It would be fair to say that in our house home made potato gnocchi served with bolognese sauce and a generous grating of parmesan cheese is a perennial favourite. I think of home made gnocchi and these adjectives spring to mind . Delicate. Feather light. Soft and plump. Melt in your mouth. Pillows of air. Worlds apart from some of the heavy, dense, almost bullet like renditions that are commercially produced. Contrary to popular opinion gnocchi are not so difficult to make. From scratch in your home kitchen. All you need is old, floury potatoes, a potato ricer and a light hand.
Two years ago while we were holidaying in Japan, my friend Motoko presented me with a beautiful bag of home-grown Hokkaido potatoes. One look at them and I just knew they would be perfect for gnocchi. Only problem was that we didn’t have and couldn’t source a potato ricer. To give you an idea how much my children adore gnocchi they offered to rice the cooked potato. Through a garlic press. And they did. Full marks for initiative and lateral thinking. A ricer does quite resemble an oversized garlic press. Let me tell you. Those gnocchi were delicious.
Fast forward to this year. We returned to Japan. Armed with a potato ricer. Motoko and I spent an afternoon making gnocchi from her latest harvest of home-grown Hokkaido potatoes. Needless to say those potatoes were magnificent. That night we had for dinner some of the lightest, airiest gnocchi I have ever eaten.
Here are the seven rules I follow to make feather-light gnocchi. I like to think of them as my holy grail for perfect gnocchi.
- Use old, all-purpose, floury potatoes. In Japan we used Hokkaido potatoes. Varieties like Desiree and Toolangi Delight seem to work best here in Australia.
- Do not peel your potatoes before you boil them. Keep the skin on, and whatever you do try not to over boil them. You don’t want the skin to crack open water logging the flesh. Remember, dry potatoes produce feather light gnocchi. Peel the potatoes when they are just hot enough to handle. Use rubber gloves to protect your hands.
- Likewise rice the potatoes ( i.e. pass them through the potato ricer) when they are still steaming hot. Spread the shredded potatoes in an even, thin layer over your work bench to cool. This allows the steam to escape. The less moisture in the potatoes as you start kneading the dough, the less flour you will need to add. The lighter the result.
- Don’t overwork the dough. Forming the dough should take no longer than 10 minutes. It should be firm, but lightly sticky for best results. A good rule of thumb? Slice the dough in half. Examine its texture. It should look like cookie dough peppered with small holes.
- When the dough is ready, work quickly to divide the dough into manageable portions. Roll each portion into broomstick width sized logs, cut into pieces and form the gnocchi. Remember to dust your work surface and hands with flour as you go.
- Cook or freeze the gnocchi immediately. To freeze them, put a flour dusted tray of gnocchi directly into the freezer. When they are solid, transfer them from the tray into a resealable plastic bag.
- Cook gnocchi in batches. In plenty of salted, boiling water. Allow them to float to the top of the pot and leave to cook for up to a minute before removing with a slotted spoon. The cooking process shouldn’t take more than 2-3 minutes per batch.
Pictured served with our favourite bolognese sauce, picked basil leaves and a good grating of Parmesan
700 g baking potatoes ( about 4 medium sized potatoes but best to weigh)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 nutmeg, finely grated
1 large egg, beaten well
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting your hands and bench when kneading
BOIL the potatoes in water to cover until tender. Don’t let them overcook to the point that their skins split. Drain.
AS SOON as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and put them through a ricer.
SPREAD the potato shreds out on a clean bench. Sprinkle with salt to help them dry out. Cool for at least 20 minutes.
POUR the beaten egg over the cooled, shredded potatoes, and then nutmeg and one cup of the flour. Mix together with your hands to incorporate.
KNEAD lightly, adding a little more flour as necessary until the dough is manageable and not too sticky.
BREAK off a portion of dough and roll to 1 cm in thickness on a floured board. Cut into 3 cm lengths and indent each piece on a fork.
PLACE on a floured tray until ready to use. Continue this process until all the dough is used up.
COOK the gnocchi in batches in a large pot of salted boiling water.
REMOVE with a slotted spoon about a minute after they rise to the top.
SERVE with your favourite pasta sauce.