Dispelling the myth: Gnocchi (served with tomato sauce)

When I mentioned last week on twitter that I was planning to make gnocchi from scratch for dinner I was met by a surprising reaction. Unbeknownst to me, gnocchi has gained the reputation of being a big fat ball-ache not worth attempting because it inevitably ends in total disaster. Just check out the response I received from the twitterverse when I happily tweeted that I was off to make gnocchi from scratch.

Thank God I hadn’t really gathered this before I tried it for the first time as I probably wouldn’t have bothered (being someone who is both lazy and fantastically terrified of failure). But the fact was I had made gnocchi before and I hadn’t really found it to be either horribly messy or an utter waste of time. I had instead found it to be quite easy and really quite fun, and the resulting gnocchi had been little pillows of joy. I should also point out that the last time I cooked gnocchi from scratch, the boy had been away so he hadn’t even cleaned up after me. I cleaned up after myself, so the fact that the mess didn’t bother me is doubly impressive. (Yes, my husband does clean up after me every time I cook. I know. I know. Believe me, I know.).

Now, I don’t profess to be some kind of gnocchi genius. Not a bit. But I do think there may be a few trade secrets that must be adhered to: firstly, find a good recipe from a source you trust. I use the River Cafe recipe because Rose (r.i.p) and Ruth are the dons of Italian cookery in the UK and I pretty much bow to their greatness. Secondly, (and this tip comes from The Graphic Foodie who is from gen-u-ine Italian stock so it must be right) the secret is to use old potatoes. I don’t know the science behind this, probably something to do with the starch factor. Also, you want to use floury, not waxy potatoes. I use desiree potatoes on the sage advice of the lovely River Cafe ladies. Thirdly, in my honest opinion, you need a potato ricer because you have to get the potato mashed very finely whilst the potatoes are still steaming hot and ricing them is the best and quickest way to do that. Lastly, don’t overwork the potato when you’re forming the dough as you’ll make the gnocchi too dense and you want them to be as light as possible. Follow these rules and hopefully you’ll end up with something that is both not an ‘inedible gluey fail’, better than those you can get in the shops and totally and utterly worth it.

Potato Gnocchi

Adapted from The River Cafe Classic Italian Cook Book

  • 1kg white floury potatoes
  • 100g flour (I used ‘tipo 00’)
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • sea salt and pepper.

For the tomato sauce

  • extra virgin olive oil
  • 500g vine-ripened midi plum tomatoes
  • 2 garlic cloves, finely sliced
  • 1 red onion, finely chopped
  • balsamic vinegar
  • a teaspoon of sugar (optional)
  • half a dried chilli (optional)
  • a small handful of basil
  • sea salt and pepper.

Wash you potatoes, being careful not to break the skin. Keeping the potatoes whole and unpeeled, add to a pan of salted boiling water and cook for 25 minutes or so until the potatoes are soft (but don’t be tempted to prod them constantly as the potatoes will get waterlogged. Ideally you don’t want the skin broken at all).

Once the potatoes are cooked through, remove and peel immediately. They will be hotter than the sun, so you might want to hold the potatoes in a dish cloth whilst you peel them. Once you’ve peeled the potatoes and while they are still hot, put them through a potato ricer on the smallest setting directly on to a clean flat surface.

Sift the flour over the potato straight away and then season well with salt and pepper. Make a well in the middle of the warm potato and add the beaten egg.

Using your hands, quickly bring the mixture together to form a dough (but remember, don’t overwork it).

Divide the mixture into four and then roll each section out to form a long sausage (about 2cm in diameter). Then cut the sausages into little pillows of gnocchi (about 2.5 cm long).

You’ll want to add the little grooves to the gnocchi as these will hold whatever sauce you use (in this case, a simple tomato sauce). To do this you can either roll each gnocchi over a fork or you can press them against the wires on a whisk. Then leave them aside as you prepare the sauce.

To make the tomato sauce, first you’ll need to de-skin your tomatoes. I often don’t bother to de-skin tomatoes, but I think with a really simple tomato sauce it is sometimes worth it. It’s dead easy anyway… just put your tomatoes in a bowl and cover them with boiling water. After about 30 seconds drain the water away and slip the skins off.

Put the tomatoes in a large bowl and, using your hands, squelch and squeeze them until all the seeds and juice has been released.

