Last week I posted about a failure, sweet potato gnocchi. It was ill-conceived from the beginning — sweet potatoes are different to regular potatoes in all but name, and I was a fool to think they could be made into tender dumplings using the same method as for potatoes. A gosh darn fool.
For regular potatoes however, this method works perfectly. Gnocchi is one of those things that is best done by feel rather than strictly adhering to a recipe but there are some things to keep in mind.
- 1.5 kg sebago potatoes
- 325g plain flour (an estimate, see below)
- 1 egg, whisked quickly to combine
- Salt, to taste
Potato gnocchi are basically a potato delivery system -- you want the flavour and body of potato, but to do this you will need to use something to bind the potato. Why disassemble potatoes that bind together pretty well on their own, only to put them back together? Because. The key to great gnocchi is to use only as much binding ingredients as you need. Any more and you will replace the earthy taste and creamy texture of potato with the raw taste and gummy texture of boiled flour. The more moisture you have in your dough the more flour you'll have to use, so keep in mind that every step except one is designed to get rid of moisture.
Start by preheating the oven to 200ºC/400ºF.
The type of potato you use is very important — look no further than my sweet potato gnocchi for proof of that. I've been around the potato block, and Sebago potatoes are my favourite. They're more floury than waxy, but their flesh is just firm enough to make your gnocchi creamy without being waxy. Plus they have excellent flavour. If you can't get Sebagoes, look for anything considered "floury". Floury potatoes are high in starch and low in moisture, the kind that disintegrate in water if you boil them too much. They are described as ideal for mashing, chipping, and roasting. More about potatoes here.
Clean your potatoes and bake in the oven until tender all the way through. This can take up to 1.5-2 hours, but it's infinitely better to overbake than underbake. Baking them gets rid of moisture, plus you get baked potato skins to snack on.
When the potato are cooked, weigh them. Their baked weight will determine how much flour you measure out, and weighing them cooked is much more reliable than raw. I put 1.55 kg of potatoes into the oven and 1.25 kg came out, all of that weight loss being water. See, baking is awesome. Whatever the weight is, measure a quarter of that in plain flour. In my case, I measured roughly 310 g (and ended up using 235 g of it). You might not need to use all of this flour, but you definitely shouldn't use more.
Cut the potatoes in half while still warm and scoop their flesh out into a potato ricer. One of the few single-purpose kitchen tools that is worth buying, potato ricers are essential for the best gnocchi. They effectively break up the potatoes in one pass, whereas if you used a masher you'd be at it for a while, working the potatoes too much and causing them to release more moisture. Moisture bad.
Spread the riced potatoes out on the benchtop or a large board, and go to town with your salt. Salt to taste — use the amount that you'd need to make the potato taste good if you were eating them as is. Pour over the egg, then sprinkle with around half the flour. The egg. A lot of people don't like it, but I think it gives just the tiniest bit of bite and body without making the gnocchi gummy. Some cooks use only potato and flour, but for me the resulting gnocchi is less like a dumpling that can stand up to a pasta sauce and more like a puff of mashed potato. This step does add moisture, so don't use more than 1 egg per kg of potato.
I like to chop the flour into the potato using a pastry cutter or cleaver, but go ahead and bring it all together with your hands. Add just as much flour as you need to make the dough damp but not sticky. Work the dough as little as possible, and stop as soon as you get to the right consistency. Gnocchi dough will happily take on more and more flour as you work it and release more moisture. The first time I made gnocchi I would add flour, work it, and predictably the dough became wetter, needing more flour. This went on for about 30 minutes until I had flour dumplings bound by a small amount of potato.
Split your dough into three and roll each piece out to 1-inch snakes. The dough will become sticky, so dust with flour. Chop into 1-inch pieces and shape. You could use a gnocchi board or the back of a fork, but frankly I couldn't be bothered. Take each gnocchi in between your thumb and fingers, and press the center of the gnocchi with your thumb to make an indentation. Fold over this indentation and you're done.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil, and begin cooking the gnocchi in batches. As soon as they rise to the top they're ready to be removed with a slotted spoon. At this point you can add them straight to a pan with some sauce, or separate them on an oiled baking tray to hold in the fridge for later or freeze for much later. I've tried freezing uncooked gnocchi, and found they develop an unpleasant mealy texture. Definitely cook them first. To revive them after freezing, blanch in boiling water.
And that's how you make gnocchi. Things to remember:
- Use floury potatoes. I recommend Sebagoes
- Bake your potatoes, don't boil them
- Measure 1/4 of the potatoes' baked weight in flour. Use less if you can, but no more
- Don't work the dough too much
- Don't do drugs, kids