Sunday, October 10, 2010

PFB #4 | Handmade Gnocchi with Basil Pesto Sauce

A sincere thank you to each of you who took the time to vote for me and helped me secure a place in round four of the Project Food Blog contest. Speaking of the next challenge, the title is “Picture Perfect” where we are asked to go above and use photography to create a step-by-step, instructional photo tutorial. When contemplating this challenge, the first thing that came to mind was Gnocchi. Not sure why, but as they say go with your gut. To accompany this potato pillow, a hand crafted basil pesto was an ideal companion.

Please repeat after me: gnocchi (n'YOH key). Gnocchi means “lumps”, and may be derived from nocchio, a knot in the wood or nocca (knuckle). It is a traditional Italian pasta type of probably Middle Eastern origin since Roman times. In Roman times, gnocchi were made from semolina dough mixed with eggs. The use of potato in gnocchi became more common after the introduction of the potato to Europe in the 16th century.

Today gnocchi is made from a variety of ingredients ranging from ricotta, pumpkin, and spinach to a whole host of other inventive ingredients. Thursday is traditionally gnocchi day in Italy. If you're visiting Italy on a Thursday but don't want to stand out as a tourist in local restaurants, order gnocchi, because all the locals do! When in Italy...

There is a definite art to making gnocchi. It takes practice, patience and persistence. The epitome of superior potato gnocchi is when it has a light, pillow almost cloud like texture. The texture is so sublime that you are moved to another level of eating enjoyment when having these delightful bites of heaven.

On the other end of the spectrum, the worst gnocchi are dense, gummy, rubbery or even soggy. They key to making the ultimate gnocchi is to bake the potatoes and use a potato ricer to develop the lightness. In addition, do not over work the dough or use a food processor, using your hands are the best tools to mastering this Italian classic.

{Baked potatoes }

Making gnocchi for me is quite therapeutic and relaxing - from running the baked potatoes through the ricer, kneading the dough to cutting into small pieces to form the snake shaped logs. The fun part commences when you quickly roll the small pillows over the wooden gnocchi board or use the tine of a fork. The traditional gnocchi takes shape and a sense of accomplishment is obtained. I use semolina instead of traditional flour for my wooden board and storing these little gems. It tends to not get gummy from any moisture and prevents any sticking together.

{Whole nutmeg }

One of my favorite matches to the time-honored gnocchi is a handmade basil pesto. The fresh fragrant basil along with earthy pine nuts or in Italian they are called “pinoli”, along with freshly grated parmesan cheese are the backbone to this delicious sauce. With the addition of garlic and good olive oil the sauce is complete and often easily made in a food processor. A good tip is to make large batches of the pesto and freeze in small containers to enjoy year round.

Once you master the art of gnocchi making, you will never purchase from your local grocery store again. It is relatively simple and will impress your guests.  Classic elegance yet easy!

Potato Gnocchi

2 lbs. Russet Potatoes
1 Egg
1 C. Flour + extra if needed
½ t. Fresh nutmeg
1 t. Salt
6 Grinds fresh ground pepper (used multicolored pepper)
Semolina flour

Wash potatoes and dry. Poke each potato with a sharp fork multiple times on both sides to prevent any explosion. Place into a microwave on the rack and cook for about 15 minutes until soft. You can also bake in the oven for one hour at 350 if you prefer.

Let cool for five minutes. Cut each potato in half and scoop into a ricer and process into a large bowl.  Add the egg and fresh nutmeg along with the salt and pepper. Then add about one cup of flour. Use your hands to mix the dough together until it forms a ball. Press it flat and divide into three portions. Shape each one to form a rectangle. Cut into 5 or 6 pieces. Spread some semolina flour onto a wooden board. Proceed to roll the pieces into a snake shape. Start in the middle and gently roll until the log is about one inch thick. Use a sharp knife to cut small pieces about one inch wide. Continue to follow this process until the dough is gone.

Once you have the small pieces, use the wooden gnocchi board to give the pillow their signature look. Simply pick up a piece and place onto the board and press gently and roll and place onto a sheet pan with sides which is sprinkled with semolina flour. Continue to form and mark the little gnocchi bites until they are gone.

To cook, use a large pot of well salted water that has come to a boil. Gently drop the desired amount of gnocchi into the pot, without over crowding. Reduce the heat to medium high, and cook until they float to the top or about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a strainer into a large bowl that is heat resistance. Coat with a bit of olive oil to prevent sticking. If you are making a large batch, you can keep in a 300 degree oven until you have cooked the desired amount. Toss with your favorite sauce and serve.

