Gnocchi is an Italian dish which falls in the pasta category, although it is made mainly from cooked potatoes that are formed into soft, pillow-like dumplings served with an array of different sauces.
My Argentine grandmother aka Abuela, was a real pro at making gnocchi or ñoqui in Spanish. She learnt how to make them from her Italian-Piedmont mother and grandmother who probably learnt from their ancestors. One day, I remember asking her for the recipe. “What recipe? It is all in my head!” Alternatively, I decided to watch her in action and take notes: Rolling up her sleeves, she would pile the cooked potatoes on to a table and mash them with her bare hands, amazingly while they were piping hot. Then after a light knead incorporating the rest of the ingredients, she would create perfectly uniform gnocchi at full speed. Eventually, the table was taken over by at least two hundred gnocchi and left there until the accompanying meat tomato sauce was ready. In my eyes, it was mesmerising to watch!
Having a gnocchi maker in an Argentine home is very handy as every 29th of the month, they celebrate gnocchi day – Día de los ñoquis. Besides the mandatory gnocchi-eating with family or friends, there is an additional custom to slip some money (usually notes) under each plate. The superstition goes that carrying that money with you after the meal is said to bring you enormous luck and prosperity. Although many donate the money to a charity of their choice, hoping it will bring them some good karma in return. Another custom is to donate the money to the cook for next month’s gnocchi meal – a great way to keep these gnocchi circulating!
The reason Argentines religiously eat gnocchi on this date falls back to when paychecks were handed at the end of each month, so all that was supposedly left in the kitchen pantry on the eve of payday were humble and filling potatoes! So, let’s delve into what potatoes you should use for gnocchi:
Any floury variety, but specifically here are some highly suitable potato varieties:
- Red Desiree (perfect for gnocchi)
- Royal Blues
- King Edwards
- Yukon Gold (nuttier tasting)
- Maris Piper
- Crème Royale
Should I bake or boil the potatoes?
It is entirely up to you, which method you choose, as both work
well, although I prefer boiling as it is faster and more traditional in keeping with my grandmother’s recipe.
Important steps for the perfect gnocchi that will melt in your mouth:
1. Buy only floury potatoes – the older, the better. Tip: buy in advance and store for several weeks to convert them to older potatoes.
2. If available, use organic eggs.
3. Cook the whole potatoes in their skins.
4. If available, use a potato ricer when the potatoes are still warm. The potatoes will be airer and fluffier.
5. Don’t skip the sweet rice flour * – it is an important gluten-free ingredient that adds a nice bite to the gnocchi without it being sandy or dry.
6. Add the flours gradually, not all at once.
7. Work the dough by hand rather than using a mixer.
8. Do not overmix the dough.
9. Choose between the gnocchi press (ñoquera) or the back of a fork to form your gnocchi. The press gives some bonus “extra stripes” compared to the fork, but both will work well towards a traditional gnocchi shape.
10. Cook gnocchi in batches to avoid overcrowding.
11. Don’t overcook the gnocchi. Remove them as soon as they pop up on the surface of the cooking water.
12. Preferably, eat them straight away with your choice of sauce, otherwise heating them up later is fine, but bear in mind that this may result in softer gnocchi due to the extra heating time.
Now that you know what potatoes to use and what to do…using only a few ingredients, you can rustle up some impressive gluten-free gnocchi for your family or friends by following this recipe. I like serving my gnocchi with a simple sauce such as sage butter as you can really taste the gnocchi without being plastered with highly seasoned meat sauces. They are supposed to be delicate and light – so keeping with that idea, this sage butter does the trick as well as a homemade pesto sauce.
For the gnocchi:
- 1.4 kg potatoes, unpeeled, whole
- 2 organic eggs, at room temperature
- 110-130g potato flour
- 2 tablespoons sweet rice flour *see below
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
- 4 tablespoons rice flour, for dusting
- 30g approx. Parmesan cheese, grated
* Sweet rice flour is the same thing as Glutinous Rice Flour, sold mainly in Asian supermarkets. If you can’t find this flour, grind some glutinous, short-grain rice into flour. Alternatively, sushi rice is suitable as a substitute.
For the sage butter:
- 20 fresh sage leaves, torn
- 100g butter
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Freshly, cracked pepper, to taste
Step by Step Instructions
1. Wash the potatoes and place them in a large pot of salted, cold water.
2. Turn on the heat to high and cover with the lid.
3. As soon as the water has come to the boil, lower the heat to medium. Keep the lid on.
4. Set your timer for 20 minutes and check if the potatoes are cooked by inserting a skewer or bamboo stick straight through the largest potato. If it easily pierces through, the potatoes are ready. Any resistance, they need another 5 to 10 minutes more to cook.
5. Once cooked, drain the potatoes from the cooking water and return the cooked potatoes back in the empty pot. Lower the heat down to low and gently move them around to dry out any water left on their skins.
6. Remove the potatoes from the pot and immediately peel off their skins. I recommend using a latex glove to remove the peel on one hand and holding the hot potato with a tea towel or oven glove on the other hand.
7. As each potato is peeled, place it in a potato ricer to press or mash it with a traditional masher in a medium bowl.
9. In the meantime, in a small bowl, mix the potato flour, sweet rice flour, nutmeg and salt together.
10. Once the potatoes are cool, make a space in the centre and add the egg
14. Start slicing each rope into 3cm pieces. It is important to keep each piece accurate in size so that they cook evenly.
16. Place each “successful” gnocchi onto a large tray and sprinkle some rice flour over them. As an extra measure, cover the gnocchi with a tea towel while forming the remainder.
17. Towards the end of gnocchi rolling, heat up a large, deep pot with water and some salt. Cover and bring to the boil.
18. Lower the heat from boiling to a steady simmer and add 10 to 12 gnocchi at a time, so they don’t overcrowd in the pot.
19. They should rise and float to the surface in less than 2 minutes. Immediately remove them and swiftly transfer the gnocchi to a serving platter using a mesh strainer.
20. Cover the cooked gnocchi with a tea towel and continue cooking the remaining gnocchi.
Fresh, uncooked gnocchi can be frozen on a tray and later transferred to a zip-lock bag or freezer container. No need to thaw, as they cook perfectly straight from the freezer into boiling water.