Potato Gnocchi, With a Grater

I don’t think I’ve ever pronounced the word ‘gnocchi’ correctly.

Which is a shame, actually, because I used to speak Italian rather fluently. In my first year at university I took an introductory Italian course, and I promptly fell in love with anything remotely related to Italy.

The language.

The culture.

The food.

I persevered with the language, and I promised myself that I would one day visit the country that I’ve held such deep affection for.

That day didn’t come for another seven years.

In the summer of 2007, Tugba – a dear friend of mine from Holland – and I decided to meet up in Rome for a ‘reunion.’

To give you some background, Tugba and I met in Jaipur, India, the year before when we were participating in an AIESEC traineeship. Tugba claims she first met me at a trainee dinner party.

She thought I was a snob.

I don’t have any recollection meeting Tugba at any dinner party which, I suppose, justly proves her point.

Who knew we would get along so famously?

Tugba was assigned to live in the same flat I was living in, and on the first day she arrived, we spent the evening eating chocolate desserts and smoking sheesha at Cafe Mocha instead of attending a dinner party to mingle with other AIESEC trainees. Suffice it to say, a friendship was born, and to this day we still plan ‘reunions’ in varying places around the world.

Our first reunion was in Italy, and although we had many fabulous meals during the trip, the one meal that still stands out was the potato gnocchi I had on our last night in Rome. We were traipsing around the Colosseum area in search of a good restaurant, when a woman, whom we had asked for directions, suggested we check out the Trastevere area. Trastevere, unlike most of Rome proper, was a charming neighborhood bereft of tacky tourist traps, and we chided ourselves for not discovering the neighborhood sooner.

Enjoying our final meal in Rome at La Piazetta, a delightful restaurant in the Trastevere neighborhood.

We settled upon a restaurant called La Piazetta, and while I was thumbing through the menu, my eyes narrowed down on a peculiar-sounding dish.

Gnocchi.

I had no idea what it was, let alone how to pronounce it properly, so I flagged down a waiter and asked in perfect Italian what it was.

Well, at least I thought it was perfect Italian.

Apparently, the waiter didn’t understand a word I said, because next thing I know a huge plate of airy potato dumplings smothered in marinara sauce and mozzarella cheese descended on our table.

Gnocchi that changed my life. Please excuse the poor quality of the photo – this was before I learned how to properly operate a camera.

Which was just as well, because it was the most delicious thing I ate during our entire trip.

I tried making gnocchi when I got home, and it was a disastrous mess. The little potato dumplings disintegrated the moment they reached the boiling water, and all I was left with was a huge pot of potato water. I tried my hand at making gnocchi again, this time adding more flour to give the dumplings some structure. The gnocchi didn’t disintegrate, but they didn’t really hold their shape either … they looked like irregular pillows of potatoes.

I figured, third times the charm.

This time around, the gnocchi came out exactly how I wanted them. Plump, airy lozenges with ridges to cling on to the sauce.

If you don’t have a food mill or a ricer, a grater works just as well, a tip picked up from About.com. Just remember to aerate the potatoes as you grate them. Also, allow the grated potatoes to cool completely before you add the flour. Hot potatoes will absorb more flour, which will result in dense, heavy gnocchi.

I still don’t know how to pronounce ‘gnocchi,’ but at the very least, I now know how to make them.

Potato Gnocchi
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s “Lidia’s Italy in America”
Makes enough for six servings

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes
1 teaspoon salt
1 egg, beaten
1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary

Preheat your oven to 400F. Wash the potatoes and prick them all over with a fork. Bake the potatoes for 40 minutes to 1 hour, turning them over halfway through the baking time. The potatoes should be slightly soft and fork-tender.

Peel the potatoes and grate them over the large holes of a box grater. Spread the grated potatoes over a baking sheet and allow them to cool completely. Once cool, put the potatoes in a large bowl and mix in the egg, salt and rosemary. Mix in 3/4 cup of flour. Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface, kneading the dough and adding more flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Don’t add too much flour, as the gnocchi will become heavy.

Form the dough into a ball, and divide into three pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll each piece into a 1/2-inch thick rope. Cut the rope into 1/2-inch pieces.

Holding a fork, use your thumb to press lightly on one piece of dough, starting high on the inside tines of the fork. Roll the dough down the entire length of the tines to create ridged gnocchi. You can, of course, bypass this process and cook the gnocchi as is, without ridges.

Place the gnocchi in a single layer on a lightly floured baking sheet. At this point, you can freeze the gnocchi (single layer, on a baking tray) before dropping them into a freezer bag to stash for later consumption.

If you’d like to cook them, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water in batches, making sure not to overcrowd the pot. Once the gnocchi rise to the surface, continue cooking for about 2 more minutes.

Transfer the cooked gnocchi to a skillet with your favorite pesto or marinara sauce, and toss to combine. The beautiful thing about this dish, as is with all pasta, is that you can use whatever ingredients you have on hand, and it will still taste sublime.

Drizzle over some good olive oil and a healthy scattering of parsley and freshly grated parmesan (or dollops of ricotta), and eat with gusto.

Buon appetito!

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5 thoughts on “Potato Gnocchi, With a Grater

    • Thanks so much, Karen! The key is to use as little flour as possible, and to knead as little as possible – I hope you give them a try!

  1. Anyone and everyone will tell you that I don’t cook. Okay, I cook, but I don’t cook well. So when I gave this recipe a try I was BLOWN AWAY by how easy and delicious the gnocchi turned out to be! This will be the second time i’ve made this gnocchi recipe and it won’t be the last! Deb, I made this gnoochi to go with the Basil and Walnut Pesto recipe you posted last week and the two go FANTASTIC together. Thank YOU!!

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