Preparing fluffy gnocchi like in your favorite trattoria starts with choosing the right potatoes.
When I started writing Food IQ Along with my buddy Daniel Holzman, we sent out a poll to a few dozen friends and family asking about their burning questions about food, and the question about an “easy way to make really good potato gnocchi at home” came up more often than everyone else. So let’s dive in. Daniel has been cooking this essential Northern Italian dish for almost 25 years and firmly believes that the key to a good gnocchi game is timing – and burnt fingertips.
Potato gnocchi are a gift from the culinary gods – transforming a simple mashed potato into something fluffy, ethereal and drenched in brown butter. But this truth is only lived when the gnocchi are freshly prepared. Store-bought gnocchi (and we’ve all gone that direction; there’s no shame in that) fall into a different category — rubbery, chewy, and definitely not what you order at your favorite neighborhood trattoria. That’s because long-life gnocchi contain a lot more flour (flour = gluten = tasty) and are pressure-extruded and dried so they don’t lose their shape. Perfect, fluffy, platonic-ideal gnocchi are mostly potatoes, with just enough flour and egg to bind them together. It is the implementation of this balance that will win.
The key is to use starchy potatoes and remove as much moisture as possible. Baking the potatoes works well, but microwaving is the quickest dry heat method to cook them through. You can also cook the potatoes in their skins, but be sure to drain them thoroughly before peeling. This all leads to the critical rice step. Riceing the potatoes while they’re still hot (using a kitchen utensil called a rice press, which resembles a garlic press) allows the steam to escape and further dry the potatoes. Yes, your fingertips might suffer a little. And yes, your gnocchi will be the best gnocchi possible.
The real challenge with gnocchi is judging how much flour to add. If you add too little, your gnocchi will fall apart. Add too much, and your fluffy pillows will look more like dense bricks. No recipe can account for the exact moisture content of the potatoes or the yield amount after the potatoes have been riced. Therefore, it is up to the home cook to choose the right amount of flour and adjust it if necessary. To make matters worse, potatoes tend to get sticky during processing. So the more you mix, the worse your gnocchi will be.
Ideally, you’ll start by adding the right amount of flour, giving it a quick stir and kneading—but unless your name is Nadia Santini, you’ll probably need to add a few more spoonfuls to get the consistency right. You’ll know when you make it, as your stack of mashed potatoes will magically transform into a soft and malleable dough that’s barely sticky to the touch, but not sticky enough to stick to the table or your fingers. Once you have your dough ready, you can let it cool a little, maybe soak your burnt fingertips in an ice bath, roll the potato pile into long, fragile pieces, and then cut and shape your gnocchi.
Cooking these clouds is a breeze. Gently drop them into boiling salted water and wait for them to swim. This shouldn’t take more than a minute or two. Take them out and they’re done. Once you’ve mastered the technique, you can try your hand at some of gnocchi’s more unusual cousins and distant relatives. The technique also works with other starchy veggies, like squash or sweet potatoes—just note that the extra moisture comes with an added level of difficulty. cottage cheese dumplings are made with cream cheese instead of potatoes, the curds are drained overnight and then mixed with flour and egg before being shaped. Gnudi is made by burying ricotta blobs in semolina flour and waiting for them to dry. The semolina absorbs the moisture from the cheese and after a few days hardens into a crunchy dough around each ball. The end result is a soft ball of delicious cheese held together by a fluffy potato-gnocchi-pistachio-pestom-possibly thin layer of seamless batter that bursts open when you bite into it.