As an Italian-Sicilian kid growing up on the east side of Des Moines in the ’70s, George Formaro ate a lot of his mom’s gnocchi. Now it’s a staple at Centro, one of his six downtown restaurants. “It really is absolutely my favorite, the ultimate Italian comfort food, or even comfort food in general,” George says.
Gnocchi (NYOH-kee) are simply dumplings made with potato, flour, egg and, if you’re a Formaro, a touch of butter and Parmesan. “Even though there are some technical aspects,” George explains, “it’s one of the easiest pastas to replicate because you don’t need a lot of fancy equipment. It’s very rustic.” You also don’t need a lot of toppings. George’s gnocchi are served pan-seared with just a gloss of butter. Although, he adds slyly, “You can gild the lily with Gorgonzola.” Because—like mom’s potatoes—extra cheese spells comfort in any language.
Boiled gnocchi are great. But seared gnocchi are even better. Plan to fry them before adding to the sauces below, like this crispy sage and brown butter combo.
How to Make Gnocchi
- Russet potatoes
- Olive oil
- Parmesan cheese
- “00” flour*
- Salt and pepper
*Imported “double-zero” flour is used in pasta and pizza dough. It’s very fine and yields lighter gnocchi. Buy it at specialty stores like Whole Foods Market, or just use all-purpose flour.
1. Scrub and peel 2 pounds russet potatoes; rub with olive oil and place on a sheet pan. Bake at 375° for 50 minutes or until a knife inserts easily. Remove from oven; let cool for 20 minutes or until easy to handle.
Tip: George learned from his mom that dry potatoes make fluffier gnocchi, so he peels them before baking for maximum moisture evaporation.
2. Mix 1 egg, 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan, 2 tablespoons melted butter, 1 1⁄2 teaspoons salt and a pinch of black pepper in a small bowl. Set aside. Using a potato ricer or food mill, rice the warm potatoes into a large bowl. (The dry roasted exterior will act like a jacket and won’t pass through; discard it.) Drizzle egg mixture over potatoes. Toss lightly with a fork. Lightly stir in 2 cups of flour, then knead just a few times. Wrap dough in plastic; let rest 10 minutes. (Any lingering streaks of flour will absorb during this time.)
Tip: Mashing is a no-no. It eliminates air, yielding dense gnocchi. With a ricer or food mill, George says, the fluffy potato sits undisturbed in the bowl until you add the egg.
3. Divide dough into quarters. Roll each quarter into a long rope about 1⁄2- to 3⁄4-inch thick. Lightly dust ropes with flour and cut into 1⁄2-inch pieces. If you like, spread uncooked gnocchi on a lightly greased or floured sheet pan, freeze, and then store in a zip-top bag for future meals.
Tip: George’s mom always rolled each gnoccho on a fork to create ridges. He skips that tedious step—and after seeing chefs in Italy do the same, his mom finally surrendered the fork, too.
4. Bring a large pot of salted water just to boiling. Add gnocchi in batches. When gnocchi start to float (2 to 3 minutes), cook them 1 minute more. Using a strainer, lift gnocchi out of water and transfer to a colander; repeat with remaining gnocchi. For seared gnocchi (the best!), heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and/or butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add cooked, well-drained gnocchi in a single layer; cook, without stirring, until gnocchi start to brown, about 1 minute. Stir and cook until browned on all sides. Toss with a favorite sauce before serving.
Tip: If you froze your gnocchi, boil them straight from the freezer. They’ll cook in about the same time, maybe a minute longer.
You can serve gnocchi with tomato sauce or pesto, or try one of these combos from George.
Crispy Sage and Brown Butter (pictured above) Melt butter slowly on low heat, cooking until golden brown. Add fresh sage leaves; fry until crisp. Add gnocchi and toss to coat. Serve with grated Parm.
Blush Sauce Brown crumbled Italian sausage; add tomato sauce, a handful of frozen peas, a splash of cream and chopped fresh rosemary. Bring to a simmer to cook peas and meld flavors.
Gorgonzola Cream Blue cheese and gnocchi are a traditional pairing. Add crumbled Gorgonzola cheese to a good-quality purchased Alfredo sauce and warm gently with gnocchi in pan.
For a printable version of our gnocchi recipe, click or tap here.
George Formaro: Die-hard red bandanna devotee. Butternut gnocchi skeptic. The guy Iowans can thank for Zombie Burger.