Basil Pesto Sauce

2 C. Fresh basil leaves, packed tightly
½ C. Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1/3 C. Pine nuts, toasted
½ C. Olive oil
3 Garlic cloves, smashed
Salt and pepper to taste

Use a food processor to make this sauce. Simply add the basil leaves, parmesan cheese, pine nuts and garlic cloves. Pulse for 10 seconds and then slowly pour the olive oil into the mixture while food processor is on. Continue to pulse until the mixture is smooth. Taste and then season with salt and pepper. Place into an airtight container immediately so the bright green color remains. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Above is the finished dish with beautiful "light as air" potato dumplings (aka - gnocchi) and the vivid basil pesto that glissens and has a lovely aromatic character.  I quickly roasted some grape tomatoes still on the vine to add a punch of color and flavor.
Thank you again for all of the loyal supporters - I truly appreciate each one of you.  Voting opens at 6AM pacific time October 11th through 6PM pacific time October 14th. 


  1. Looks fantastic!!! Continued luck in PFB :)

    Shelly, Nibbles of Tidbits

  2. Very nice pics, simple elegant and informative. GREG

  3. Your gnocchi look delicious, Lisa. The tutorial was very helpful, too. I'll be voting for you. :-)

  4. Great post, I love simple elegance! I've never seen one of those boards, only used a fork, will have to be on the lookout for one! Good Luck, will be back to vote!

  5. Very well illustrated photos, neat, and precise work. The gnocchi looks divine, and the pesto sauce is a pure perfection. I am following your blog, and hope you will follow mine too. I will for sure vote for you in #4 challenge...wish you the best of luck!

  6. So classic and elegant! I love it, great great job!


  7. Merhabalar, Umutluhayatlar berna hanımın "fırında çupra" tarifini bugün bloglardan seçmelerde yayınladım.
    Her pazartesi yapılan yayınlarda sizinde yayınlanmasını istediğiniz yemek tariflerinizi beklerim.


  8. Elegance! Lisa, your gnocchi looks delightfully airy and delicate, just beautiful! I have never tried making gnocchi; I'm glad you went with your gut because it is truly inspiring me!

  9. Gnocchi...hard to say, but so easy to devour. I have never made them, but have always wanted to try my hands at these pillowy cases of heaven. Great job, Lisa!

  10. You make it look easy, I think I can make gnocchi after studying your photos and instructions. Good job! You've got my vote!

  11. Your photos look amazing! I love gnocchi but I've never attempted making it myself. I think I might just give it a try after seeing this wonderful tutorial. Good luck in the challenge!

  12. You make it look so easy. I've never made gnocchi but I'm sure it takes a lot of practice to get them to look this beautiful. Great job!! Best wishes...

  13. yum, you know i love gnocchi. ;) your pesto sauce looks delicious. great job - best of luck!

  14. Well made fresh gnocchi is such a joy to eat, especially with slow roasted tomatoes! Perfect little pillows, good luck with the rest of the contest!

  15. Yum! My boyfriend and I have decided to give gnocchi a try this week :) I'm so excited! ps. just voted for you!

  16. Just voted for you, I tried to tweet about it but somehow it didn't work. Anyway...good luck in this round.

  17. Beautiful and informative post Lisa, great job and you have my vote:)

  18. I haven't ever really liked gnocchi, but now I am beginning to believe it's because I haven't had GOOD gnocchi! Thanks for sharing. Definitely deserves a vote.

  19. Wonderful photos...The pesto looks so vibrant :)

  20. I have never made gnocchi from scratch before and now I'm so inspired. I'm bookmarking your post!!! Lovely step-by-step photos, Lisa! Another winner!!

  21. It looks beautiful. You have my vote.

  22. There's a reason you've made it this do great work! The color of the tomatoes make it a picture perfect dish :)

    I recently had a gnocchi/pesto dish with pomegranate sprinkled on the top. At first, I wasn't certain about the combo, but it tasted great. Highly recommend you give it a try.

  23. My family is deserting me !!!! If there is one favorite dish's what you have made there !!!!

  24. I was just telling my hubby the other day how great it would be to have homemade pumpkin gnocchi - if only I knew how to make gnocchi. Thanks for sharing. Good luck!

  25. well explained in great photos, see you at round 5

  26. Excellent post - you got my vote for this! Good luck :) Feel free to hop over to leave a comment :)

    Have a wonderful day!
    jen @

  27. Great job Lisa ! Looking forward to seeing you in round 5

  28. Having gone through the process of making gnocchi, I found myself nodding in agreement right the way through your post. Excellent tutorial and now I know what to order if I am ever in Italy on a Thursday!

  29. You certainly have tackled this challenge-- strong photos and detailed instructions.
    Nice job!

  30. Oh god this looks so good. I've seen more than a few gnocchi disasters from friends, which has pushed me away. This draws me in, I'm very tempted to give it a shot. Especially with that basil-pesto sauce. Good luck this week, voting for you!

    Lick My Spoon

  31. Your gnocchi looks delicious. And I love how bright and fresh your pesto looks too. I shall vote for you :)

  32. I wish I could make gnocchi look that pretty! Good luck in round 4!

  33. Gnocchi and pesto are things that I always wanted to do. Great step-by-step explanations and great choice for this challenge. I bookmarked the recipes. Thanks!


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