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Gummy Gnocchi

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rcooper mentioned on Twitter:

Gnocchi cooked up rather gooey. Don’t know what happened there. Taste was good, but texture was not so great… via TweetDeck

Oh, gnocchi. So terribly simple but so difficult to make properly. Which is always the way, of course. Simple things mean few steps and ingredients, and the fewer the steps and ingredients, the more important each one is.

My downfall making potato gnocchi was Mario Batali. I love Mario and his food, but he makes potato gnocchi seem so terribly easy to make. Blah blah rice a potato here, blah blah sprinkle a litte flour there, flip across a fork, and ta-da! Needless to say, the first time I made gnocchi, they were a mess. Why?

Gnocchi are a balancing act. You are using the gluten in flour and the proteins in the egg to bind together the cooked potato strongly enough to survive cooking but so weakly that it’s like there’s hardly any substance to them at all. So you need the flour to make gluten, but too much flour and the gnocchi dive to the bottom of your stomach like penguins in a conga line.

As we’ve discussed before, gluten is the combination of two proteins in flour, glutenin and gliadin, combining with water. When you’re making gnocchi, the ultimate goal is to limit the amount of water that you add to the mix. The gnocchi have to be at a certain moisture level when you form them, so if they’re too wet, then the only way to dry them out is to add more flour. You need to avoid this at all cost, because that is the downfall to your potato gnocchi. The entirety of the liquid in your gnocchi should come from your egg.

The usual pathway of liquid infection are the potatoes. You boil the potatoes, so if there are any imperfections in the skin, then liquid will enter into the potatoes during cooking, and thus you’ll have waterlogged potatoes and gummy gnocchi. More insidiously, a standard test for potato doneness is to stick a knife into the potato and see if it will slide off with no pressure. Resist the urge. Test by squeezing the potatoes (without breaking the skin), or cook with extra potatoes so that you can sacrifice some along the way in the name of testing.

Fine Cooking has a great recipe for potato gnocchi. There are a couple of other hints in there, especially potato type. Primarily, though, remember to minimize additional moisture so that you can minimize flour. If you can find someone who makes gnocchi well, I highly recommend bribing them so that you can witness a session, and feel the dough when it’s at its proper consistency. It’s soft and silky, and it’s also really hard to describe adequately. If you can experience it, you’ll have an easier time ensuring that you’ve added the proper amount of flour and no more.

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  • RainCitychef | 08/05/2010

    Having learned to make gnocchi inItaly, I know the secret to pillowy dumplings is baking the potatoes (russets) rather than boiling them. They will be much drier, requiring so much less flour to bind the liquid from the eggs.

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