Gnocchi – more trouble than it’s worth

As regular readers of this increasingly irregular blog might be aware, one of the vague (and I do mean vague) drivers of the content (sorry I am getting my business-speak mixed up with my normal-speak) is that the creations that are blogged should be original, if possible.

That is to say, I try not to post one-hundred ways to cook a steak (which BTW I fail at miserably – how many times have I cooked and photographed a half-cooked fillet steak…more times than grandma. Which was none, she didn’t have a camera).

Thus I am always on the lookout for something new and different. The internet is generally rubbish for new and different recipes – many of the food related sites you can find never really get updated, often regurgitating the same thing over again (BBC Good Food – you know who you are). In fact blogs are about the best source of food innovation and inspiration, but who wants to copy another blogger unless it’s absolutely essential (reference my Angry Bird’s Cake).

So when the wife (always the wife) suggested gnocchi, I jumped, nay limped, at the chance.

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As soon as I typed in ‘gnocchi’ into the modern day oracle that is Google (was there life before Google? Did we really just have to depend on the BBC 6 o’clock news and what Dad thought about world affairs after two hours down the local tavern?) I knew this wasn’t going to be as straightforward as it should be.

For a start you can make gnocchi with potato, or cornmeal, or, somewhat bizarrely, ricotta cheese.

I opted for potato. I don’t go a great deal on homemade pasta – all that effort and it tastes…well it just tastes like pasta and it doesn’t look any better. Same with gnocchi.

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But I made it all the same. And what a pain in the arse (that, by the way, is the proper way to spell arse. Not ass, that’s some kind of donkey).

It took hours, made a bloody awful mess and tasted of nothing much. Still don’t let me put you off, try it!

For Gnocchi with Roasted Squash, Spinach and Ricotta you will need

  • 4 potatoes
  • A massive load of plain flour
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Tablespoon olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • One squash
  • Two large handfuls of proper spinach (i.e. not baby spinach)
  • 1 tub ricotta cheese
  • ½ tub of crème fraiche
  • Salt and pepper

Here’s the rub. Those wise and clever celebrity/professional chefs have developed a wide and deep range of theories on the best way to make gnocchi. This tells me two things. First, no one really knows how to make gnocchi and second, none of them work in practice and have only been developed with the benefit of hindsight (so what that means is someone tried making it, cocked it up, reckoned they knew where they went wrong, and then wrote it up on the Guardian website without actually trying it. Oh, ye cynic).

First of all you have to cook the potatoes. The secret to cooking the potato (oh come on, it’s a potato, it doesn’t need or have secrets) is to remove as much water as possible so the flesh is drier than you would normally have it. Baking is obviously a suitable method here.

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How I cook potatoes

You can sit the potatoes on a layer of salt, the idea being that it will draw moisture out, but what a waste of salt.

Once cooked, remove the skins and mash in a bowl. Now all you need to do is add flour and a drop of oil. Here’s where it got silly.

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The experts wrote that the minimum of flour should be employed. But have you tried rolling mashed potato? No? Really? You need a lot of flour…

The flour simply disappears – tons of it. I used nearly all the flour I had in the packet – 1lb at least. It just went into the potato version of a black hole.

Eventually however something vaguely akin to a dough began to form.

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So I left it to the side and got the pumpkin ready. Slice and dice into small chunks.

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Drizzle on some oil, season and bake in the oven until soft and just starting to catch. Easy!

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Back to the gnocchi. Cover everything in flour – the work surfaces, you, the rest of the kitchen. Gently knead the dough on a board (the experts recommend making the dough directly on a work surface like you’re supposed to do to make pasta but honestly I feel like you might as well then just throw everything on the floor and let the dog and/or cat have a go).

Once the dough starts to get a bit stringy and tight (as the gluten gets to work) chop into equal sized pieces and roll each out into sausage shapes.

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Cut each sausage into small chunks. Again, according to experts (and possibly scientists) you should now push your finger into each bit to create a dent on one side, turn it over and mark the other side with the prongs of a fork (watch the very un-sexy scene in The Godfather Part 3 with Coppolla’s daughter and Andy Garcia for a visual demonstration; few people have, they never get that far into the film).

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Mmm…is that a gnocchi in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?

Pop six or so of these little morsels into a large pan of boiling water.

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After a minute or so they will begin to pop to the surface; they are done. Remove from the pan and repeat.

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Now the choice is yours – they are ready to eat but personally I think they look a bit unappetising – kind of uncooked. So I fried mine a bit to give them some colour.

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Now make the spinach-ricotta sauce – just chuck all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat until the spinach wilts. Add in the gnocchi and the squash.

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On a level of 1 to 10 I’d give this 5. But nothing for effort-reward ratio.

