There are certain dishes in this world that, it feels like, take a lifetime to perfect. If not a lifetime, then, at least repeated tries, and much trial and error.
Ironically, these dishes are often the most simple ones: risotto for example, or pasta. I have been wrestling with gnocchi for almost a year, now, trying out various recipes, different vegetables, and different techniques for cooking them. Nothing really worked. I mean, I made the gnocchi, but it was never as soft and pillowy as I wanted it to be.
And then I went to Fable. The gnocchi there makes all other gnocchi pale in comparison–or I should say, tough in comparison. They are little pillows of marshmellowy goodness in a sage pesto. My gnocchi will never be that good, but I did have a conversation with Trevor Bird about them (you can read my entire piece here), and he gave me one tip which makes all the difference.
Moisture is the enemy of gnocchi.
Simply put, if you want soft, pillowy gnocchi, you have to make sure that your vegetable base is as dry as possible. I’ve seen some recipes that go as far as to use dried potato flakes as the base, but I haven’t gone to that extreme yet.
The secret here is to bake your potatoes (I’ve only yet had the chance to try this with potatoes, I will start to experiment with other veg soon) the day before you make the gnocchi. Now, many recipes will tell you to steam or boil them, but those methods put more moisture into the potato, and we’re trying to get moisture out. After you bake them, you ideally want to use a potato ricer to get them as smooth a consistency as possible. I got mine for $10 at Ikea, or you could order this Norpro Potato Ricer online. Then, put them in the fridge, in a bowl, uncovered, overnight.
- 4 medium yukon gold potatoes
- 1 egg
- salt and/or fresh herbs
- The day before: wash the potatoes, and then prick them with a fork. Place whole, on a baking sheet, in the middle of the oven, preheated to 350 degrees. Bake until tender, about an hour.
- When cool enough to handle, cut in half and run them through a ricer. You don’t need to take the skins off.
- Place the riced potatoes in a bowl in the fridge, uncovered, overnight, and give it a stir once or twice.
- When ready to make the gnocchi: measure the potatoes and then measure out half as much flour as you have potatoes. Place the potatoes in a large bowl with the beaten egg, and season. You can also add fresh chopped herbs like parsley or chives. Mix well to combine, then start adding the flour. Be gentle! This is the tricky part: you want to add enough flour so that the gnocchi stick together, but you don’t wan them to be too sticky. You want the dough to be wetter than a pasta or a pie dough, but it shouldn’t stick to your hands when you roll it.
- Roll the dough into a ball, and cut the ball into fourths. I like to use my pastry cutter for this. If you need to, sprinkle a little flour on the counter, but honestly, I find that a bare countertop works better. Roll the dough into a rope, and you can make it as thin or thick as you like. I’m lazy, so I prefer to do mine a little thicker and call them “rustic.”
- Once you have the dough rolled out into a uniform rope, go down the line, cutting every inch or inch and a half. Finish each of the individual gnocchi on a fork, or just roll them in your palm. When they are done, toss them into a bowl that has flour in the bottom, and every once in a while, give the bowl a good toss to coat all the individual gnocchi with flour so that they don’t stick together.
- To finish: get a large pot of salted water (add a little olive oil if you like, as well) boiling. Add the gnocchi a handful at a time. When the gnocchi rise to the top, they’re done! It only takes a few minutes. Remove from the water and drain well in a colander.
- I like to finish mine by pan-frying them in a little butter and olive oil, and tossing with pesto. You can also serve them any way you would pasta: with a tomato-based sauce and cheese, or a bechamel (with blue cheese?).
Special thanks to Lili for helping with this culinary experiment (twice!!).