This potato gnocchi recipe has become a new family favorite. Discover, like we did in Italy, how easy and delicious making homemade gnocchi can be.
Gnocchi Recipe from Naples, Italy
In September, we traveled to Italy as guests of The Greatest Tomatoes from Europe and ANICAV, the largest association in the world representing tomato processing companies. Our tour took us to the San Marzano region of Italy to experience the taste and quality of the famous San Marzano DOP canned tomatoes, an essential ingredient in Italian cuisine.
One of the highlights of the trip was our time in Naples at the Medeaterranea Accademia Enogastronomica where we learned from talented Italian chefs how to make gnocchi and Neapolitan pizza. With permission, we are sharing their delicious recipe with you.
This gnocchi is by far the best we have ever tasted. What surprised us the most was how easy it was to make once we understood the ingredients, the tools needed, and the techniques. Here we will share with you everything we have learned and more.
What is Gnocchi?
Gnocchi is a traditional type of pasta that originated in northern Italy where the climate is cooler and more favorable for growing potatoes than grain. Potatoes are cooked and shredded, then kneaded into the dough to make the pasta. Some people describe gnocchi as a dumpling because of the shape and texture. In addition to potatoes, semolina, flour, and eggs are common ingredients in gnocchi. Italian recipes can call for cheese, herbs, and seasonings for flavor. Buying frozen gnocchi at the store may be tempting, but making your own tastes so much better!
“Authentic” Italian Gnocchi
Like many dishes in Italy, gnocchi can vary widely depending on region, so there are many “authentic” Italian recipes for gnocchi. As mentioned above, in Northern Italy gnocchi is made with potatoes. In Rome, gnocchi aren’t boiled but baked in a dish until golden and tender. Sometimes gnocchi is filled with cheese, milk, and butter, and sometimes it is simply rolled and cooked without filling. Our friend, Christina (Christina’s Cucina), who was also with us on the tour, has a delicious Gnocchi alla Sorrentina recipe. It is an original recipe from Sorrento in southern Italy that doesn’t use potatoes at all. Christina’s recipe has only three ingredients – flour, boiling water, and a little semolina.
Ingredients Needed for Gnocchi
Italian cuisine is all about fresh, quality ingredients. For the best, most authentic tasting, gnocchi, do the best you can to find the ingredients listed or the closest substitute. If only we all had a buffalo waiting to be milked in the backyard!
- Tipo “00” flour: This extra fine flour is ideal for making pastas. It is the only flour they use in Italy. Look for it at an Italian market or online.
- Potatoes: A good dry potato. In Italy, they use an Italian red potato that is starchy and dry. The closest to that here in the United States is Russet potatoes. Russets work great, I actually prefer using Yukon gold. It is a little more waxy but if you dry it out enough it closely resembles the Italian red potato.
- Egg yolk
- Grated Grana Padano: You can substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano. Don’t make the mistake of using parmesan cheese from the plastic bottle. Use the real cheese for best results!
- Salt and pepper
- Ground nutmeg
Tomato Sauce Ingredients
- Cento San Marzano DOP tomatoes: The Cento brand of San Marzano DOP tomatoes is the easiest for us to find near us. Be sure to look for the official DOP seal (Protected Designation of Origin) when looking at other brands.
- Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Mozzarella cheese (Buffalo Mozzarella if you can find it)
- Fresh basil leaves
Tools Needed for Gnocchi
We were admittedly a little spoiled preparing our gnocchi in a culinary school kitchen. Everything we needed was right at our finger tips. These tools are all very helpful, but do the best you can with what you have available. (This list contains Amazon links. As an Amazon Associate, we can earn from qualifying purchases).
- Kitchen scale – One thing we learned in Italy is that everything is always weighed. Exactness is key. This is the kitchen scale that I bought. I love it because it is very small, but also very effective.
- Sieve – To effectively roll the gnocchi around, you need to use a large sieve. I use this 12″ one.
- Potato ricer – Using a potato ricer is a great way to mash up the potatoes and remove lumps for smooth, gnocchi.
- Bench Scraper (aka Dough Scraper) – I LOVE bench scrapers. They are the best for cutting dough and they make cleaning up a BREEZE. I use mine all the time.
- Souffle Dishes or Ceramic Casserole (if you are wanting to make individual portions or “family-style”.)
- Large Pot – for boiling water
- Skillet – for simmering sauce
Is Gnocchi a Potato or a Pasta?
In short, neither. Gnocchi is difficult to put into an exact category. Though it is made with potato (and flour) in this recipe, it can also be made with just flour. You can serve gnocchi with all kinds of sauces and toppings making it seem more like a pasta, however, it doesn’t quite seem to fit in with the other pastas. So… what IS gnocchi then? Because of the shape and texture, gnocchi probably most closely resembles a dumpling.
