FYI: Gnocchi is pronounced nyawk-kee
Gnocchi is an Italian pasta said to be one of the very first types of pasta made by man. The word gnocchi in Italian likely comes from the term nocca, meaning “knuckle.” They are made of cooked mashed potatoes, flour, and eggs. Some gnocchi recipes add ricotta to the dough. There are many regional recipes. In Rome, for example, a traditional gnocchi dish is gnocchi alla Romana, which is baked rather than boiled.
Pasta the healthy way
If you are worried about too much starch in your diet, there is always the newly popular cauliflower gnocchi which can be a healthier choice because it uses a vegetable that’s less starchy than potatoes. Also, cooking pasta and then cooling it down changes the structure of the pasta, turning it into something that is called “resistant starch.” It’s called “resistant starch” because once pasta, potatoes, or any starchy food is cooked and cooled, it becomes resistant to the normal enzymes in our gut that break carbohydrates down and release glucose that then causes the familiar blood sugar surge. It retains these properties even after reheating.
Once you become a gnocchi expert, you can experiment further with different flours or sweet potatoes.
3 large baking (Idaho) potatoes (about 1 3/4 pounds), scrubbed
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, or as needed
Making the dough
Bake potatoes in a preheated 400°F oven until tender, about 40 minutes. Let them stand just until cool enough to handle. (The hotter the potatoes are when they are peeled and riced, the lighter the gnocchi will be.) Working quickly and protecting the hand that holds the potatoes with a folded kitchen towel or oven mitt, scrape the skin from the potato with a paring knife. Press the peeled potatoes through a potato ricer. Alternatively, the potatoes can be passed through a food mill fitted with the fine disc, but a ricer makes fluffier potatoes and, therefore, lighter gnocchi. Spread the riced potatoes into a thin, even layer on the work surface without pressing them or compacting them. Let them cool completely.
Gather the cold potatoes into a mound and form a well in the center. Break the eggs into the well, add the salt, cheese, pepper, and nutmeg and 1 ½ cups of flour. Working with a fork, mix gently all together. When combined, knead together with both hands to form a smooth but slightly sticky dough. It should take no longer than 3 minutes to work the flour into the potato mixture; remember, the longer the dough is kneaded, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become. As you knead the dough, it will stick to your hands and to the work surface: Repeatedly rub this rough dough from your hands and scrape it with a knife or dough scraper from the work surface back into the dough as you knead.
Wash and dry your hands. Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with some of the remaining flour. Cut the dough into six equal pieces and set off to one side of the work surface. Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong shape. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and exerting light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, until your hands get the feel of the dough, you may find it easier to cut each piece of dough in half to roll it.)
Slice the ropes into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Sprinkle the rounds lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a rough ball, flouring the dough and your hands as needed to prevent sticking. If a special gnocchi board tool is available, use it to create an indentation. (see for indentation instructions below). If not, a fork can be used. Hold the tines of a fork at a 45-degree angle to the table with the concave part facing up. Dip the tip of your thumb in flour. Take one ball of dough and, with the tip of your thumb, press the dough lightly against the tines of the fork as you roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. As the dough wraps around the tip of your thumb, it will form into a dumpling with a deep indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Set on a baking sheet lined with a floured kitchen towel and continue forming gnocchi from the remaining dough balls. Repeat the whole process with the remaining pieces of dough. At this point, the gnocchi must be cooked immediately or frozen.
Cooking the gnocchi
Bring six quarts of salted water to a vigorous boil in a large pot over high heat. Drop about half the gnocchi into the boiling water a few at a time, stirring gently and continuously with a wooden spoon. Cook the gnocchi, stirring gently, until tender, about 1 minute after they rise to the surface. (You can cook the gnocchi all at once in two separate pots of boiling water. If you make a double batch of gnocchi, I strongly recommend cooking them in batches in two pots of water.) Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon or skimmer, draining them well,
Freezing the gnocchi
It is best to freeze gnocchi uncooked as soon as they are shaped. Arrange the gnocchi in as single layer on a baking pan and place the pan in a level position in the freezer. Freeze until solid, about 3 hours. Gather the frozen gnocchi into resealable freezer bags. Frozen gnocchi can be stored in the freezer for 4 to 6 weeks.
Gnocchi is a great side dish to any festive meal. Enjoy!
Recipe partially adapted from Lidia Bastianich
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