In my experience, gnocchi cravings and pasta cravings are very different things. When I’ve got pasta on the brain, I’m usually looking for a vehicle for sauce, a carby and delightfully shaped tool to transport carbonara into my mouth. When my body wants gnocchi, something’s usually wrong.
Not that gnocchi is a bad thing—quite the opposite. Soft, doughy dumplings that comfort like little else, they’re perfect for when I need a distinctly pleasurable dinner experience, often to counteract a non-pleasant day. A few bites are enough to right the ship: chewy, tender, filling, and bad vibe erasing. (Gnocchi is also the name of my parents' dog, so the word on a menu alone fills me with love for a dumb, fluffy creature.)
Though many recipes for gnocchi use potato as the base, a number of vegetables can be used to create the same enjoyable texture. In fact, when making gnocchi at home, turning to whatever sturdy produce is languishing in your fridge is a great place to start.
Stuart Brioza, chef and owner of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco, was the first to tip me off to this, thanks to a recipe in the restaurant's cookbook. The brainchild of chef de cuisine Gaby Maeda, State Bird’s carrot mochi is a bright orange, pillowy dumpling that, the first time I ate it, rang all the same bells as my favorite potato gnocchi. “Gaby was experimenting with different vegetables and really brought this dish to the plate,” Brioza told me. “The carrot is a favorite, but we’ve also done a few different varieties over the years, like beet and pumpkin. Whatever you like, as long as it’s got real heft, can do it.”
According to Kevin Adey, chef and owner of Faro in Brooklyn, swapping out potato for other vegetables works in a number of different gnocchi preparations. “Almost anything could be made to work with gnocchi à la Parisienne (created like choux pastry, with hot water) or gnocchi alla romana (which are semolina-based),” he says. The simplest and most foolproof method, however, which I’ve turned to again and again, is a hybrid between classic potato gnocchi and ricotta gnocchi, made of just vegetables, ricotta cheese, and all-purpose flour. Read on for a homemade gnocchi-how to using this technique—and any sturdy, starchy vegetable you like.
Pick your vegetable
Not all vegetables are created equal when it comes to making gnocchi. Selecting the right one for the base of your dumplings means finding the perfect combination of texture and flavor. “The starchier the vegetable, the more potato gnocchi-like the final texture will be,” says Emily Fedner, cofounder of Petite Pasta Joint, a pop-up that operates out of the century-old NYC pasta shop Rafetto’s. “Go for root vegetables like sweet potato, carrot, beet, and thicker, denser squashes.” Brioza agrees: “Stronger flavored root vegetables really lend themselves to this kind of process—as well as things with significant color, like pumpkin or butternut squash. In our experience, the sweeter the vegetable the better.”
At Faro, Adey says, “We run very few potato gnocchi.” Instead they stick to the less common side of the root vegetable family: “Parsnip, gilfeather turnip, and salsify work great.” Broccoli and cauliflower, which are sturdy and dry, also hold up well to the test.
Make the mash
Roasting is the perfect way to cook your vegetables for gnocchi for two reasons. First, you want to eliminate as much moisture as possible, because the drier your vegetable mash, the less flour you’ll have to add to make the dough. (More flour means denser, less flavorful dumplings.) Second, you want to concentrate the flavor of the vegetable as much as possible, so it will shine through in the final gnocchi. Without taking care to preserve the flavor of your carrots, for example, Brioza says, “you’ll end up with a bunch of plain orange balls.”
If you’re starting with raw vegetables, lay them out of a sheet pan and roast them until tender. No need to season or toss with olive oil here, just peel if necessary and roast in large chunks. If you have leftover roasted vegetables in your fridge (or mashed; Fedner uses leftover mashed sweet potato to great effect), you can skip this step and start from there—just keep an eye on seasoning since you likely already used salt.
Next, use either a potato masher, vegetable ricer, or food processor to break your cooked vegetables into a rough mash—no big chunks, but some texture is ok—and then transfer it to a skillet or saucepan. Stirring occasionally and seasoning with salt, you’ll cook your mash down slightly to eliminate even further moisture; if you start with leftover vegetables, you’ll likely need a few more minutes to dry them out. Depending on the vegetables you use, you might be able to break them down sufficiently here, and skip the mashing step entirely. Says Brioza, “If you roast a whole pumpkin and scoop the flesh into a pan, cooking and mixing it with a wooden spoon will naturally purée it as you cook it down.”
Assemble the dough
You can eyeball the next step—the more gnocchi you make, the easier it will be to feel out the proper measurements—but it’s easiest to do with a kitchen scale. The ideal dough will hold together but be bouncy and tender rather than tough; a good formula to follow is two parts vegetable mash + one part ricotta + one part all-purpose flour. For every serving of gnocchi you’d like to end up with, start with about 100 grams of mash.
Scoop more ricotta than you think you’ll need (you can always put the extra back into the container) onto a few layers of paper towel, to sop up some of the extra moisture. You don’t need to be too crazy about this because you have the dry vegetable mash on your side; true ricotta gnocchi—which are just the cheese, eggs, and flour—require a bit more effort here, ringing out most of the liquid.
To determine how much ricotta and flour to add, weigh your vegetable mash and divide that figure by two. If you have 200 grams of mash, you’ll add 100 grams of ricotta (stirring to combine), and then 100 grams of flour. Start incorporating the flour with a spoon, then move to using your hand to knead the dough together. It’ll be sticky and not smooth, but malleable and easy to roll into a ball between your palms.
Boil the gnocchi
Heat a large pot of salted boiling water while you form your gnocchi so it’s ready to go when you are. Rip off a piece of the dough and roll it into a long rope, about ⅓-inch in diameter (the gnocchi will expand slightly as they cook). Use a sharp knife to cut the rope into ¾-inch pieces, then use your fingertips to tap in any rough edges on the cut ends. The gnocchi should look like little slightly shrunken tater tots; if you’re feeling fancy, you can imprint each nugget with the tines of a fork. Continue until you’ve worked through all of the gnocchi, setting the finished pieces on a plate as you go.
Add the gnocchi to the pot of boiling water. As each piece bobs up to the surface (this should take about 1½ to 2 minutes), use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate or baking sheet. Reserve ¼ cup of the cooking liquid. This is the part of the process to bring kids into if they’re curious about the kitchen, says Brioza. “They really like the texture because it kind of has that gummy worm thing going on. My friends’ daughters love the process—forming the balls, watching them float to the top—and make me make it whenever I’m with them.”
You can sauce your cooked gnocchi however you like: in pesto, marinara, something creamy and cheesy, anything goes. I like to finish mine in a hot pan with butter and a sturdy herb, like rosemary, sage, or thyme, because it adds a little crispiness to the outside of the pillowy gnocchi, and the herbs play nicely with all that roasty vegetable flavor.
Here’s how I do it: Heat a tablespoon of butter per serving of gnocchi in a large pan over medium. Once it foams and begins to brown, around 2 minutes, add the herbs and cook, swirling the pan, about 1 minute more. Add the gnocchi and a tablespoon or two of the cooking liquid; season with salt and pepper. Cook, tossing the gnocchi occasionally, until very lightly browned and crisp on the outside. With a little grated Parmesan and more black pepper, you’ve got a top-of-the-line bad-day eraser, made from whatever’s in your fridge.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious