Main Dishes — 18 February 2011

Delicious recipe to accompany potato gnocchi – from Sarjano’s kitchen

Gnocchi with classic tomato sauce

In Italy, gnocchi is considered a northern thing, totally avoidable below Roma’s belt. It is a local specialty, particularly appreciated in the coldest regions. So even though only one third of the Italian population are regular gnocchi eaters, they are still quarrelling amongst themselves about the perfect preparation. Gnocchi is a very simple creation, something that a child can do beautifully. If you don’t believe me, try to involve your kids the very first time you prepare it.

Gnocchi is made with potatoes and refined flour. But what is the perfect proportion of potatoes to flour? This is the cause of much quarrelling among the Italians of the north. If you use too much potato, the gnocchi will be very soft; too soft. If you use too much flour, the gnocchi will be hard.

How do you get the perfect balance? I use 1 kg potato to 150 gram of refined flour. This is what Buddha’s cook might have called ‘the middle path of gnocchi’. There are people who like gnocchi to be soft enough to melt in their mouths. So they will use more potatoes than I do. There are those who like to have something to chew all the time, even when they eat gnocchi, so they will use more flour.

Gnocchi for Buddha

You will need for 4 servings

1 kg potatoes

150 gram refined flour

1 egg

¼ tsp salt

Boil the potatoes in their skin for about 30 minutes. Poke them with a fork to check if they are cooked. Drain the potatoes and let them cool a little, so that you can peel them easily. Mash them with a potato masher while still hot. Let it rest for at least 1 hour.

Next you sift the flour and salt into the bowl containing the mashed potatoes.

Mix in the egg, which should be whisked.

You mix gently with your hands, until it feels well-blended under your fingers. It is soft; it won’t take much work for the dough to be ready. Let it rest again for 30 minutes in the summer and 50 minutes if it is cold.

Dust the table and your hands with some flour, and start making cylinders with the dough. The cylinders should be no more than 2½-cm thick, and as long as your table will allow. Take a handful of dough and roll it into a big snake, or at least this is what you are going to say to your kids!

Cut the cylinder into pieces no longer than 3 cm and there’s your gnocchi.

Well, now they look a little fat and gross, so you proceed to give them some shape by flattening them with a fork. The gentle pressure of the fork will give the gnocchi their proper shape, and they will have some pattern on them. Kids enjoy this small operation very much, because you can actually make each individual gnocco different from the other.

You may try to calculate how many gnocchi you need, because they aren’t good if you keep them in the refrigerator for another day. But you can wrap the leftover dough, and keep that in the refrigerator for a couple of days.

And now that you have the gnocchi, what are you going to do with them? They need to be boiled of course, and you see them diving deep into the boiling water (which should have a little salt added to it). After a minute or two they start to emerge from the depths and float on the surface. That’s when you pick them up with a slotted spoon, for they are ready.

The sauce with which you wish to serve them has to be prepared in advance and kept nearby in a pan, because that’s where you are going to put your gnocchi as they come out of the water.

How many sauces? And what’s more appropriate?

The beautiful thing about gnocchi is that you can serve them with almost anything you like, as is the case with pasta or polenta. Options range from any tomato sauce you like, to pesto, mushroom sauce, cheese sauce and so on. For the present, let’s have the quickest one to prepare; one of my personal favourites.

Gnocchi al Gorgonzola

Gorgonzola (which takes the name of a village in North Italy) is a rare cheese. I mean rare to find in any country but Italy. Gorgonzola is naturally creamy and melting. It also comes in a milder version in which mascarpone is mixed with it during its preparation. Plus, there is a brand of Gorgonzola that comes filled with walnuts – a perfect match!

Okay, if you don’t find Gorgonzola, you can opt for blue cheese, which is much more popular, because it is produced in many countries like Germany, Denmark, Sweden, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, you name it. While Gorgonzola is made only in Italy, like Parmigiano (Parmesan), blue cheese is the term used for a certain technique of pasteurizing with herbs.

You will need

100 gram blue cheese

200 gram cream

salt to taste

So you have the blue cheese in your hands. Mash it and taste how strong it is, in order to decide how much you would like to mellow it down with the cream. Use more cream if the taste is too strong for you.

Mix the cheese with the cream in a pan on a low flame until it is well blended.

Throw in the gnocchi after it has been cooked. Stir gently with a wooden spoon of 30 seconds, and you are ready to serve!

Yes, it is so easy and so delicious that many in Italy claim that the best death for gnocchi is in a Gorgonzola cream.

Mind you, those who declare pesto to be the best end for gnocchi are ready to fight to the death for their choice, but that is part of being an Italian, you know….

Variations:

There is a reason why Gorgonzola comes stuffed with walnuts, and not with peanuts or cashew nuts, or almonds, or anything else for that matter. The reason, as I said before, is that the match is unbeatable!

You will need

50 gram walnuts

a sprinkle of Parmesan

a small wineglass of vodka

Crumble and roast the walnuts a little, then add them at the last moment with a sprinkle of Parmigiano (Parmesan).

In case you don’t like to have something crunchy with gnocchi, sprinkle in a small wineglass of vodka! Sounds strange? Try it and you will want to cook something else too with this combination. In case you don’t have any ideas, see my next book.

From the book ‘Food is Love’ by Sarjano

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