Authentic Italian Potato Gnocchi Recipe | How to Make & Serve Gnocchi Pasta
Updated: Apr 16
Gnocchi are a traditional Italian pasta, usually made with potatoes and flour, that can be served in many delicious ways. While pre-made potato gnocchi pasta is becoming increasingly more available on store shelves, those vacuum-sealed offerings are a far cry from the good stuff. Unlike many pasta shapes, gnocchi must be handmade and fresh in order to be appreciated.
Luckily, it’s a simple pasta to make once you know a few tricks which we’ll share in this guide! But first we need to dispel some myths, debunk some poor techniques, and clarify a few points about gnocchi…
What Is Gnocchi?
The question really should be “what are gnocchi?” as the word is actually plural (gnocco being the singular). In Italian, “gnocchi” just means “dumplings.” As in English, there are many different kinds of foods which fall into that category.
Italy has a variety of gnocchi, beyond the famous potato-based pasta. Gnocchetti Sardi, for example, are a type of Sardinian pasta which are made with semolina flour and water—no potatoes. Gnocchi alla Romana is another classic potato-free variation, made primarily with flour, cheese, milk and eggs.
That being said, when Italians talk about gnocchi they are almost always referring to potato gnocchi. But that didn’t always used to be the case!
A Brief History of Gnocchi
Gnocchi is a very old concept in Italian cuisine. The dish dates back to the Middle Ages, if not beyond. In fact, we once made a medieval gnocchi recipe which you can check out here!
Over the centuries, Italians made gnocchi with just about everything they could get their hands on: flour, cheese, eggs, bread, milk, meat—even cake and marzipan! But once the potato was introduced to Europe from the New World, it wasn’t too long before it became an overwhelmingly popular gnocchi ingredient. So much so, that the mention of any other type today requires a clarifying caveat!
Potatoes became so popular in gnocchi because of the incredibly light, fluffy dough they produce when properly made. Keep reading to learn how to make your own perfect gnocchi dough!
How Do Italians Serve Gnocchi?
So how are you supposed to eat gnocchi? Gnocchi can be served in a variety of ways and are quite a versatile pasta. Because the potatoes bring quite a bit of flavor into the pasta itself, gnocchi work well with mild sauces, such as the classic butter and sage sauce that is often used to highlight ravioli.
Stronger flavors work well, too. Gnocchi pair excellently with pesto alla Genovese, for instance. It’s worth mentioning that in Liguria, where basil pesto is from, the sauce is most commonly served with potatoes!
Like pretty much every pasta shape, a simple tomato sauce works wonders with potato gnocchi. You can even take gnocchi and tomato sauce to the next level by baking them into the Campanian classic: Gnocchi alla Sorrentina!
Usually, the best way to mix gnocchi with sauce is to do so in a mixing bowl and using a soft spatula, rather than in a hot pan with a wooden spoon. This is unusual for pasta, but it helps keep the delicate gnocchi intact.
Ingredients Needed for Making Gnocchi
Potato gnocchi are made with just potatoes and flour. Full stop. You can find a ton of recipes online that include the addition of an egg or two into the dough, but the real deal omits it (and for good reason). An egg is a helpful binder that can make gnocchi dough “fool proof,” but the downside is that your pasta will be dense and tough. Skipping the egg means slightly more demand on your intuition, but if you follow the advice below and make egg-free gnocchi you will be rewarded with the best gnocchi imaginable!
The best potatoes for making gnocchi are starchy, russet potatoes. Because water is the enemy of gnocchi dough, old potatoes which have been sitting around for a few weeks (and losing moisture during that time) make the best gnocchi pasta.
The type of flour you need is all-purpose (or 00) flour. Keep plenty on hand when you make gnocchi at home because you’ll need to frequently dust the pasta with extra.
How to Make Perfect Potato Gnocchi Dough
Start by cooking the potatoes. You’ll need about 7 oz. of raw potatoes per serving of pasta, but it can’t hurt to make some extra, just in case. While you can bake the potatoes, we usually boil them. It’s very important to boil them with the skin on, so that they absorb as little water as possible. When the potatoes are fork tender, drain them and let them cool just enough that you can safely handle them.
Using a paring knife, peel the hot potatoes and mash them directly onto a large, clean work surface. You can mash them in any way you like, but we prefer using a potato ricer.
Now it’s time to start kneading flour into the mix. There are two rules you want to follow when making gnocchi dough:
Unlike most other pasta, gnocchi dough is best when kneaded as little as possible. Don’t be afraid to work the flour in, but you shouldn’t knead it much beyond the point where you achieve a good texture.
You want to add just enough flour so that the dough isn’t sticky, but no more. The more flour you add, the less fluffy your gnocchi will be.
Start by pouring some flour on top of the potatoes. For smaller amounts, start with just a handful or two. There’s no right amount but you can always add more later, so go easy at first. Knead the flour into the dough, and keep dusting it with more until the mixture doesn’t feel sticky or tacky at all. Then, stop! Your dough is ready.
