Uncle Nicky’s Gnocchi

While flipping through Lucinda’s Rustic Italian Kitchen, I found her recipe for gnocchi.   I have been wanting to try my hand at making gnocchi for a very long time. Lucinda’s Gnocchi had a pesto sauce with it – and I only eat my great grandmother’s pesto.  Yes, I have some strange food issues, but if you ever try my great grandmother’s pesto, you wouldn’t eat any other pesto either!

While trying to decide what to do with the gnocchi once made, I thought of my Uncle Nicky and his special gnocchi dish.

My family owned a restaurant in New York City called Papoo’s for over 50 years. Some of my favorite memories of my grandparents and uncle – well, my whole family – swirl around in there. My husband and I had our wedding reception there. My sister’s bridal shower and rehearsal dinner. Countless birthdays, special occasions and parties. The very first time I had too much to drink was there – ah, the dastardly Solly Sombre. I still occasionally walk past the original location (lost to us after 9/11) and I swear I can see my Grandmother peeking through the window looking for customers, or my grandfather walking down the street, or my son standing outside selling Italian ices when he was 11. I remember Papoo’s before it was Papoo’s and was The Town Restaurant. Isn’t it funny how most of my fondest memories revolve around food. The loss can be bittersweet at times so I try not to walk past there very often.

Just as an aside, after 9/11 the restaurant moved, but it was never the same. Maybe Papoo’s was really my grandparents and that little tiny restaurant where there was a memory every place you looked. Then the economy slammed everyone – well, you know how that story goes.

Now that I am completely sad and blue, let’s get back to the reason for this post!

When my Uncle Nicky took over as the chef, he would, on occasion – rare occasions that involved a lot of begging and pouting – make this dish for me. I was convinced there had to be some horrible, long involved, painful process, otherwise why wouldn’t he make this wonderful dish for his darling niece whenever she wanted.

He would never tell me how to make it. Uncle Nicky always played it quite close to the vest about recipes and when he did give you a recipe you had to really think through what he said  – who here remembers my debacle with his lamb and ORZO?! Let’s just say it was just shy of Strega Nonna’s Pot!

Anywho – after deciding to make the gnocchi, Uncle Nicky’s Gnocchi (say that a few times fast) was the only thing I could think of – how hard could it really be?

  • 3 best-quality Idaho potatoes, washed and dried
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon coarse salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Spear the potatoes lightly with a fork in a few places. Place directly on the oven rack and cook until completely tender, about 1 hour.

NOTE: Really? Three potatoes? Three baking potatoes? I must admit I was really leery.

When cool enough to handle, cut the potatoes open, scoop out the flesh, and pass it through a potato ricer to achieve a very fine and light texture.

Spread the riced potatoes out on a rimmed baking sheet and allow to cool completely (very important).

In a mixing bowl, whisk together 1 3/4 cups of the flour and the salt. Slowly blend the flour mixture into the potatoes, using your hands to combine completely, until the dough pulls away from your hands and feels like pizza dough. Add flour if necessary to achieve desired consistency.

NOTE: I did this right on the baking sheet. I saw no point in dirtying another bowl or trying to transfer the little, light and fluffy wiggles into a bowl!

Once in a ball, sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface. Separate the dough into several pieces and roll out each into the size of a cigar. Cut each “cigar” into 1-inch pieces.

NOTE: I moved to a big wooden board now.

To form the gnocchi, dip a fork in flour, then place the tines on top of a piece of dough. Applying medium pressure, gently roll the gnocchi toward you with the fork, releasing pressure gradually as you roll, until it is completely rolled off the tines. Repeat with each piece of dough, placing the gnocchi on a floured baking sheet as completed. The pieces should resemble tiny footballs with a cup in the center.

NOTE: FORK MY ASS EYE! I have already ordered a gnocchi board for the next go around! Perhaps I am too clumsy for the fork method. Perhaps I just want a new toy. Perhaps my forks are not wide or long enough for it to work properly.

Place a large pot of water on the stove to boil. When boiling, add a generous amount of salt. Drop about 8 gnocchi into the water at a time and cook until they return to float on the surface of the boiling water, 2 to 3 minutes.

