Potato Gnocchi

I first encountered potato gnocchi during a trip to Liguria years ago and before I became a professional chef. They stuck in my mind because they were exceptionally light and just carried the sauce which draped on each gnocchi. Then, I learned what bad gnocchi tastes like when ordering them again in a restaurant somewhere – the location obviously didn’t remain in my memory. These were dense, almost chewy and chalky tasting. The sauce was also heavy and the entire experience was less than pleasing…but, I probably didn’t pay much for the experience!

I began learning how to make gnocchi in culinary school, but these always turned out very dense and remained quite far from my earlier positive experience. Then, I ended up working professionally in a Michelin-rated restaurant in Liguria and learned the secrets of making gnocchi! First, it is important to select the correct potato. Use one that is considered good for baking. These are usually labeled starchy or mealy. I like to use large potatoes because they are easier to peel and I think just a bit better in taste. Steaming the potatoes in their skins (jackets) works the best. This will keep the potato light when making the gnocchi. (Baking potatoes have thin cell walls and when heat is applied, the starch begins to swell and eventually bursts the cell wall. This creates the light airy texture as moisture is released and a light starchy consistency remains). Once the potatoes are cooked…and they should be well cooked (undercooking will create a heavy and lumpy consistency), peel them while they are still hot – use a fork to hold them if they burn your fingers. Work fast and mash the potatoes while still warm. Allow the mashed potatoes to sit on your floured work surface to release a bit of steam, then work in your ingredients. Work with light fingers and mix just long enough to create a smooth texture when you form the dough into a log. Make a couple of test gnocchi and cook for about 2-3 minutes in a small pot of simmering water. If they hold together, then bingo – you’ve made a good round! But, this rarely happens because flour is never the same. You may need to work in a bit more flour to keep them together, or starch if they are tasting too heavy. Finish making the gnocchi once you are satisfied, but don’t cook them right away. Relaxing the gnocchi will yield lighter gnocchi.

So there you go… Simple, right? Making a light gnocchi is a challenge, but it is one I like because it gets you in direct contact with just a few ingredients and you can really feel what it’s like to cook rather than just putting something together. Good luck on your gnocchi adventure…

Yield: this recipe makes about 4-8 servings.

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