any more, which seems self defeating.
Why Incorporate Sous Vide?
Gnocchi don’t really “need” Sous Vide. Eventually, we have to boil them in open water, like other pasta. Gnocchi dough can be tricky. Too much moisture in the dough causes problems, and the cooked potato must be as dry as possible for the dough to achieve the desired consistency and appearance. You can’t just add more flour, either, or else, again, your gnocchi won’t even taste like potato any more. This is why Sous Vide, and Russets are the best combination–red potatoes, new potatoes, Yukon Golds and the like have more water than Russets, so, they really don’t work. And Sous Vide PREVENTS whatever is in the bag from being exposed to ANY moisture, other than its own. They might lose a little, but they certainly won’t gain any.
There are a few things that gnocchi are NOT supposed to do. They’re not supposed to stick together, or, to the back of your front teeth. They’re not supposed to keep very well, and they don’t. They’re not supposed to be made when you’re in a hurry, and that’s good advice. They’re not supposed to be soggy, either, something else to keep in mind. It may be best to eat them in a restaurant (or at another person’s home), until you decide that you love them, which most people eventually do. Then, at least, you know what you’re getting in to.
Pushing the Limits
I make Butternut Squash gnocchi sometimes, too. I cook the squash Sous Vide, but, even then, they must be subsequently dried out in the oven to get the best results. Once that is accomplished, the Butternut gnocchi are made exactly the same as the potato gnocchi–JUST enough flour to turn the puree into dough, with a little nutmeg and salt. When I offer them to my Italian friends, they cock an eye, taste, chew, and then they seem to enjoy them. Whew. Italians can really crush you with a simple derisive look.
I’ve used parsnips, other winter squash, even beets to make gnocchi, and you always have to take extra steps to remove excess water. Spinach gnocchi is a thing, too, but bears little resemblance to this model, so we will stay off of that for now.
- 1 Russet Potato, approx. 1 lb
- 1 Cup All Purpose Flour
- Pinch salt
- 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
Remember: Under NO circumstances should you ever ADD water to Gnocchi dough. Believe me, you’ll regret it. Add flour if you must, a little at a time. The feel of the dough is much more dependent on the duration of mixing time than the apparent moisture level. Just keep mixing, and you will get the consistency you want, whether by hand, in a mixer, or in a food processor–all perfectly acceptable. We’re going to demo the “hard” way, while explaining how to make it easy.
- Process the Russet potato via Sous Vide @183×2 hours. In this picture, we are using the Lipavi C10 vessel and rack, and the Nomiku WiFi model circulator.
- After the potato is done, chill it to 40F. This is important. There are gnocchi recipes that call for grating the potato while hot, but the method is quite different.
This is Gonna Be GRATE!
- Grate the potato. I used the old fashioned box grater, but a ricer works too. Even if you plan to use a Kitchenaid mixer, grate the potatoes first. If they seem wet, squeeze or press them in a clean cloth or paper towel.
- Even easier, if you use a Cuisinart type food processor, you can forego the grating, and pretty much throw everything in and whirl away.
- If the moisture is right, the dough will pull away from the cutting board, (or the sides of the hopper), and then you let the dough rest for at least half an hour.
- Add the flour, the oil, a pinch of salt, and Nutmeg if desired, and start mixing. I like to use a fork and just kind of smash things around.
- After a few strokes, it will start to come together
- And, after a couple of minutes, form into a ball. Even then, I put it in a mixer or food processor just to smooth it out the rest of the way.
- You will see that the longer you mix, the wetter it will begin to feel. The goal is to achieve the smoothness, without over mixing. I still cringe when recipes say to be careful not to over mix a kneaded dough. Really, how are you supposed to tell? Are they TRYING to make us anxious? Sometimes, maybe. But there is a feel to knowing just when, and practice is the only real teacher. There is an abundance of demonstration videos on YouTube. This one is pretty good.
My Gnocchi Dough is in Knead of Me
- After resting, dust your board and flatten the ball into a disk a little bit, just so you can.
- Cut it into fairly uniform strips. Cut the dough into at least four thick logs.
- Then sprinkle with just a tiny bit of flour or starch, and roll into thin cylinders. It is difficult to depict the hand motion used, but, if you use both hands, and spread out your fingers, it may remind you of when we played with that Play-Doh stuff so long ago. If they fall apart, just reform into a log and do it again.
- Use a dough scraper or knife and cut into uniform pieces, smaller is better, larger is easier.
- The little cylinders are what we see gnocchi in most places these days Some purists want to call them “Malfatti” (poorly formed), but it’s really okay, even in Italy.
- Depending on your inclinations, using a gnocchi board is either kind of fun or extremely infuriating. Sometimes, we just use a fork, or even a sushi roller to get the ridges, and, there can be a little hollow inside, like below.
- They DO look pretty cool, but it takes a little practice, and a little time. This is what they’re talking about when they say that the main ingredient is LOVE. You really have to be committed to make hand made pasta.
Sinkers and Floaters
- The great thing about this shape is that they REALLY attract the sauce.
- Bring water to a BOIL (not a simmer), in a wide pan–if you use a regular pot, the gnocchi get crowded and lose some shape. Make SURE you have some ice water nearby to drop the cooked dumplings into when they float. Carefully drop ALL the gnocchi into the water.
- Don’t leave them alone at this point, they will take a minute or two to float to the top (wait until they ALL float), and then use a slotted spoon to lift them into ice water. This is very important.
- It’s just as important to get them OUT of the ice water after they cool as it is to get them IN. Drain well, and lay out on a flat surface to drain completely. They can be refrigerated, but they will stick to each other no matter what. To serve, drop them in hot water again for a few minutes to rehydrate. If you just heat them in the sauce, they will be tough and dry. That’s just the way gnocchi are.
Gnocchi are made and served several different ways, and for every way that they are prepared, there is someone who will tell you that they are not supposed to be made OR served that way. People are prone to say things like “My Nana made gnocchi, and the ONLY way that they are supposed to served is like this!” Or that. But this is not the nature of gnocchi. This is the nature of humanity. Romantic notions abide, and grandmothers’ gnocchi must never be impugned. There’s that “G” before the “N” again.
With simplicity in mind, I often serve them with a basic Marinara sauce, like almost any other pasta, and they’re terrific that way. There’s a creamy version with Gorgonzola cheese that’s a little flashier, also delicious. Anyway, I will tell you this, I have never met a style of gnocchi that I didn’t like. Here’s a few.
You really AREN’T supposed to make them this way, and I’ve never seen an Italian make them this way, or anybody else, for that matter. I like them, and I think they look good. Almost like a Country Fried Breakfast Potato.
Many years ago, in North Beach, (an old Italian neighborhood in San Francisco), we used to eat at this place called Vanessi’s. Long gone now, the rude, brusque, waiters called this gnocchi “Bartolomeo,” with more of a brown mushroom sauce. I loved Vanessi’s, it was a great, famous place, with tons of character. They made a “Lasagne” that was just green noodles, chicken livers, and a little sauce, not a casserole, not the least bit like we imagine lasagne. *sigh.*
Gratinati, with the flourless, buttery creamy sauce, browned in the Salamander.
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Shredded Lamb Shank, Sweet Anise, and Pecorino Romano