Gnocchi: Its Pillow Talk!

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Finished Gnocchi – ready to cook or store

Buon Giorno!

Let’s make GNOCCHI – Step by Step!

Gnocchi – my favorite thing! Exactly how many “favorite” things will you catch me claiming? Careful… when it comes to Italian food my list is just out of control! Making Gnocchi at home is such a rewarding experience for fun in the kitchen, as well as, sheer bliss on a plate that I look for any opportunity to create those tasty little “pillow-like” nuggets.

What is Gnocchi exactly? Gnocchi can be made of many different things but most often potatoes. They are thought to have originated in the Middle East, but Italy definitely put them on the map! Many countries offer a dumpling-like dish that is similar but usually do not include eggs in their recipes.

When I was growing up, very few people outside of Italians knew about or spoke about Gnocchi. Now they are common on most good Italian menus. In Rome, they are traditionally served on Thursday nights. In areas of South America which have a strong Italian influence, such as Argentina, they serve them on the 29th of the month. It is said that if this practice is followed, one is assured of having enough cash for the rest of the month. I have nothing to add in the way of personal experience in that regard! However, in our home, Gnocchi was not reserved for holidays or special times. It was a regular Tuesday night kind of dish. My mother would make them quickly and with little fuss – many times with a simple sauce of fresh tomatoes and basil.

The word Gnocchi means lump or knot or sometimes referred to as “little pillows”. It is one of the most mispronounced Italian words I think I have ever encountered. In Italian, the letters gn appearing together is pronounced as if they were ny with the y treated as a consonant. Thus, the pronunciation “ny-okey”.

The style and appearance of Gnocchi differs in Italian kitchens depending upon region and preference. Some are ridged like little shells. Others look somewhat like Cavatelli pasta with a slight roll to them causing a pocket which always holds just a tiny bit of extra saucy goodness. Some cooks leave them as the simple pillow shape that is created when they are cut and prefer not to include the last step of rolling or ridging them. In our home, my mother, Loretta, did not ridge them. She simply and quickly rolled them with seemingly lightening speed in flour with her 2 fingers, creating the famous “pocket” which collect the sauce. Pow, pow, pow – they would fly as if on a cushion of air and always “knew” to land in the growing hill of Gnocchi rapidly mounting on the other side of the small table. Personally, I have adopted the ridged look for the Gnocchi I make in my kitchen. I think the ridges add just a little extra interest and texture when eating them.

When prepared well, Gnocchi are light and rich – to the point of being almost addictive. You should be able to bite through them softly not like a piece of cheese that needs extra chewing – and not like hockey pucks from the addition of too much flour. Loretta used to instruct that the Gnocchi should not hit the stomach like “lead bombs” while at the same time, should not be mushy and pasty like mashed potatoes. Little bits of heaven, Gnocchi should approach the tongue as soft, light puffs that seem to marry with any sauce to which you introduce them. In Firenze, they were called “strozzapreti” or priest stranglers – maybe because they could not stop eating them or ate them to quickly. Are they that good? Yes indeed they are! Let’s get to it!


5 Large Potatoes – skins on (IMPORTANT: use a starchy potato like russet or baking)

Boil in salted water about 30 minutes til tender (longer if potatoes are larger)

Remove potatoes from water and peel the skins off while hot. Using a fork helps. Also, I sometimes like to use surgical gloves to keep from burning my hands. (OUCH! This is why I often refer to Gnocchi Making as the “Agony and the Ecstasy” – just a little pain to achieve a magnificent result.)

Put hot peeled potatoes through a ricer and set aside.

2 1/2 c. flour

1/2 tsp salt

2 egg yolks

Mix flour and salt together.

Mix 1/2 of flour/salt mixture with riced potatoes.

Mix slightly and add rest of flour and mix together.

Then add egg yolks.

Knead just until you have a smooth dough. Add flour if needed in scant tablespoons. Do not over work your dough, as this will toughen it and make your Gnocchi heavier. Do all of this while potatoes are hot so that dough will still be warm when finished.

Divide your dough into quarters.

Roll each quarter into a rope and cut in 1 inch pieces.

Some like to call it “a day “ at this point and accept the Gnocchi as pillow shaped. I much prefer the extra step of taking each little pillow and rolling it on the back of a floured fork. This makes the famous little ridges and the little “pocket”.

When finished, you can throw them immediately into boiling water, waiting for them to surface, and then cooking for 2 more minutes. Drain – Add your sauce and serve.


TO FREEZE: lay the Gnocchi in a single layer on a pan and freeze. When frozen, drop them into freezer bags for later use. Do not defrost to cook – just drop directly into boiling water from the freezer.

**NEXT WEEK ON MY ITALIAN DISH – my favorite sauce for Gnocchi based on an old Tuscan tradition.

**Also: Coming in November to RECIPE OF THE MONTH on LINDA’S ITALIAN TABLE – another great sauce recipe for GNOCCHI!


Food Photos by Tommy Hanks Photography

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  1. […] sage sauce, though, is straightforward to make, and can be prepped a short time in advance. (A good resource about gnocchi in general can be found here, by Linda […]