Gnocchi with Pesto

Gnocchi with Pesto

(serves 4-5)

The ingredients to make a Pesto - pecorino che...

The ingredients to make a Pesto – pecorino cheese, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and basil. For this recipe. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ingredients and kitchen equipment

For the gnocchi:

3 medium-large potatoes of a starchy variety, boiled

1 pinch of salt

1 egg yolk

enough all purpose flour to hold the gnocchi dough together (about ½ cup + 1-2 TB), plus some extra flour for dusting

2 large wooden boards



pasta strainer

bowl large enough to hold the pasta strainer

slotted spoon

tiny saucepan

large pot (large enough to contain at least 5 liter of water if you are coking gnocchi for 8)

For the pesto:


stone mortar; alternatively, you can use a food processor (see specific directions below)

large bunch of basil (enough to yield 1 cup finely minced basil); ideally, the sweet and scented variety from Genoa should be used

1/3 small clove of garlic

1/3 cup fresh Italian pine nuts

¼ cup parmesan, freshly grated

scant ¼ tasty pecorino cheese, freshly grated

2-3 TBs best-quality extra-virgin olive oil


Boil the tiny piece of garlic for 5 minutes in little water. When still hot, crush it in the mortar (or under the blade of your chopping knife) until it’s perfectly dissolved. Don’t rinse the basil (if you do, make sure to dry it well before using it); discard tough stalks and roughly chop the leaves. **Put in the mortar some chopped basil, about 1 TBs grated cheese, and about 1 TBs pine nuts. As you keep pounding, dragging and squeezing the pesto on the sides of the mortar, gradually add a bit of  oil to turn the mixture into a thick paste. Don’t look for perfect smoothness, as good home-made pesto preserves some texture. Repeat from ** . Mix all the pesto “batches” well.

If you use a food processor instead of a mortar, it’s advisable to a) chill the food processor and all the ingredients but the garlic and the oil, b) make the pesto in just one batch, doubling or even tripling the given dose, c) grind the pine nuts on their own first, d) add a little extra oil (or chilled water) if the food processor looks ‘clogged’, e) pulse at the highest speed taking breaks to let the pesto ‘rest’ every 6-7 seconds until you get a thick, smooth paste with some texture. If you don’t use all the pesto straight away, store it in the refrigerator under a veil of olive oil: it will keep for 10 days-2 weeks. Alternatively, you can freeze it.


Gnocchi dough doesn’t keep for more than 10-15 minutes, and cannot be frozen, so carefully organize yourself to be able to make gnocchi at the last moment. It will take you about 30 minutes to make the dough and shape the gnocchi, with some experience the whole process shouldn’t take you more than 20 minutes. The key to good results is: a) to understand how much flour to use; b) to work fast, especially during the cooking phase. I recommend you to make gnocchi for no more than 2-3 people until you feel confident.

You can boil the potatoes ahead—just leave them inside the hot water until the moment you are ready to peel them, and if by that time potatoes have cooled completely, warm them up again: ideally, potatoes should be kind of hot when you pass them through the ricer.

Peel the hot-warm potatoes and pass them through the ricer twice (or 3-4 times if they feel “grainy”) over a large wooden board. Add the salt and egg yolk, and knead the dough until thoroughly blended. Spread it and let it cool completely.

Have all the individual serving bowls ready. Start the water with some salt (about half the amount you would normally toss if you were cooking pasta instead).

Add the flour to the potato dough, and knead it as little as possible, helping yourself with the scraper to unstick the dough and save crumbs. Quantity of flour differs from time to time, depending on how starchy your potatoes are and on the weather (you need more flour on humid days, but expert gnocchi makers would be reluctant to make gnocchi when it rains). The idea is to use as little flour as possible but enough to allow gnocchi to retain their shape. When you taste the dough, it should taste ‘potatoish’, not like flour.

Carefully scrape your wooden board clean, **generously sprinkle it with flour in an homogeneous way, and roll one sixth of the dough into a long, even roll about ½ inch thick. With the help of the scraper, ‘cut’ gnocchi at a regular distance from each other: out of a 2 inch piece of roll you should get 3 gnocchi (size is important, as gnocchi that are too large don’t cook well and crush under their own weight, so it’s better to err on the small-size side.) When you have chopped up a whole roll, sprinkle gnocchi with a bit of extra flour and, without touching them with your hands but just with the scraper, gently toss them around and transfer them onto the other large wooden board, also dusted with flour**. Repeat from ** to ** until all gnocchi have been shaped.

Gently warm the pesto with 1 oz butter and enough water to make it creamy. Spread about ½ Tbs pesto on the bottom of every bowl.

Gnocchi need to be cooked in batches. Drop gnocchi, one at a time (or about 15 gnocchi at a time, as long as they are separated and lifted with the help of a large scraper), into the boiling water as fast as you can, using up the yeald of one roll. Gently stir with the slotted spoon and lift gnocchi out of the water as soon as they come to the surface, paying attention not to ‘capture’ gnocchi that are still mid-way down by mistake. Gently empty the slotted spoon into the pasta strainer (which you’ll have conveniently set upon a bowl not to make a mess with the dripping water) and run (or better yet, ask an ‘assistant’ to do this for you while you fix the second batch) to the bowls. Distribute this first batch of gnocchi on four bowls, then dress with another ½ TBs hot pesto (don’t stir!). Cook other 2 batches of gnocchi as directed above, and arrange 2 more ‘layers’ of gnocchi and pesto in the same four bowls. These portions should be sent to the table and eaten immediately. Finish cooking and dressing all the gnocchi. In order to have 8 portions of gnocchi served all the same time, you can use two pots, but you need to be superfast or have somebody helping you at the stove.

Serving suggestions: more traditional dressings for gnocchi are: butter, sage and parmesan; tomato and basil sauce; mushroom sauce; light meat sauce. Gnocchi alla Sorrentina are dressed with tomato sauce and mozzarella crumbs (juice squeezed out), then put under the broiler to make the cheese melt.

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