With a decidedly un-Italian name like Lauren Cahn and a primarily Eastern European pedigree, you might be surprised to learn that homemade gnocchi (pronounced “ny-OH-kee”) is one of my signature dishes. But versions of these heavenly little potato dumplings exist all over the world, so before I discovered gnocchi served tossed in a light, garlic-scented sauce studded with porcini mushrooms and heaped with freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano at a tiny Italian restaurant, I was already quite familiar with shlishkes (Hungarian potato dumplings) and potato kneidlach (a Passover tradition in some Jewish homes).
Nevertheless, sinking my teeth into my first gnocchi was a revelation; a tender-yet-solid, Parmesan-scented bite. I couldn’t decide whether to chew or to let it melt in my mouth. What I did know was that I was hooked and returned often to the restaurant to try gnocchi with different sauces, from an incredible Bolognese to freshly ground basil pesto. I was surprised to learn that the word “gnocchi” is derived from the Italian word for “knot,” as in a knot of wood, because I always found them to be soft and pillow-like. And when I learned to make homemade gnocchi, that was the shape I was taught to give them: that of little pillows.
They say the secret to the perfectly light and pillowy gnocchi is the right potato—one that’s high in starch and low in water. Luckily we have this guide to choosing the right potato for every recipe, from which we know that the russet potato is our go-to gnocchi potato. Starting with that, here’s everything you’ll need to make your homemade gnocchi that’s so good you’ll never even think of buying it prepared again.
How to Make Gnocchi
4 large russet potatoes
1 large egg
1 yolk from a large egg
1/2 cup of grated parmesan cheese
1 1/2 to 2 cups flour plus extra for sprinkling
pinch of salt and pepper
Step 1: Boil your potatoes
Cook your potatoes, skin on, in water that is already boiling. A fork should easily pierce their flesh when they’re ready, but should take about 40 minutes. And remember to give them a good scrub before boiling.
Step 2: Peel and grind your potatoes
Cool off your boiled potatoes in cold tap water (so you can easily handle them), peel the skin right off, chop them into small pieces and run them through a food mill or a ricer. If you don’t have either, you can mash them however you normally mash your potatoes (but don’t add anything to them).
Step 3: Assemble and shape your dough
Sprinkle flour on your counter, and mound the potatoes on top. Dig a well in the top of the mound, into which you’ll place the egg, egg yolk, cheese, salt, and pepper. Sprinkle the flour on top of the mound and use a fork to incorporate. Then use your hands to gently (don’t knead it like it’s bread) form a dough ball. Sprinkle a little flour on the dough ball, and slice off a piece that you can handle rolling out into a rope of about a half inch diameter.
Step 4: Form your dumplings
Shutterstock / franco borrelli
Cut the rope into bite sized pieces (they will look like little pillows!). Repeat until you’ve formed dumplings of all of the dough. Alternately, you can save some of the dough for another time by wrapping it tightly in plastic wrap and placing it in the freezer; when you’re ready to make more gnocchi, simply defrost the dough in the refrigerator.
If you want to give these gnocchi the ridges like you might see at an Italian restaurant, you can invest in a gnocchi board like this. Just roll the dough across to give the pieces a ribbed look.
Step 5: Cook your gnocchi
Use a dull knife to gently scrape about a cup’s worth of dumplings into boiling salted water. In about two to three minutes, they should rise to the top. Remove them with a strainer and run under cold water. Repeat until you’ve cooked as much gnocchi as you desire.
Toss with the sauce of your choice, and enjoy! Try them with pesto like in this recipe. You’re sure to understand how I fell in love at first bite.