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Making Gnocchi- Old Potatoes?

  • tbear Oct 16, 2008 03:04 PM

I know the basic technigue, but has anyone heard that older potatoes work better- the theory being that the sugars or starch break down over time? Also what potatoes?

Anecdote: I was in Tuscany a couple of years ago and asked the (grand?) mother of the household to show me her Gnocchi that had been so perfect the night before (just tossed in pesto...bliss.) She happily said yes and came over to our place the next day and proceeded to botch the whole thing. Gnochi sticking everywhere,dissolving in the pot, nothing there. She cried that the day was too hot, "oh, the humidity!"

I have told that story a couple of times, happy that even those born to these joyous little dumplings still struggle making them, when, at last, an Italian friend looked me in the eye and revealed the truth...she threw the game to keep her secret.

BTW: Gnocchi have been around for a thousand+ years around the Mediteranean, well predating the introduction of the potato to Europe - this I stumbled upon while looking at Wikepedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gnocchi.

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  1. Have no idea about the age of the potato to use. Where did you hear that the age of the potato - and how old - and how do you know how old they are - like with sprouting or something or how long they've been in your house?

    But, use Russet (Idaho) potatoes, a starchy potato. The dryer the better. So bake them instead of boiling them.

    Do not use Yukon gold or waxy potatoes.

    And, excellent to use a potato "ricer" - but not mandatory.

    I remember when my mom moved to Idaho, she sent me a huge box of real Idaho potatoes she bought at the supermarket in her new city ! So silly, but it made me giggle ! What the ....? I thought.

    4 Replies
    1. re: kc girl

      I agree with using Russet potatoes and baking them. I then send them through a ricer and let them cool for a few minutes. I thne add some scrambled egg, about one egg for two large potatoes, season with salt and pepper, maybe some fresh herbs. I'll then add flour by the table spoon, just like making pasta give it as much flour as it will take until you have a nice dough. Form a ball and let it rest four a few minutes. Roll the ball into a rope, cut into bite size peices and you have gnocchi. I usually boil mine for a minute or two and toss in a pan with butter and garlic then top with parm.

      1. re: kc girl

        When I took a gnocchi cooking class, the instructor--a pretty respected Italian chef--said that you use old, starchy potatoes, not new potatoes. She said that in Italy they sell both new potatoes and old potatoes, with the idea that if you're making gnocchi you need old potatoes.

        1. re: Nettie

          I've read the same thing - not sure whether in Hazan or elsewhere.

          1. re: MMRuth

            I think that the class was right after the instructor returned from taking a class given by Marcella Hazan, so that makes sense. She did several of Marcella's recipes in the class--the gnocchi being notable because they contained no eggs.

      2. Because just about anyone can post just about anything on wikipedia.org and it takes longer to validate what's offered there than to do the raw research myself, I don't use them as an information resource any longer. "Older potatoes" (those that have been stored comparatively longer than their contemporaries - especially if they've been stored in a colder environment) will have a higher sucrose level than the fresher potatoes. Try putting a potato in the frig. for a couple of weeks and carefully peel it to expose the green layer between the skin and the potato. That stuff makes the potato sweeter (in a rather distasteful way) to the palate than it would have been when it was fresh. I would never use "older potatoes" for anything, especially Gnocchi.
        What kind of potatoe? Russet

        1. I can't say how it relates to gnocchi, but old potatoes versus new potatoes I am familiar with. In our house growing up, we never bought potatoes because we grew them. Well, not never. We would buy them in the summer when the new ones weren't ready yet and the previous years harvest was gone / too sprouty to eat.

          I am not sure what todao means about the green layer between the skin and flesh. I have never seen that before. The only green I have seen is if they are exposed to light too much. Properly stored this shouldn't happen. But then I have never stored a potato in the fridge.

          We ate new potatoes in the late summer and fall. They were the ones newly out of the ground, the skins are more tender and they tend to keep there shape when cooked.