Heat a couple of glugs of extra virgin olive oil in a frying pan and then over a medium heat fry off the onions for a couple of minutes. Add the sliced garlic and cook for another minute or so. Pour in the tomatoes, seeds and all, and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Season well with salt and pepper. If you like, you can crumble in half a dried chilli for a bit of heat. Bring to the boil and simmer gently until the sauce has reduced slightly and thickened. (Taste and if needed add a small teaspoon of sugar to counteract the sharpness of the tomatoes and the balsamic – I don’t always do this, but sometimes it helps). Tear in the basil leaves.

Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches for around 3 minutes or until all the gnocchi rise to the surface. Taste one to check they are cooked. Remove with a slotted spoon and add to the sauce. Coat well with the sauce and serve drizzled with a little olive oil and basil leaves.

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Filed under Basil, Chillies, Main courses, Potatoes, Recipes, River Cafe, Starters, Tomatoes, Weekday dinners

14 responses to “Dispelling the myth: Gnocchi (served with tomato sauce)

  1. They look gorgeous! I confess I’m not that much of a gnocchi fan – I prefer pasta! Not that I’ve made that myself either!

  2. Gary

    Well, a thousand apologies from one of your doubters! Maybe I should revisit these little balls of potato death and try making them again. I love eating them – no problem at all! – just found that the effort wasn’t worth it.

    I saw Gordon Ramsay’s take on them yesterday (http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/16/top-chefs-vegetarian-recipes) where he bakes the potatoes to get at the flesh. This will probably make for an earthier flavour, and not such a soggy mess.



  3. Kavey: well considering that fact, I’m touched that these appeal. I’ve made both and gnocchi is way easier to make (and quicker too). No need for endless rolling of pasta with added frustation of dough snagging in the machine and having to start rolling again (aarrrggggh!!). I love homemade pasta too though 🙂

    Gary: Sorry for broadcasting your tweets! Hope you don’t mind. I hope if you do revisit the gnocchi then this post helps. It really is quite easy once you get the knack (and totally delicious). I hope you find it worthwhile next time :). I’ve seen the baking method before too and that probably does work well – it just takes a bit longer! Thanks for the message.

  4. Sigh. I’ll just have to get down the shops and get me a potato ricer, aren’t I? Yes, yes I am.

  5. I bought a potato ricer once, may even have been for gnocchi. Suffice to say it’s sat in my cupboard unused but this may be enough to get it out and into action.

    You ever made semolina or chickpea flour gnocchi?

  6. Lizzie: yes, I think you are going to have to. They’re great anyway – makes v. smooth mash potato as well as giving you the ability to make gnocchi. Yay and yay!

    Joshua: Search that ricer out and get ricing. Don’t you use it to make mash? It’s so much easier than the physically exertion required to actually mash yourself. No, I haven’t made semolina gnocchi but I think I might give it a go. Do you know a good recipe?

  7. Right. Well they look wonderful and I am thoroughly chastened for my dire warnings. I’m going to have to give this another go aren’t I?

    The first time around I used a recipe from Jamie’s Italian book (since my mum seems convinced he’s my favourite chef and buys me a new one of his books every year) which involved baking the potatoes in the oven first to avoid water-logging. An hour of baking, a floury mess, and all I got was gluey lumps of bleugh. And I used a ricer and everything (I love my ricer and Lizzie you should totally get one they’re not expensive at all and a joy to use).

    I suspect in my naivety I overworked the dough though, as it refused to not be sticky. I should know from all the times I’ve made pastry NOT to overwork dough, but obviously I don’t.

    Will try again using your method and report back. Thanks for posting this up!

  8. Gnocchi is lush pure and simple, this looks amazing!

  9. Looks fantastic. Think I might well give them a go sometime soon. Thanks for the inspiration.

  10. Yup. Italians only make gnocchi out of old potatoes at the end of the season. Too fresh and you end up with potato soup. Made lemon ricotta gnocchi lately which were like little pillows of heaven and even harder to make! Thanks for the shout!

  11. I made this, it was delicious. I think they float a little before they’re really done. Pasta is so easy/troublesome. I’ll do better next time.

  12. Now, i wish i had read this before I went ahead and made my gnocchi. Because although mine tasted pretty good, i think they were a little dense – probably because i over worked the know. Mental note now duly scribbled, I’m ready to give them another go.

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