While traveling through Italy and researching
handmade dumpling-style pasta for my book Pasta By Hand, I came to understand that the world of
gnocchi (NYOH-kee) is much larger than I’d previously
thought. I was familiar with potato gnocchi,
the kind often described as “light as air,” but soon
came to learn that gnocchi are also made from ricotta
(sometimes known as gnudi) and with semolina in
a manner similar to polenta (gnocchi alla Romana).
They can be fashioned from stale bread or even
pâte à choux, which is how the French make their
What really surprised (and delighted) me
was how much the flavors—and even the
colors—can vary. To demonstrate some of the
myriad ways to flavor gnocchi, I’m focusing here
on potato-based gnocchi to keep the basic process
more or less the same. Hailing from northern Italy,
potato gnocchi are made by mixing cooked potatoes
with flour and sometimes egg to form a thick dough.
The dough gets rolled into ropes, then cut into individual
pieces. To serve, it’s boiled like pasta. The variations
come from what I add to the dough, whether
a different kind of flour that changes the look and
texture of the gnocchi, a vegetable purée that adds
deep color and earthy flavor, or a soft cheese that
makes it feel light.
For plain potato gnocchi, a super-light consistency
is the biggest selling point, and when well made, each
bite feels ethereal. My Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi are that airy and supple, but one thing I also
learned while sampling various gnocchi in Italy is
that some, such as Chestnut Gnocchi, are
actually supposed to be a bit more dense.
Though the process can look intimidating,
these little dumplings are fun to make, once
you get the hang of it. If you’ve ever enjoyed shaping
Play-Doh, making gnocchi is right up your alley.
And the payoff for making your own—that lovely
mouth-feel and the ability to tailor the flavor and
color as done here—is huge. If the idea of giving each
dumpling ridges gives you pause, know it gets easier
with practice. Besides, it’s perfectly fine to leave your
gnocchi ridge-free. Served with a chunkier sauce, the
ridges can help catch flavorful bits, but they’re not as
necessary when served with a butter or cream sauce.
How to Shape Gnocchi: Step by Step
1. Use your hands or a rolling pin to gently flatten the dough on a floured work surface.
2. With a floured bench scraper or a knife, cut the dough into strips from 1/2 to 3/4 inch wide
3. With your hands, roll and lengthen the strips 3 until about 1/2 inch in diameter. Using the bench scraper, cut the logs into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces (size is up to you)
4. Using the bench scraper, cut the logs into 1/2- to 1-inch pieces (size is up to you)
5. If you want to make ridges (optional), use the side of your thumb to roll each piece down the back of the tines of a dinner fork, while simultaneously pressing on the dough to form indentations.
6. You can also buy a specialized gnocchi board for making the ridges; these grooves will be less pronounced than those from a fork.
Speaking of sauce, don’t simply top the gnocchi with it. Instead, toss gently with the warm sauce. That way, each dumpling gets a chance to absorb some of the sauce’s flavor, and each gets well coated. Like pasta, gnocchi may be served with a wide variety of sauce styles, from a meat ragù to marinara to simple melted butter. The only trouble you’ll have is deciding which flavor of gnocchi to make.