Appears in
On Food and Cooking

By Harold McGee

Published 2004

  • About
Gnocchi—the word is Italian and means “lumps”—got their start in the 1300s as ordinary dumplings made from bread crumbs or flour (Roman gnocchi are still made by baking squares of a cooked dough of milk and semolina). But with the arrival of the New World’s potato, Italian cooks transformed gnocchi into a form of dumpling with an unusually light texture. The starchy potato flesh became the main, tender ingredient, with just enough flour added to absorb moisture and provide gluten to hold it together into a formable dough. Eggs are sometimes added to provide additional binding and yolky richness, though they also add a springy quality. Old potatoes, and mealy rather than waxy varieties, are preferred for their lower water and higher starch contents, which means that less flour is needed to make the dough, so less gluten forms and the dumpling is more tender. The potatoes are cooked, peeled, and riced immediately to allow as much moisture as possible to evaporate; then cooled or even chilled, and kneaded into a dough with just as much flour as necessary, usually less than 1 cup/120 gm per lb/500 gm potatoes. The dough is formed into a thin rope and cut into small pieces, the pieces shaped, and then boiled in water until they rise to the top of the pot. Gnocchi can also be made by replacing the potato with other starchy vegetables or with ricotta cheese.