Gnocchi (pronounced (NYAAW – KEY) are Italian potato dumplings, and if made properly, they are said to be like little pillows: delicate and soft, and a delight to eat! Gnocchi are popular in northern Italy and as far south as the Abruzzo region.
The dough is prepared with just a few ingredients—potatoes, a bit of flour, and sometimes an egg. The dough is then kneaded gently, rolled out, and cut into bite-size pieces. At the end of the process, ridges are created by rolling each “gnocco” along a fork or specially carved small wooden board. These ridges are perfect for capturing the delicious butter sauce, Gorgonzola sauce, pesto, or tomato sauce they can be served with. To see the method to make gnocchi in detail, visit our Stella Lucente Italian Pinterest site.
Italian families commonly gather around the kitchen table and make these treats together, often on a Sunday afternoon. Make and enjoy these famous Italian dumplings one afternoon at your home for a special treat!
For the gnocchi
1 large Idaho potato
1 cup of flour
For the brown butter and sage sauce
2 sticks unsalted butter, clarified if possible(see* below)
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 fresh sage leaves, torn
For the Gorgonzola sauce
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 lb. fresh Gorgonzola cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup whole milk
1/4 –1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream or half and half
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Procedure to make the gnocchi
Place the potato on a rack in the oven and bake until soft throughout, or microwave it on high for about 6 minutes. (If you are cooking potatoes for more than one batch, wrap the extras in foil to hold in the heat until you are ready to use them.)
Don’t work with the potato when it is very hot. Wait until it is comfortably warm, then remove the skin and mash it with a fork or use a potato ricer. (The ricer is recommended because it makes quick work of getting the potato ready to add the flour, while at the same time keeping the potato fluffy and removing all eyes and lumps.)
The mashed/riced potatoes should be light and loose.
Place 1 cup of flour on your work surface.
Place your mashed/riced potato alongside in a separate pile.
Spread out the mashed/riced potatoes, then sprinkle some of the flour onto the potatoes. Start working the two ingredients together.
As soon as the flour is absorbed, add more flour until the mixture starts to create a workable dough. A light hand in mixing here will yield a tender dumpling. Do not over-knead!
Depending on the size of your potato, you may or may not use all of the flour; use only enough to create a workable dough. (Too much dough will yield sticky, heavy gnocchi when cooked instead of light and airy gnocchi!)
Gather the dough into a ball and cover for 10 minutes. This will allow the moisture from the potatoes to be absorbed by the flour.
Knead the dough just enough to blend again; do not overwork.
Slice off a quarter of the dough and start rolling it out to form a length of “rope” that is 1/2 inch thick.
Cut the rope into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces and then process it by rolling the gnocchi beneath your finger, then quickly pulling it toward you until it has made a full turn and curled up a bit.
To create ridges, use this same movement over the back of the tines of a fork or a specially ridged wooden gnocchi board.
Method to cook the gnocchi
Fill a large pot with water about ¾ of the way to the top and add a generous amount of salt. Cover pot and bring to a boil. While the water is boiling, prepare your sauce.
Turn the heat down, uncover, and add gnocchi gently. A large, flat, slotted serving spoon works best to lower the gnocchi safely into the water.
Cook gnocchi for about 3–4 minutes.
Watch the gnocchi as they cook, and when they float to the top of the water, gently lift them out with a slotted spoon.
Procedure to make the brown butter and sage sauce
*Note: If you have time, clarify the butter you will use for this recipe. Put the butter into a saucepan and melt over medium high heat. Skim off the milky foam that floats to the top. The butter will turn a slightly darker yellow and the milky products will separate from the fat and the fat will float to the top. At this point, pour off the clarified butter fat and leave the milky specs behind. Use immediately.
If using regular butter: You will have little specs of milk products that will turn brown on the bottom of the pan, along with the brown butter fat that floats on the top. You can pour the browned butter fat off into a different pan before adding the sage, and leave these browned specs behind.
Method for making brown butter sauce:
Melt the butter gently in a large, light-colored skillet or saucepan over very low heat. Or, if using clarified butter, just pour this liquid into the skillet.
Turn the pan around on the burner as needed, so the butter melts at an even rate if you have an electric stove. No need to do this with a gas stove.
Keep the heat on low, but watch the butter carefully. It will start to turn brown. Swirl the melted butter in the pan gently to evenly distribute the heat.
When the butter has turned light brown, immediately remove it from the heat.
Add the salt and swirl to melt.
Add the fresh torn sage leaves.
Immediately pour over warm, just-cooked gnocchi waiting to be sauced in a serving bowl and mix gently to coat.
Garnish with a sprig of sage and serve while hot.
Procedure to make the Gorgonzola sauce
Place the butter, Gorgonzola cheese, and milk in a small saucepan. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt.
Melt all ingredients together slowly over low heat while stirring gently to blend the Gorgonzola cheese with the other ingredients.
When all has melted and blended together, taste and adjust salt.
If the gnocchi are not ready at this time, turn off the heat. Then reheat sauce gently on low heat for about a minute and add the final ingredients.
Add the heavy cream or half and half, mix to incorporate, and cook over medium heat, simmering the sauce to reduce and thicken it.
Add the Parmesan cheese and cook over low heat to melt.
Remove from heat and pour over warm, just-cooked gnocchi waiting to be sauced in a serving bowl and mix gently to coat.
—Adapted from “Cooking Around the World” at the Chillicothe Public Library, Illinois, as presented with the Italian-American Society of Peoria on July 14, 2014, by Rudy Litwin and Kathryn Occhipinti
Kathryn Occhipinti, MD, is the author of the
Conversational Italian for Travelers series of books and a teacher of Italian for travelers to Italy in the Peoria and Chicago area.
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Gnocchi with Brown Butter or Gorgonzola Sauce