Techniques for Making Gnocchi
Preparing the Potatoes
In Italy, they boiled the unpeeled potatoes, then they were peeled and finely grated. The Italian red potatoes are naturally more dry. To combat this I put my Yukon gold potatoes in the Instant Pot on a wire insert and added 1 cup of water. Cooked 20 minutes whole and unpeeled. Then I riced the potatoes with a potato ricer and let them sit out for a couple hours. Leftover mashed potatoes are also acceptable. They can also be refrigerated, lightly covered overnight.
Preparing the Gnocchi Dough
Gnocchi dough does not need to be kneaded for a long time like other doughs. It just needs to be kneaded long enough to form a dough that can be rolled out. This should only take a minute or so to do. We learned how to make the dough on a clean counter-space using our hands but the dough can also be prepared in a stand mixer with a paddle and dough hook.
How to Roll Gnocchi
There is some technique to rolling out gnocchi. Some like to seal it with a fork so they have ridges that the sauce can stick to. We were taught to use our fingers to roll gnocchi and then use a sieve to help remove excess flour. Using a sieve also helps to make them more “pillowy”. You can see the finger rolling technique in the video on the recipe below. These are all acceptable ways to shape gnocchi.
You can make gnocchi plain and seal it up or you can fill it. For this recipe we filled our gnocchi with some DOP buffalo mozzarella. You can fill it with ricotta, spinach, chicken, or any kind of tasty mixture you want.
Boiling the Gnocchi
Gnocchi can easily be underdone or overdone. That doesn’t mean that getting perfectly cooked gnocchi is difficult to do. Simply put, gnocchi will stay at the bottom of the pot when they are undercooked, float when they are cooked, and then sink again once they are overcooked. It is easy to know when they are perfectly done because they will be floating at the top. All you have to do is scoop them out of the pot once they float. Simple as that.
The Best Tomato (Pomodoro) Sauce
The possibilities are endless. Meat sauce, Alfredo sauce, and pesto sauce would all be delicious over this gnocchi. However, sometimes simple is best and most flavorful. The tomato sauce we made in Italy was perfect. San Marzano DOP canned tomatoes are essential. As the sauce simmers on the stove, have some clean teaspoon size spoons available for tasting. The chef explained to us that adding salt to the sauce removes the acidic taste of the tomato. As you taste it, you will understand what he meant. Continue to add salt to the sauce until the acidic, slightly bitter, taste is gone. No salt is added to the San Marzano DOP tomatoes when they are canned, so it does take a generous amount of salt to get the sauce just right.
How to Make Gnocchi
- 4-5 small Yukon gold potatoes (or Russett potatoes, see notes above)
- 100 grams "00" flour (appx 1 cup, may need more for kneading surface)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
- black pepper to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon grated Grana Padano (you can also use Parmigiano Reggiano)
- 1 pinch ground nutmeg
- 1/2 cup fresh mozzarella (cut into small 1/4-1/2" cubes)
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Rinse potatoes and add them to the pot (they do not need to be peeled). Cook until tender but still fairly firm (fork tender). Drain, cool, and put through a ricer (or mash). For best results, allow the potatoes to dry after ricing. Spread them out and let them dry for an hour or cover lightly and refrigerate overnight. *If you are wanting to make your gnocchi with the sauce– prepare the sauce now (see below) and allow it to simmer on low while you prepare the gnocchi.
- Preheat oven to 400-degrees F.(Note: The next two steps can also be done in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment until mixed and then the dough hook until a dough forms.)Pour the flour our on a clean, lightly floured surface. Make a well in the flour and add 250 grams of the riced potato.
- Add the egg yolk, salt, pepper Grana Padano, and nutmeg.
- Using your hands, mix the ingredients together and then knead until combined and a dough ball forms. Shape small portions of the dough into "snakes". On a floured surface, cut snaked into half-inch pieces. Roll each piece by placing your finger at the top of each seam and rolling your finger down, forming a pocket. (Click on the video below to see how this is done)
- Roll around in the sieve until excess flour is removed and the dough has formed into pretty gnocchi ball.
- Place a square of mozzarella in each "pocket" and pinch shut. Sprinkle with flour and then place all of the dough balls in a sieve.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in all the gnocchi and boil until gnocchi has risen to the top (about 3-5 minutes).
- Drain and add to the sauce. Gently stir until well combined.
- Scoop the gnocchi into individual souffle dishes or into a small casserole dish if serving family-style. Add fresh basil, grana padano (or fresh parmesan) to taste. Cover with fresh mozzarella, hiding the basil under the mozzarella so the basil doesn't burn.
- Place in the oven on the top rack and bake for 12 minutes.Carefully remove from the oven and serve.
For The Tomato Sauce:
- Heat the olive oil in a deep skillet or sauce pan until hot. Add onion and stir until onion has lightly caramelized. Add the tomatoes and blend it all together using an immersion blender until smooth. Add salt, to taste. Keep adding salt until the acidity from the tomatoes has been mellowed out (about 3+ teaspoons). (If you don't have an immersion blender, combine the tomatoes, salt, and caramelized onion in a blender and puree. Return to the skillet to heat.)
- Allow to simmer on low, stirring occasionally, until ready to serve. Stir in fresh basil just a minute or two before serving.