You know that feeling when you really want to do something well so you put a ton of effort into it, but then instead of succeeding you wind up failing repeatedly and feeling duped about the fact that sensibility and practice were simply not enough to make it happen? That was my story with making gnocchi.
For years I tried my hand at those pillowy little dumplings, only to get let down by gnocchi that were too tough or too sticky (or the worst ones: seemingly perfect gnocchi that would spontaneously combust as soon as they touched boiling water). I despised those little suckers…except that I actually loved them so much and it was maddening to not be able to troubleshoot where I was screwing up. Then, just as I was about to swear off gnocchi forever, this recipe fell into my lap. It was by Bonnie Stern (author of one of the very first – and very best – cookbooks that I ever owned) and I just felt like Bonnie wouldn’t let me down on something as important as gnocchi, would she? So, like a hopeless romantic, enamoured with the idea of tender bundles of potato perfection, I vowed to try one more recipe for gnocchi before giving up on the idea permanently. And guess what? It worked. And not just once. Every. Single. Time.
These gnocchi have been great to me for literal years. I have made this recipe repeatedly, with my own additions of pan-frying and adding brown butter. The one thing that I will say is very crucial to successful gnocchi-making is having the right equipment. I have found it very helpful to have a kitchen scale and bench scraper, but most importantly, a ricer (though a food mill would also work). A ricer/food mill will break the potato down to the fine texture you need in order to make smooth, plump gnocchi. The scale is handy for measuring precisely 2 lb of potatoes since it’s likely going to be hard to find 2-4 whole potatoes that together equal exactly two pounds. The bench scraper could be replaced by a large, sharp knife but is unmatched for its ability to clean dried dough off your workspace.
The original recipe gives a bit of a sliding scale regarding flour quantities, but I notice that my amounts do not vary much from one iteration to the next. Also I find that since the potatoes in this recipe are baked (versus the traditional boiled), the flour quantity stays pretty constant because the potatoes are not at risk of getting water-logged. The original recipe calls for simply boiling the gnocchi and tossing with butter, sage, and salt, but I like to crisp them up a bit in a hot pan and give them the brown butter treatment.
Settle in, these are going to be a bit of a production, but good homemade gnocchi are completely worth it every time. This recipe is very much about the technique since the ingredients are so sparse and simple. As with all recipes, you should definitely have a read through it first and picture how it’s all going to go down.
Pan-Fried Gnocchi with Brown Butter and Sage
Adapted quite liberally from Bonnie Stern (Friday Night Dinners)
Serves 4-6 people, depending on if you’re serving it as a side dish or the main attraction
2 lb Russet potatoes (this is usually between 3-4 potatoes; if you’re not weighing them at home, take note of their exact weight and try to hit as close to 2 pounds as possible)
½ tbsp. salt + extra
½ - 1 cup all-purpose flour (measured correctly), plus more for dusting
1 stick unsalted butter
Small handful of plucked sage leaves
1 tbsp olive oil
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Pierce the potatoes lightly with a fork and bake until very tender, about an hour or so. I usually weigh the potatoes when they come out of the oven and just cut them down to equal exactly 2 lb (this might mean there’s an extra portion of potato not destined for gnocchi greatness; put butter and salt on it and eat it to put it out of its misery). Cut the potatoes into quarters and let them cool just slightly, about 10 minutes. The potatoes should still be quite hot when you start removing the skins. Peel and rice all of the potatoes into a large bowl and stir in the salt.
While the potatoes are still warm (it is absolutely imperative that they not be cold or even just room temperature), knead in the flour, adding ½ cup at a time. You may not need to use all of the flour. In fact, go into it thinking that you want to use as close to that first ½ cup as possible. You also want to think about kneading the flour in gently, incorporating it without destroying the dough. Kneading is more about knuckles than fingertips, I find. If your breathing becomes labored or you find yourself sweating, you have failed at kneading gently.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into four equal pieces. Roll each pile of dough into an inch-thick rope with fat blunted ends. Cut each rope into 1 – 1 ½ inch pieces (I like mine a bit bigger, but others might prefer daintier-sized gnocchi). Place the gnocchi on a large baking sheet that has been lined with a flour-dusted tea towel. Press the flat side of a fork into each piece, giving all the gnocchi a little grooved pattern. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel and refrigerate until ready to cook (can be made up to a day ahead or also frozen – see the preamble in BA’s Best Gnocchi for specifics on how to freeze them!).
While the gnocchi are in the fridge, make the brown butter. Place butter in a medium saucepan set over medium heat. Let the butter melt completely. Eventually it will foam and you will want to give a little stir. Keep an eye on the butter, routinely stirring gently to check on the colour. Once you start noticing a golden brown colour happening (you may have to peek under foam sometimes to check for this), take the butter off the heat and pour into a small bowl.
Set a large pot of salted water to boil. Once the water is boiling, add the gnocchi and cook for 2 minutes or until they float to the surface. I find it easier to prepare myself ahead of time with a parchment lined baking sheet onto which I will be dropping boiled, drained gnocchi. Once the gnocchi are cooked, scoop them out of the water with a large slotted spoon and place gently on the prepared sheet. Draining the gnocchi by pouring them into a strainer is a bit too violent and you’ll end up with haggard-looking gnocchi.
Once all the gnocchi have been boiled and drained, heat the olive oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Drop the sage leaves into the hot oil and fry for 1 minute, until fragrant and just starting to crisp. Remove the sage to a paper towel-lined plate. Add a tiny bit more oil to the pan and, working in batches, start frying the gnocchi. Keep an eye on the heat if the gnocchi are browning up too quickly or slowly. You want nice golden sides, which only happens if you fry in batches. An over-crowded pan is not helpful here. Continue adding oil to the pan as needed if things start to get too dry.
Once the gnocchi are crispy, place on a serving platter and keep warm. When all the gnocchi are fried and plated, drizzle the brown butter over (adding however much looks good to you – you’ll almost definitely have leftover butter though). Taste one of the gnocchi and decide if you’d like to further season the dish with salt and pepper. Scatter the fried sage leaves over and serve immediately.