Welcome to “‘Noodles Made Me...” a series in which Milk Street’s Hannah Packman cooks her way through our latest cookbook, “Milk Street Noodles.” Click here for part one, in which she became a parsley pesto fan, and part two, in which she learned that she really can make a great Vietnamese-inspired noodle bowl.
Now with two ‘Noodles’ recipes under my belt—having dipped a toe in non-traditional pesto and learned the art of balance—I’m ready to take a chance in the outer regions of my favorite food group. For round three, I knew I wanted to make something quick. Turns out, I didn’t have to turn many pages before finding a burst of inspiration. Instant gnocchi. Apparently potato flakes aren’t just for instant mashed potatoes… they help accomplish soft, pillowy, impressive dumplings—and quickly.

Lesson 3: Easy Gnocchi in a Hurry

The claim is that using instant potato flakes to make these Italian potato dumplings—while making purists cringe—is actually a surefire way to make the softest, most pillowy gnocchi. And it’s an easy and mess-free method, too, because it eliminates the need to boil a russet potato, then rice it or put it through a food mill.

I needed more proof though, so I looked to other recipes. Surprisingly, many recipes for gnocchi call for instant potato flakes, including one from famed Boston restaurateur Barbara Lynch.

It turns out the flakes aren't just a shortcut, but a solution to an age-old gnocchi conundrum: getting the potato-to-flour ratio right. Made the traditional way, too little flour leads to gnocchi that dissolve in the pot; too much flour makes for unappetizingly stodgy, gluey results. Achieving perfect balance can be a guessing game because the water content of the potatoes (which can vary) determines how much is needed. Apparently, with instant potato flakes, you can easily and reliably produce tender gnocchi every time.

Only thing left to do was try it out myself...

Step 1: Gather the ingredients

Possibly the best part of this recipe is its simplicity. Calling for only potato flakes, an egg, flour, salt and boiling water, it’s quite possible you already have everything in your pantry. And as for ingredients to sauce your pillowy bundles of joy? Anything goes! Simple butter and herbs, store bought pesto, your grandmother’s Sunday sauce... the world is your oyster.

Step 2: Start Mixing

To start, I mixed the potato flakes and boiling water until fully combined. Already, I could see the beginnings of a dough starting to form. Once incorporated, I let that mixture sit until room temp before adding the rest of the ingredients: salt, a lightly beaten egg and flour.

Step 3: Knead, Knead, Knead

I quickly realized my wooden spoon was no match for this mixture, so I switched to kneading with my hands until everything was combined into a loose dough, then added it to a floured wooden board. Surprisingly, the dough didn’t require much extra flour while kneading, only a bit of elbow grease for a few minutes before it fully came together. While kneading, I also got my pot of water on the stove.

Step 4: Shape and Cut

I floured the wooden board and rolling pin again before rolling out the dough into a loose 1/2 inch thick rectangle. Be sure to continue flouring as you go, especially if your kitchen is hot, as the dough can get sticky. Then, using a sharp knife, I cut the dough into 1/2 inch strips and rolled each strip into logs until they were about a 1/2 inch in diameter.

Step 5: Cook!

Once rolled into logs, I cut the gnocchi into 1 inch pieces (but skipped adding ridges because I was STARVING) and dropped a few handfuls into my salted boiling water, stirring once or twice. The other beautiful thing about this recipe? Cooking time was a snap. It took about a minute for the gnocchi to float to the surface, where I then skimmed and added them to a wire rack to drain and cool. I repeated in batches until all of my gnocchi was hot and ready.

Step 6: Sauce and Enjoy

For my sauce, I used what I had on hand, combining browned butter, sage, lemon and red pepper flakes in a pot and then tossing the gnocchi in it until everything was equally coated. A plate and a mountain of parm later—we were in business.

I really was skeptical of how comparable gnocchi made out of instant potato flakes would be to the real deal—after all, you literally skip the step of roasting a real potato and use what resembles snow! However, I must really say I was impressed.

Pillowy and tender, with the right amount of bite, I wiped my plate clean and then came back to eat a few more out of the pot. Though the earthy flavor of potatoes that you may find in a homemade version was less apparent, a simple sauce balanced everything out nicely. If I hadn’t made it myself, I wouldn’t have known this was made using anything instant.

Gnocchi will always be a bit of labor of love—there is an inevitable amount of tedious rolling and cutting required—but this hack skipped some time-intensive steps to help streamline the process. Having burned my hands while starting from scratch with a steaming hot baked potato, I will definitely be doing this again. Anything to get gnocchi in my mouth quicker.

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