As you continue to make your gnocchi, the dough will start to absorb the flour and will gradually become a little more tacky as it sits. This is normal. Don’t mix more flour in! Instead, the stickiness will be remedied by frequent and liberal dusting of flour as you make the pasta.
How to Cut & Shape Handmade Gnocchi
Now it’s time to make the gnocchi! It’s easiest to work in batches, so cut off a small chunk of dough and roll it under your palms into a thin snake, about the width of your ring finger. Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough strand into small pieces, each being about 1 inch (2.5cm) in length.
If you like, these little pillows can be finished gnocchi. Some people leave them just as-is. If you want to increase their sauce-holding capacity, you can gently press a finger tip into the center of each to make a hole in the middle. To make your gnocchi extra fancy, you can use a gnocchi board to add ridges along the back as well. Place a cut gnocco piece on a flour-dusted gnocchi board and gently press/roll it along the surface with a fingertip or the side of your thumb. The result will be a beautiful gnocco with a cavity in one side and sauce-gripping ridges on the other. Check out the video below to see the technique in action!
Arrange your finished gnocchi on a clean towel dusted generously with flour, and make sure none of the pieces touch each other to prevent sticking. Speaking of which…
It’s extremely important that, throughout the gnocchi-making process, you dust the pasta and dough often and liberally with flour. When you’re rolling a snake out, dust it with some flour. After you cut the pieces, dust them with some flour. Dust your gnocchi board with flour. Dust the rolled pieces with flour. When in doubt, dust with flour. This will keep the gnocchi from sticking without incorporating more flour directly into the dough and sacrificing your fluffy texture.
How to Cook Gnocchi
Gnocchi are perhaps the easiest pasta to actually cook, because the pasta itself literally tells you when it’s done cooking! Like “normal” pasta, bring a large pot of generously salted water to boil. Dust the gnocchi on your towel with a little more flour for good measure, gather the edges of the towel to pick the pasta up, and carefully pour them into the hot water.
Very gently, stir the gnocchi to ensure that they don’t stick to each other or to the pot. Then, leave them alone and within just a minute or two they’ll float and rise to the surface of the water. At that point, they’re cooked and can be skimmed off the surface with a slotted spoon.
How to Freeze Gnocchi for Later
You can easily freeze gnocchi so that you always have some on hand. When you make the gnocchi, simply arrange them on a baking sheet or platter instead of a towel. Follow the same rules, though: dust the surface with plenty of flour and keep the gnocchi from touching.
Place the tray of finished gnocchi directly into the freezer. Once the pasta is frozen solid, you can transfer the pieces into a freezer bag or other convenient container to save space. To cook, boil the pasta directly from frozen and follow the same steps as fresh pasta—do not thaw the gnocchi in advance.
Watch the Pasta Grammar video where we make gnocchi here:
POTATO GNOCCHI PASTA RECIPE
Cook Time: About 2 hours, depending on the quantity you make and the shaping method you choose
For this recipe, you will need:
Russet potatoes (about 7 oz. per desired serving)
All-purpose flour as needed (there’s no right amount, but have plenty on hand)
Potato masher or ricer
Knife or bench scraper
Gnocchi board (optional)
Clean kitchen towels
Place the potatoes, skin on, in a large pot and fill with water to cover. Bring the water to a boil and let the potatoes cook until they are fork tender—about 45-60 minutes. Drain the potatoes and let them cool until you can safely handle them. Peel the hot potatoes with a paring knife—the skin should easily pull off.
Using a potato masher or ricer, mash the hot potatoes and place them directly onto a large, clean work surface. Dust the potatoes generously with flour and begin kneading them together into a dough. As you knead, continue to dust the potatoes with more flour until the dough is no longer sticky or tacky at all. At this point, stop kneading or adding flour.
As you make the gnocchi, dust the dough, pasta, work surface and tools often and liberally with more flour. It’s very important to prevent sticking, and dusting will keep everything dry without incorporating more flour directly into the dough. When in doubt, dust!
It’s easiest to work in batches, so cut a manageable chunk of dough off from the rest and roll it under your palms into a long snake, about the width of a ring finger. Make sure the diameter of the strand is even and consistent. Using a bench scraper or knife, cut the strand into small pieces about 1 inch (2.5cm) in length.
You can either cook these gnocchi as-is, or use a fingertip to press a hole in the center of each piece to help hold sauce. For extra pretty and fancy gnocchi, use a fingertip or the side of your thumb to press and roll each piece across the surface of a gnocchi board. This will result in a hole on one side and ridges on the other for maximum sauce-grippage!
Arrange the finished gnocchi on a clean towel dusted liberally with flour. Keep each gnocco separated so they don’t touch and stick. Repeat the steps until all of your dough has been shaped into gnocchi.
Bring a large pot of water to boil and salt it generously. Gather the edges of the towel together to lift the gnocchi and pour them into the water. Stir them very gently to prevent sticking. After cooking for just a minute or two, the gnocchi will float and rise to the surface of the water. Skim them off with a slotted spoon and transfer into the sauce of your choice.