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A bit of parmesan livened things up. And a bit of wine….

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34 thoughts on “Gnocchi – more trouble than it’s worth

  1. Very entertaining as usual and a very valiant effort — great perseverance.
    Gnocchi made from scratch does take some practice.
    You got the first part right: baking the potatoes is best.
    If you knead in the flour when the mashed potato is still warm, you should not need more than 100 grams flour for 400 grams of potatoes. You can add more, but then the dough will become too heavy. The whole point of gnocchi made from scratch is to make them lighter than store-bought.
    Gnocchi are always coated with sauce, it has never occured to me to brown them to give them some color.
    I can now turn 400 grams of potatoes and 100 grams of flour into gnocchi in less than 10 minutes, but it does take some practice to get there.

  2. “drivers of the content”? Were you writing this at work?
    I have to say those little babies look pretty good but you’re right – it does seem like a lot of work. Way, way back in my very old brain is a memory of making gnocchi but I don’t think it involved quite so much work. I’m going to have to go into the archives and see if I can find what I did but I think it was just mix up a bunch of flour & something & plop little blobs into boiling water. Can’t say they were all that tasty but my husband liked them – a lot of wine might have been involved.

  3. I enjoyed this post. There is a gnocchi post on my blog too but I don’t want to plug it. I just laughed because of your entertaining efforts. I just got someone else to make it!

  4. Well I’m glad you did it for me because it does look like a lot of trouble. Perhaps I’ll pass on this one. I expect I can buy it ready made somewhere? I like your blog because it gives me new ideas. I am older than you and stuck in my ways and stuck in the past so it is enlightening for me to see what you do. I thought I’d say that so you keep going! However in the summer (if we get one) my husband will be cooking on our new barbecue grill – steaks he’s promised. I am new to barbecue so I will be watching what he does with interest and as long as it doesn’t involve me in too much work, I will be enjoying it. I will certainly enjoy the results.
    Your photos are lovely and always make my mouth water. Well done.

  5. Haha, love your honest assessment of gnocchi. it’s nice to see someone write frankly (and humorously) of those experiences where we knock ourselves out in the kitchen only to discover we don’t much like what we made. Your exhortation not to be put off by your description of a ‘bloody awful mess’ that tasted of ‘nothing much’ made me laugh — you don’t really expect me to make this, do you? LOL

      • Don’t worry, I think I can resist the temptation! I don’t know what it’s like on your side of the pond, but I’m sitting here reading blogs and waiting for the icy road conditions to improve so I can get on with my day. (Because of course you want to read a road report from London the Other where we are still in thrall to the Winter That Never Ends.)

        • It’s the best day so far this year! (Sorry not bragging) I just walked into town with a big winter coat and then looked really out of place because everyone else is in T shirts and shirt sleeves.

          But this being the UK anything can happen between now and Summer (snowed in June once so my mother swears).

  6. First, I think u made it further into Godfather 3 than I did. Haven’t made gnocchi and doubt I will. I found making pasta a pain not worth repeating since packaged stuff is pretty good for how dirt cheap it is.

    The one made with cheese is called gnudi. That’s worth a shot. Easier and tastes great.

  7. I have had gnocchi at several restaurants, and it was wonderful. It has been on my of foods to make for years but I have yet to venture down that road. I think ricotta gnocchi sounds fascinating. I will get to it at some point, I am sure. When I do, I will keep this post in mind. BTW, I have made homemade pasta, and it was spectacular and not hard to make.

  8. I think it looks great! I used to work in a restaurant where they made gnocchi and was always at awe how they did it. I should have taken some pointers. I’ve been meaning to try it, but after reading this I may hold off! Hahah!! Thanks for taking one for the team. BTW – I totally spell “arse” the same way.

  9. Nice effort – the potato to flour ratio is usually two thirds potato to one third flour or thereabouts, and really go for lightness when you are mixing – if you overwork the mixture by kneading it, it will go all doughy and heavy..you don’t want the gluten stretching, keep it “short”… I love the fact you baked the spuds first ( the ONLY way to make a good mash) bet that added some really deep potato flavour – some prefer to boil or steam with the skins on – either way, mash and rice the potato while warm and add the flour afterwards – if you mash the flour in it will definitely ‘clag’, and adding oil may also contribute to this. The sauce looks fabulous, and wine ALWAYS helps! Very entertaining post – made me smile all the way through. Cheers, J.

  10. Just stick to the packets, it’s what most Italians do. I don’t think anyone in my family has made gnocchi (or pasta for that matter) from scratch since my great nana, and that was only because she lived on a farm up a mountain. . .

  11. Impressive effort! I like gnocchi, but always seemed more trouble than it’s worth. I have had some amazing house made pasta, though. Much better than the dry stuff most places serve up.

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