Soft, tender and delicate dumplings, gluten free potato gnocchi make for a hearty meal no matter how you serve them.
Baked potatoes make the best gnocchi
Many recipes for gnocchi call for preparing the potatoes by boiling them until fork tender. That’s just silly to me. They absorb way too much water that way, and then you’ll have a heck of a time rebalancing the moisture in the mixture to make proper dumplings.
Baking the potatoes in a dry, hot oven just until they’re soft will dry them sufficiently. That means that you’ll need to add less flour to the mashed potatoes and your gnocchi will light and flavorful. Be sure you bake them until they’re truly soft inside, though, or you won’t be able to mash them properly and the dough will be very hard to shape without its falling apart.
Once they’re baked, allow them to cool just until you can handle them comfortably. Then, use a vegetable peeler or sharp knife to remove the skin plus any harder outer layer that formed during baking.
When potatoes are boiled properly, the skin should nearly just fall off the potato. It will be a little more challenging to remove the skins from a baked potato, but the end result of tender and flavorful potato gnocchi makes it all worthwhile.
How to mash the potatoes for gnocchi
If you’ve ever made mashed potatoes, you know you want them to be smooth but never sticky or glue-like. You never want to mash potatoes in anything like a blender or food processor, which will heat the potatoes and either liquify them or turn them into a thick glue.
The best tool for making light and fluffy mashed potatoes is a potato ricer, which looks a bit like a citrus juicer. It forces the cooked potato through small round holes and makes a rice-like product. I have a simple one from Priority Chef brand that I bought online.
I’ve also used a food mill to make mashed potatoes, which is sort of like an old-school, hand crank food processor. If you don’t already have a food mill, though, don’t bother buying one. It takes up way too much space and is awkwardly-shaped, making it difficult to store. Its utility is limited, too.
If you don’t have a potato ricer, a large fork will work just fine. Make sure you don’t leave any hard bits of potato that haven’t been riced or somehow processed. It’s those larger bits of potato that tend to make the dough crumbly.
Sneaky mashed potato shortcut
So… I make the entire Thanksgiving meal myself from top to bottom, almost entirely from scratch. Last October, in anticipation of the Eating Olympic holidays, I decided to try the frozen mashed potatoes from my local Trader Joe’s, in case I needed a little help.
Well, I was thrilled to find out that those little frozen nuggets can be turned into the most perfect mashed potatoes you’ll ever have. I plan to use them for holidays until the end of time, so I was curious to see if I could make those mashed potatoes into potato gnocchi. And it worked!
I recommend using a ratio of 1 1/2 pounds (24 ounces) of defrosted mashed potatoes in place of the 2 pounds of raw potatoes that we use in this recipe. You won’t need the butter or salt, either, since the prepared mashed potatoes already have both in them. Add the flour slowly, and proceed with the recipe as written.
How to shape gnocchi
Using too much flour in your potato gnocchi dough will make your dumplings tasteless and tough, not tender. Add the flour slowly, since you can always add more but you can’t remove it once it’s been mixed into the dough.
They say that making really good potato gnocchi takes practice, which I guess it does. But mostly it takes proper technique, which can be learned in theory before you ever put it into practice. That’s where I come in. 🙂
I’ve found that rolling shorter ropes, rather than long, snaking pieces of dough, makes shaping gnocchi much easier to handle. I recommend working with about a handful of dough at a time. If your mashed potatoes are smooth and not lumpy, and you add the flour slowly, you’re going to be successful.
If you find that the dough is crumbling as you try to shape it, you can add a drop of water to the dough, or you can try using a large fork to mash the dumpling mixture to ensure that there aren’t any large lumps. It’s mostly the lumps that will make the dough crumble.
I recommend squeezing the dough periodically as you roll it, to ensure that there aren’t any gaps in the dough. It should be solid all the way through. Otherwise, the dumplings won’t hold together when you cut them from the ropes.
The tines of a fork
If you plan to make gnocchi often (have you tried my recipe for zucchini ricotta gnocchi?), you may want to buy a gnocchi board. It’s just a small rectangular piece of wood with ridges that are made to create the proper ridges in your dumplings. It’s those ridges that help the dumplings hold onto whatever sauce you serve them with.
I don’t own a gnocchi board. Although my family loves these little dumplings, I only make them every couple of months. I simply use the back of the tines of a large dinner fork to create the proper ridges. It’s a little more difficult to create prominent ridges, but it does the job.
You can also create ridges by pressing down on both sides of each dumpling with the tines of the fork as the dumplings lay flat on the counter. But that compresses the dumplings into flatter pillows, which isn’t the shape we want.
Ingredients and substitutions
Potato gnocchi are made with very few ingredients (really just mashed potatoes and flour), so there aren’t too many possible substitutions to discuss.
Dairy-free: In place of butter, try using virgin coconut oil or Earth Balance buttery sticks. If you use Earth Balance, omit the salt in the recipe as it’s already very salty. It has more moisture than butter, as well, so you may need to add a bit more flour to the dough.
Potatoes: Instead of russet, you can use Yukon gold potatoes. I would avoid using waxier potatoes like red skin as the dumplings will become gooey when boiled.
Eggs: This recipe for potato gnocchi is made without eggs, which is traditional. But the truth is that adding an egg white to the dough will make it easier to handle. If you plan to double the recipe, I recommend adding an egg white. Just expect to add a bit more flour to rebalance the dough.