Now, this is where Lucinda ends and Uncle Nicky steps in. (little secret, he used frozen gnocchi – you can too – just bring a pot of water to boil, add the gnocchi, once it floats take it out and let it cool)

In order to make my favorite dish you’ll need –

  • 2 shallots, chopped finely
  • 5 T butter
  • 1 t dried thyme
  • s&p to taste

After you have boiled the gnocchi, let them cool for a bit.

NOTE: When I made tis dish, I let the gnocchi cool completely and put them in the fridge until the next day. I brought them to room temperature before I began. 

Add 3 tablespoons of the butter to a saute pan large enough to hold the gnocchi you are making in pretty much a single layer. Let the butter brown.

NOTE: It seems like a lot of butter, but this was for ALL the gnocchi I had made and no I didn’t count them. Change the amount of butter according to the amount of gnocchi. It goes from brown to black fairly quickly. Also, it browns much faster in an open skillet than in a pot when you’re baking.

Once browned, add the shallots and let cook until almost transparent. Once transparent add the other 2 tablespoons of butter.

Once melted, toss the gnocchi in the butter. And leave, stirring occasionally until the gnocchi is brown in places and become a little crisp. Add in the thyme and pepper to taste – salt if necessary.


Now that this mystery has been solved I feel a little like Nate the Great unraveling one of life’s mysteries. I can have this wonderful gnocchi now whenever I want.

I think next time I am going to try sage instead of the thyme.

The gnocchi are soft and pillowy with just enough crunch to make them interesting. The browned butter is wonderful, nutty, adding a nice hint of flavor to the gnocchi. The thyme adds a wonderful layer of rustic something to the dish.


16 Responses

  1. The memories sound wonderful. I love the idea of a family gathering place centered on food! And if there is anything better than a recipe for a great dish it is a recipe for a great dish with a story!

  2. That’s wonderful your family owned a restaurant for so long. What a great trove of recipes. I haven’t made gnocchi, but just got my mom’s recipe, so that will change soon.

  3. Looks wonderful. I’ve a confession to make, I’ve never had gnocchi. It looks interesting, I see it on blogs and in the store, but I’ve never tried it. I’m sure it’s no suprise when I tell you, I’m not Italian.
    This is the first recipe I’ve seen that 1. Made me think I might be able to make it and 2. Looks so good I’m seriously considering trying. In the fall. It’s too hot now. Blah.

    • It is really easy to make. But I would suggest splurging the $6 on Amazon for the board. The fork method sucked was not easy! On top of easy, it’s pretty economical too! THREE POTATOES! and a handful of flour. It goes well with a light tomato sauce, the browned butter, a pesto, butter and cheese. And they freeze well – not that we did. We snarfed up every one of them!

  4. Love the story here. I’ve seen a couple gnocchi recipes this week and now I’m tempted to try it myself.

  5. A great story and some wonderful memories, , ..Being from Italian heritage to marrying an Italian and living in Italy….Believe me I know first hand everything evolves around food.Where would I be today without it!…A great gnocchi recipe, and I usually use sage also…oh! and there’s never enough butter…a vero!

  6. I haven’t had much success with gnocchi making, but this recipe sounds promising. I’ll have to give it a try!

  7. Great post, and these gnocchi look fantastic. I’ve not made gnocchi in ages, but you’ve just inspired me to do so!

  8. WOW! Your gnocchi are gorgeous! And this is something my picky Katie will actually eat. Loved reading your family memories…I’m sorry about the loss of your family’s original restaurant~

  9. What lovely memories

  10. Love your family memories; your Uncle sounds so much like mine! And for some reason all my memories revolve around food too!! These gnocchi look amazing, I like that you sauted them to a nice golden crispiness!! I’ve never had them other than soft in a sauce.

    • I have never liked them soft for some reason. Maybe because I fell in love with them this way when I was little. Hope you give them a try!

  11. What a lovely story – I love how food can evoke such strong memories. I’ve only made my own gnocci once and it was a semi disaster – I cooked the first batch straight away and they were perfect. Second batch was cooked the next day and completely fell to pieces! No idea what went wrong… Yours look amazing though and the brown crust looks totally yum.

  12. The memories you have of the restaurant are priceless. How sad to have lost it. These gnocchi look so soft and fantastic. I can’t wait to try making my own with this recipe. I really appreciate the commentary. It helps me figure out how it’s supposed to come together.

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