I first tried gnocchi at an Italian restaurant eight years ago. Little light, fluffy potato dumplings in an herb-butter sauce, what was not to love? A year and several more gnocchi tastings later, I tried my hand at making my own. Too ambitious, I tried a spinach-ricotta gnocchi for my first attempt, and failed horribly. The spinach, not properly squeezed, made the mixture too wet, on top of adding far more than the suggested amount of ricotta. I fishtailed for quite some time, first making the mixture too wet, then too dry by adding the flour with a heavy hand. When I finally sat down to eat, I had dumplings that were both under and overcooked in places, not to mention quite heavy.
I hesitated including the story of my first attempt. Many already see gnocchi as daunting, and some have written off ever trying to make it. But here’s another story: Every time I’ve made gnocchi since that terrible dinner, I’ve nailed it. I reveal this not to gloat, but to demonstrate that once I understood the texture, the gnocchi practically made itself.
A few notes concerning this recipe:
- I used sweet potatoes because that is what I had on hand. Feel free to substitute them with starchy russets if that is what you have to work with.
- I don’t own a potato ricer (traditionally used for making gnocchi). An old-school potato masher has always worked well for me.
- The internet is teeming with disputes over whether or not to use egg in the gnocchi mixture. You can see in my recipe which side I fall on.
- Traditional gnocchi is made with just flour, potatoes, and salt. Yes, the ricotta makes it a tad more heavy.
- Feel free to omit the ricotta. Follow the directions as given below, starting with a little flour, and adding just enough to get the desirable texture.
- The measurements are estimates. Unless baking, I do not measure in my kitchen, and each potato’s moisture level is a bit different. Again, add the flour in small amounts until the right texture forms.
Ingredients (serves 3-4)
2 medium-large sweet potato, skinned and cubed
3/4 to 1 cup flour approximately, plus more if needed
1/2 cup ricotta
Pinch of salt
For the sauce:
1 and 1/2 cups milk (a bit of cream may be substituted as a thickener)
1/3 cup Camembert (roughly cubed)
1/4 cup (or more) sun-dried tomatoes
3-4 tablespoons pesto
Cracked black pepper
Steam the sweet potato until the cubes can be pierced easily by a fork. In a medium sized bowl, mash the sweet potato and set aside to cool. Once cool, add the ricotta and a generous sprinkle of the flour. Mix with your hands or a wooden spoon. Test the texture. The mixture should be fluffy like bread dough, but with the texture of playdough – smooth and not sticky. If the dough sticks too easily to your fingers, add another small sprinkle of flour at a time until the right texture is achieved.
Divide the mixture into three or flour balls, and roll them into smooth, 1 inch wide logs. Cut them into small pieces (a little longer than an inch). Next, use the back of a fork to create the standard gnocchi grooves. This step is necessary as the grooves help to sop up the sauce. Set them aside.
Make the sauce by gently heating the milk in a saucepan over medium heat. When thoroughly warmed (mind that it doesn’t come to a boil), add the pesto and cheese. Stir frequently, until the cheese melts and the pesto has become well incorporated. Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes, and remove from the heat.
To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to boil. Add a pinch of salt, and, working in two or three batches, add the gnocchi to the pot. When the gnocchi rises to the top of the pot (after 2-3 minutes), they are done. Do not overcook the gnocchi. Remove the gnocchi (a sieve with a handle works well to fish them out for the next batch), and immediately toss them with the sauce. Serve hot with sea salt and cracked black pepper.