One of my favorite memories of Italy is actually of eating a classic Tuscan dish—potato gnocchi. Have you ever wondered how to make gnocchi from scratch?
Think of gnocchi as petite, potato pillows on a plate coated with your favorite basil pesto, marinara or bolognese sauce, or simply stir-fried and browned in butter. Ottimo!
Gnocchi (n: pronounced N’YAW-kee) originated in Northern Italy as a dish for Italian peasants that was not only easy to make with ingredients that were readily available but was also inexpensive and delicious. The cooler northern climate was better for growing potatoes than grain.
Is it a pasta? Is it a dumpling? You decide. Either way, they are de.lic.ious!
Is It Possible to Learn How to Make Fresh Gnocchi Like an Italian Grandma?
If you want to learn how to make gnocchi from scratch, you are among good company. Gnocchi has been a traditional Italian pasta since Roman times made by Italian grandmas and families alike with techniques and traditions passed down over the generations.
The name gnocchi is derived from the Italian word “nocca” which mean knuckle. It refers to the shape of the pasta which looks like a small knuckle.
After trying pillowy soft gnocchi a number of times in Italy as we traveled as a family, it quickly became a favorite dish for all of us.
I was determined to learn how to make fresh gnocchi to bring back the feeling of eating in Tuscany. And the good news? Making fresh gnocchi is not difficult at all. You’ll feel as though you have an Italian grandma right in your very own kitchen.
Since perfecting my technique, making gnocchi on Christmas Day with my girls has become a yearly tradition for us to work on together.
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What is Traditional Italian Gnocchi Made Of?
Following the recipes I found online, I began making gnocchi using Idaho Russet potatoes. I found quite by accident that Yukon Gold potatoes made a much tastier and fluffier pasta. It is a simple recipe of potatoes, eggs, flour and salt (some do make the gnocchi without eggs, so that is an option too).
We top the gnocchi with a hearty bolognese sauce, meatballs and a sprinkling of parmesan. Having gnocchi is a non-traditional but perfect way for my family to enjoy a little bit of Italy AND Christmas dinner together.
While you may find a variety of instructions and recipes on how to make fresh gnocchi, this is the recipe that work best for me. Some Italian grandmas might even gasp at the techniques I use!
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Did You Know It Is Good Luck to Eat Gnocchi on the 29th?
Let’s start by saying that Italian is the largest ethnic group in Argentina. In fact, in 2011, approximately 25 million Argentines (well over 60% of the Argentinian population) had some degree of Italian ancestry. After Brazil, Argentina has the second-largest community of Italians living outside of Italy.
So, it is no surprise that Italian traditions and dishes carry over to Argentina.
Gnocchi Day in Argentina is the 29th day of each month. Most families eat gnocchi or ñoquis!
Traditionally, the 29th day of the month was just before payday when money was tight and often only flour and potatoes were left to eat in the larder.
Today, as shared by the the FoodRepublic.com, “families and friends gather on the 29th to eat gnocchi together for good luck. Some restaurants only serve gnocchi on this day, and many offer gnocchi specials. At dinner, for extra luck and prosperity, the tradition is that everyone at the table gets a peso coin or note under their dinner plate.”
Whether you live in Argentina or Italy, learning how to make fresh gnocchi is a must!
Best Homemade Gnocchi Recipe
Cook Time: 20-25 minutes to boil potatoes
Gnocchi Cook Time: ~5 minutes
Total Time: ~1 hour
- 1 – 2 pounds of Yukon Gold potatoes
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 1/2 cups flour (you may need more)
Instructions on How to Make Fresh Gnocchi
1. Cook the Potatoes
Peel potatoes and cube. Use a large pot and fill with water. Add 1/2 tsp salt to the water. Bring water to a boil.
Add potatoes and make sure they are covered with 2 to 3 inches of water. Bring to a boil again and then reduce to a medium-high heat.
Cook the potatoes until they are soft and are easily pierced with a fork. Drain.
2. “Rice” or Mash the Potatoes
If you have a ricer, you can use this to create tiny pieces of potato that are essential in making fresh gnocchi. In fact, many would argue that potato ricers are the secret to fluffy gnocchi (and mashed potatoes) as it incorporates air into the potatoes as it pushes them through the ricer.
I do not have a ricer, so if you don’t have one either, pull out your trusty potato masher and mash your potatoes to break down the lumps and cubed pieces. This post shares how to make potato gnocchi without a ricer. I mash the potatoes after draining the water off as they are much easier to mash when still warm.