          We ate old potatoes in the late winter and spring when they had been in the barrels over the winter. In cool, dry and dark conditions, we could eat potatoes in May that were harvested in September. The skins are thicker, and the potatoes fall apart more when cooked. They are great for mashing.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Sooeygun

            These are excellent points. You should be able to keep potatoes for several months, if they are properly stored, without affecting their flavor, texture or worthiness for use in your recipes. Remember that many (if not most) of the potatoes you purchase commercially have been stored for 12 - 15 weeks before you saw them in your super market. That's at least a half life for the potato, even it's been stored under ideal conditions.
            Potatoes naturally produce solanine. And potatoes that are improperly stored (too cold, too much light, etc.) will produce it faster than those which are kept in a more suitable environment. Solanine tastes terrible (IMHO) and, because it's sucrose, tends to cause the potato to burn more readily when it's fried.

            http://www.food-info.net/uk/qa/qa-fp9...

            1. re: todao

              The green layer below the potato skin is chlorophyll, not solanine, but solanine grows near the skin too. Solanine is not sucrose, not does it make potatoes sweet. It is a derivative of a saccharide, which is just the scientific name for a carbohydrate.

              However, potatoes do contain sucrose, which increases during cold storage (called "cold sweetening"). That cold sweetening is why some professionals or home cooks think older potatoes make the best French fries. When those cold-sweetened potatoes are stored at room temperature, though, the sucrose begins to be converted to startch.

              The absence of moisture in the potatoes used for gnocchi is important, and that's the only reason why older potatoes -- that have dried out during storage -- *might* be better for gnocchi. More important to me is thoroughly baking the potatoes so that the flesh is still fluffy but as dry as possible before combining with a small amount of flour. Many Italian chefs use no egg.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                I was curious about this so I looked up potatoes in Harold McGee's _On Food and Cooking_ when I got home. Sadly, he doesn't mention gnocchi (although he does say that new and waxy potatoes are less starchy. He does mention solanine, though:
                "Potatoes are notable for containing significant levels of the toxic alkaloids solanine and chaconine, a hint of whose bitterness is part of their true flavor. Most commercial varieties contain 2 to 15 mg of solanine and chaconine per quarter pound (100 g) of potato. Progressively higher levels result in a distinctly bitter taste, a burning sensation in the throat, digestive and neurological problems, and even death. Stressful growing conditions and exposure to light can double or triple the normal levels. Becuase light also induces chlorophyll formation, a green cast to the surface is a sign of abnormally high alkaloid levels. Greened potatoes should either be peeled deeply or discarded, and strongly bitter potatoes should not be eaten."

                And I've always thought that potatoes were so benign!

                [edit: a later blog posting says that green potatoes might not be so bad after all: http://news.curiouscook.com/2006/08/g...]

                1. re: Nettie

                  If you do see a green tinge just under the skin, it just means the
                  potato has been exposed to light and developed chlorophyll.

                  It doesn't mean that the potato also has solanine. Solanine is colorless.
                  But if you taste a tiny piece of potato skin with the green tinge and if tastes peppery, then the solanine level is too high. Just peel it away and any "eyes" or sprouts.The potato is perfectly fine. BTW, potatoes are actually monitored for their solanine content before sale.

              2. re: todao

                12-15 weeks? that really depends on the season. there are spring and fall crops, often til the first frost. depending on where you live and where the spuds come from, they might not be very old at all.

                nobody has mentioned that storing them in the fridge shortens their shelf life dramatically and affects their texture in a very bad way.

            2. when will people stop using wiki for stuff like this? obviously potato gnocchi weren't being made before potatoes were introduced to europe. there is a lighter version, often called parisian gnocchi or gnocchi souflees, that starts with a savory choux paste. so flour, eggs, butter, cream, grated cheese.

              that being said, older potatoes tend to be drier and make for lighter gnocchi, with a dough that's easier to manage.