Homemade Potato Gnocchi with quick tomato sauce

Freshly-made Potato Gnocchi, ready to cook

Since all my food thoughts have been taken over by Italian cuisine last August, I have worked to incorporate more easy Italian classics into my weekly cooking routine. I’ve been wanting to really master making homemade pasta, but with past failures, I’ve been a little gun shy of it now. But one thing I have been successful with in the past is homemade potato gnocchi. It is a kind of pasta, using grated cooked potato, egg and flour. It’s earthy and delicious. I’ll call it my “starter” pasta.

Gnocchi is Italian for “little lumps”, which describes it perfectly. Gnocchi are light little lumps of potato goodness. When they are done correctly, they should be as “soft as clouds”. They are pressed with grooves to hold onto a sauce, making them pair perfectly with a basic homemade tomato sauce.

Traditionally, gnocchi can be made from either ricotta or potatoes mixed with flour. There are variations with parmesan or chopped cooked spinach added. I’ve seen  In Marcella Hazan’s classic Venetian recipe for potato gnocchi, she does NOT include eggs. She said that adding eggs makes them alla parigina, or “Paris style”. Well, I love Paris, so I added an egg to mine.

Here is my recipe, based on Marcella’s recipe, but modified a bit.

Making Homemade Potato Gnocchi

You’ll need:

2 lbs. potatoes (use boiling potatoes, like Yukon Gold, NOT waxy or baking potatoes)
1 1/2 cups white flour (I use White Lily, the classic Southern soft wheat flour)
1 large egg
1 teaspoon kosher salt

First, Weigh your potatoes.

Because potatoes come in such varying sizes, you will need to weigh your potatoes to get as close to 2 pounds as you can. I use my little kitchen scale to get close to the amount that I need. You can see from my picture, I just needed 6 small to medium Yukon Gold potatoes.

Weighing potatoes to get 2 lbs.

Weighing 2 lbs. of Yukon Gold potatoes for my gnocchi dough

Second, peel, dice and cook your potatoes.

Place them into a medium saucepan filled with salted water. Boil on medium heat until they are fork tender, about 10-15 minutes. Like you would do if you were making potato salad, you don’t want to overcook them. They should be still fairly firm and DEFINITELY not soggy or disintegrating in the water. Drain into a colander and let cool until room temperature.

Cooked Yukon Gold Potatoes

Cooked Yukon Gold Potatoes, drained and cooling

 Third, grate your cooked potatoes

You want to break up the cooked potatoes into smaller pieces but you don’t want it to be mashed or pureed. To get the best texture, a potato ricer is ideal. But, I don’t have a potato ricer, so I just use a cheese grater instead. To do this, simply run the cooked potato pieces over the grater over a bowl. Like this…

Grated Potatoes for Gnocchi

Grated Potatoes for Gnocchi

Fourth, add flour, egg and salt, then mix

Mixing in the egg, flour and salt to grated potatoes

Mixing in the egg, flour and salt to grated potatoes

In your bowl of grated potatoes, add the flour, salt and egg. Mix the ingredients until it starts to form a soft, sticky dough. It should come together with just the moisture of the one egg. Try to use a light touch. Too much mixing and kneading will make them tough. When it forms a ball, turn it out onto a floured surface.

Fifth, roll & cut to form the potato gnocchi

Cut your dough ball into fourths. On your floured surface, take each fourth and roll it out into a long “log”, until it is about 1 1/2 inches thick.

Rolling the potato gnocchi dough

Rolling the potato gnocchi dough into a long “log”

Using a butter knife or a pastry cutter, cut the potato gnocchi dough into pieces, about 1 1/2 inches wide. 

Cutting the potato gnocchi

Cutting the potato gnocchi into small pieces

When you have finished rolling out and cutting each of the four dough pieces, you will finish forming the gnocchi by rolling them with a fork to create grooves on the surface. Use your finger to add a dimple to the other side. The grooves and dimple are an important part of the gnocchi’s shape. It allows it to grab and hold on to the pasta sauce when you serve it. Pretty neat, huh?

Place your rolled gnocchi aside on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.

Rolling grooves into potato gnocchi with fork

Rolling grooves into potato gnocchi with fork

Sixth, boil gnocchi and serve

At this point, you can let the formed gnocchi rest. Since it only takes about 5-10 minutes to cook the gnocchi, you can put it aside and work on the rest of your meal. This is when I start my tomato sauce and make the salad. See below for my recipe for a quick, homemade tomato sauce that goes perfectly with potato gnocchi.

When you sauce is ready, start boiling a large pot of salted water. When it comes to a boil, add your gnocchi, about 1/4 of your batch at a time. They are done when they float up to the top, after about 3 minutes for each batch. As each batch is cooked, take them out with a slotted spoon and place in your pan of finished warm tomato sauce. 

Cooked potato gnocchi tossed into the tomato sauce pan

Cooked potato gnocchi tossed into the tomato sauce pan

Finally, toss with sauce and serve

When your potato gnocchi are all cooked and in the sauce, give it a good stir to incorporate the two, then plate. Grate fresh parmesan cheese over the top and garnish with fresh basil if you have it. They should be as light a feather, like soft little potato pillows!

Serves six. Enjoy!

Bowl of Homemade Potato Gnocchi and Quick Tomato Sauce

Bowl of Homemade Potato Gnocchi with Quick Tomato Sauce

Quick Homemade Tomato Sauce

1 28-oz. can of Italian Plum Tomatoes
1 medium carrot 
2 stalks celery
1 yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
fresh basil leaves
2 tablespoons good extra virgin olive oil

Quick Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Quick Tomato Sauce Ingredients

Cutting and Prepping the sauce ingredients

Make a mirepoix by cutting your celery, carrots and onion into a medium dice. Mince the garlic. Crush the fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. Chop about a 1/2 cup of the fresh basil leaves.

Cooking the tomato sauce

In a wide saucepan, heat your olive oil slightly. Add the fennel and pepper flakes and cook for just a half a minute to toast them. DON’T let them scorch or burn! Add the celery, carrot and onion to the spices. Saute until they are translucent, then add the minced garlic to cook for just another half minute. Add the canned tomatoes (juice and all) and turn the heat to simmer.

The tomatoes are whole when they come out of the can, but you can crush them or cut them up before you add them. The longer they cook, the softer the whole tomatoes will become, making it easier to break them apart with the edge of a wooden spoon directly in the pan.

Simmer for about 20 minutes, checking and stirring every 5 minutes or so. This will cook down into a thick sauce. At this point, you can take it off the heat and add salt, pepper and fresh basil to taste. It’s ready to serve with your pasta.