3. Allow Potatoes to Cool
Spread the riced or mashed potatoes out on a cookie sheet or similar flat surface to allow them to cool. Taste your potatoes and sprinkle with salt if needed.
Once cooled off somewhat (mine are usually still a bit warm), I add the potatoes to a pyrex bowl and create a well in the center of the potatoes. (I have also done this on my silicone pastry mat, but to be honest, it is so much easier in the bowl.)
What is The Secret to Making Gnocchi?
4. Add Eggs and Flour
Add 1 to 2 beaten eggs to the well in the middle of the potatoes and then about 1/4 cup of flour. Using a fork (or your hands), begin to incorporate the flour and eggs into the potato. Continue to add flour until you can form a ball with the dough and the dough does not stick to your hands.
TIP * Do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi becomes tough.
5. Divide the Dough into Small Sections
If you have a silicone pastry mat, it works great when you begin shaping the dough.
As you work with your dough, cover the remaining dough balls with a damp paper towel to keep the dough moist.
Begin to roll the dough between your hands to shape the dough into a snake-like rope.
Cut the rolled dough into small bite-size pieces about a 1/2 to 1 inch in length.
6. Create Ridges on Your Gnocchi – Optional
Many will then use the tines of a fork to create ridges in the gnocchi which is said to allow the gnocchi to hold onto the sauce you add. Italian grandmas may not appreciate that I just add the gnocchi to the water without doing this step.
Does Fresh Gnocchi Need to be Boiled?
7. Boil the Gnocchi
Yes, if you plan to eat it right away.
When learning how to make fresh gnocchi, it is easiest at the point to have someone working with you to cook the gnocchi as you cut it. I sometimes sprinkle the cut pieces with a little bit of flour to keep them from sticking to each other. This is especially helpful if you are working on your own.
Bring a pot of water to a boil. You may wish to salt the water again if your gnocchi are not salty enough.
You do have to be gentle with the gnocchi. If you grab a handful of gnocchi to add to your boiling water, they will clump together. Pick them up one at a time to transfer from the silicon mat to the water and then drop in the water individually.
This may sound time consuming, but it goes pretty fast and keeps the shape of your gnocchi.
Cook the gnocchi in boiling water for 5+ minutes in small batches. The gnocchi will rise to the surface of the water when cooked. Use a slotted spoon to remove from the water when the gnocchi is cooked.
Serve with your favorite sauce.
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How to Freeze Fresh Gnocchi?
Can you freeze gnocchi? Yes!
Fresh gnocchi can be frozen. After you have cut and shaped your gnocchi pieces, but prior to adding them to boiling water to cook, arrange the gnocchi in a single layer on a lightly floured baking sheet. Place in the freezer.
Once the gnocchi are frozen, you can then transfer to a bag or container to save for a future meal. Drop directly into boiling salted water and proceed with the recipe.
Since our family has learned how to make fresh gnocchi, we have not had extra to freeze. My girls are happy to eat it all!
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Could You Just Buy Pre-made Gnocchi From the Grocery Store?
You can buy packaged gnocchi in the store and it is meh—rather dry and not so tasty. I have had gnocchi a number of times in Italy and Spain, and store bought gnocchi tastes nothing like it. You might even ask, “What’s the big deal with gnocchi?” if you try some store bought brands.
Trader Joe’s does offer some packaged gnocchi meals that come with cheese and sauce that are okay.
I think my gnocchi rivals the gnocchi made in Italy by Italian grandmas. Just saying.
How to Dress Up Your Gnocchi
Gnocchi is a super versatile pasta. After you have learned how to make fresh gnocchi, discover the many ways to enjoy it. Traditionally served with a light butter sauce and sage in Italy, the possibilities are endless.
If using a light butter sauce, pair it with savory ingredients such as pine nuts, a touch of cream, or mushrooms.
Served with a bolognese sauce is my favorite way to enjoy this delectable dish, but you could also add your favorite pesto. How about creating a baked gnocchi dish? Or maybe a light cream with your favorite seasonal vegetables?
Even the Pioneer Woman weighs in on the 15 Best Gnocchi Recipes for a Tasty Italian-Inspired Meal. The options for enjoying gnocchi are endless.
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Final Thoughts on How to Make Fresh Gnocchi Like an Italian Grandma!
While your gnocchi may not turn out the first time you try to make it, and you will wish that you had an Italian grandma in your kitchen helping you, practice makes perfect.
You may need to tweak your own techniques to perfect your skills on how to make fresh gnocchi.
If all else fails, it is time to buy a ticket to Italy. You’ll definitely find some excellent gnocchi there.