When I lived in Torino I spent a good amount of time each winter in the Alps. For years, my parents have owned a cozy vacation home in the village of Oulx, where the butcher still does his own slaughtering, and herds of cows amble down from high pastures in early fall (you can see them go by our kitchen window). But unlike most of my friends, I didn’t do much skiing or hiking in the cold season. I preferred to help my mother prepare warming dinners in the tavernetta, the snug, comfy wood-paneled family room next to the wine cellar.
In the tavernetta’s rustic kitchen we made robust winter braises like brasato al Barolo (beef braised in Barolo wine), creamy polenta with fontina and Gorgonzola, and my mom’s famously soft, pillowy gnocchi (pronounced NYOH-kee) tossed in a rich sausage ragù. They were so ethereal they almost melted in your mouth, leaving nothing but pure potato flavor. Guests always clamored for her gnocchi when they came for dinner.
So I could barely hide my disappointment when I first ordered gnocchi at an American restaurant. They were tough and chewy, hard to eat after the first few bites. And the gnocchi you buy in stores, I soon discovered, suffer from the same unappealing texture. If this was what Americans thought of gnocchi, I realized, they must be wondering what all the fuss is about.
Though I admit I’ve since eaten delicious gnocchi at a handful of good Italian restaurants known for their authenticity, I’d still rather make them at home. It’s not hard, and I know I won’t be disappointed.
The keys to delicate gnocchi
Good gnocchi, which are essentially light potato dumplings, shouldn’t be tough or chewy at all; they should be soft and delicate, with a silky-smooth texture—just like my mother’s. It’s easy enough to make gnocchi like this at home: All you need is potatoes, flour, eggs, and a little salt. But you do have to pay attention to a few key points in the process to achieve the right texture.
First, use russet potatoes. They’re dry and fluffy and produce the lightest gnocchi. I also find that it’s best to use a ricer instead of a masher to crush the cooked potatoes, because it keeps them aerated and soft. Never use a blender or a food processor, or the potatoes will turn into glop.