I love it when my sister makes fresh gnocchi! Mainly because I get to stick my fingers in the soft and squishy potato mixture! If you’re already thinking, “crazy alert!!”, you’ve clearly never felt it before, and let me tell you, you’re missing out!! Remember the 90’s, when everyone had one of those rubber balloons filled with flour, which you could pull and tug and mold into any shape, until they unexpectedly burst in your face, always at very inopportune moments I might add (I was on the school bus…twice!) Despite the embarrassing moments, those little flour explosives felt awesome between your fingers.
Making gnocchi is not for the faint of heart. It takes the four P’s: practice, patience, persistence and potatos!! The most important thing is that once you start, you can never give up. Stay calm and keep adding flour to that mixture until you’re happy with the consistency. The hard part about gnocchi is that at best, they can be light and delicate, but at worst, they will be dense, rubbery and stick-to-your-palate inedible (if they even make it that far!). Using the wrong ratio of potatoes to flour may leave you with lots of broken bits and pieces floating around in the boiling water.
So now that I’ve properly freaked you out, for those of you who are still reading and haven’t given up quite yet here’s how to make potato gnocchi like an Italian grandmother, or a 26-year old cook…or my 26-year old grandma!
Heat oven to 200˚C. Wash 1 kg of floury potatoes (preferably Maris Piper or King Edward) whole and wrap them in foil. Poke each foil-wrapped potato with a fork all over its surface to get as much moisture out of them. In the oven the heat gets in and dries them out, as opposed to boiling them, where the potato is soaked in water so actually soaks in more water! Place the potatoes on a baking tray on a bed of rock salt. The salt will soak up the remaining moisture. Bake between 45 and 60 minutes, depending on the size. To speed things up you can also halve them before wrapping them. When they are ready you should be able to push a fork or knife through the potato with no resistance. Once your potatoes are soft, remove them from the oven and unwrap. Let them cool for no more than 5 minutes; you want them to still be hot, but not piping hot!! Mashing the potato when it’s hot makes smoother dough and doesn’t produce lumps. Once you can bear to handle the potatoes, push them through a drum sieve. If you use a potato masher, make sure you remove the skin before mashing.
Start adding flour to the pureed potatoes. The average dosage is 300g of flour to 1kg of potatoes. But again, it’s all about the feel. Your potatoes may be more or less starchy and will therefore require more or less flour to reach the perfect consistency. This consistency will not be wet and sticky, but not dry enough to crumble. Just enough give to keep its shape while cooking. Make sure you don’t overwork the dough or it will become tough. Remember, practice makes perfect (alternatively, when you think you have a good consistency, rip a little piece off, drop it in boiling water and try it out). Shape the mixture into a loaf.
To start rolling out the gnocchi, cut off a small end of the loaf and roll it out into a long sausage. Take a blunt knife and cut each sausage into two centimeter pieces. Then take each piece and use your thumb to gently roll it down a fork. Now place them on a bed of flour (or semolina). Your gnocchi are ready to be cooked in a pot of salted, simmering water for about 3 minutes, or until they float to the top! Use a slotted spoon to gently lift them out of the pot and toss them in the sauce of your choice.
And VOILÀ! The perfect gnocchi!