I never grew up eating gnocchi. I was in my early teens the very first time I’d even heard the word mentioned courtesy of Supermarket Sweep (thank you Dale. I feel another blog post coming along!) and it was probably more than a decade later that I had my first taste of gnocchi. Today’s comfort food blog post has been inspired by my lovely husband and his childhood memories. While watching an episode of Masterchef UK, in which the contestants travelled around Italy in order to learn about the cuisine, we saw gnocchi being made.
My husband laughs at me when I get overly sentimental about reminders from my childhood. Now it was his turn – only I didn’t laugh! Gnocchi is his favourite dish: his best meal ever would consist of Caesar’s salad, gnocchi with meatballs and garlic bread. It’s not just because he thinks gnocchi is ultra yum but because it brings back lots of happy memories of spending time with his family, especially his beloved late grandmother, with whom he used to help prepare gnocchi. It was seeing the chef use a potato ricer that brought the memories flooding back.
Gnocchi (pronounced nyockey NOT knockey!) are little potato dumplings, typically served as a first course and an alternative to pasta and have been around since Roman times. As with most Italian dishes, there are many variations depending on the region. During their expansion of the empire, the Romans introduced gnocchi into other European countries. The original gnocchi recipe consisted of a semolina dough mixed with eggs. The introduction of potato into the mix occurred after the humble potato was brought to Europe in the 16th century. Gnocchi can be served with a variety of sauces but for Hubby, it’s got to be good old fashioned tomato sauce!
Hubby comes from an Italian-American family, and as every Italian knows food IS a big deal and mealtimes are the cornerstone of family life. It’s what brings families, friends and neighbours together amid much talking, laughter, sharing and noise! Anyone who’s ever sat around a table with an Italian family, sharing a meal, will tell you that it’s an experience filled with a lot of warmth. Each meal is prepared with a lot of love and it doesn’t matter whether you’re related or not – around the dinner table, everyone’s family!
Hubby told me that during the summers, he and his brother would go to visit their grandparents in Arizona. His grandmother would be sure to make gnocchi at some point because she knew how much Hubby loved it. They would start preparations in the morning and it would almost be evening by the time they’d finish. Gnocchi, unfortunately is time consuming, and the more mouths you have to feed, the longer it will take. But Hubby always maintains that it was worth the effort. Gnocchi is notoriously difficult to make, and takes a great deal of skill, patience and practice to get it right. Hubby declares that his grandmother made the best gnocchi ever – no one else’s has ever or will ever come close. He still tucks into a plate of gnocchi of course, and when he does, he’s reminded of summers spent with the family in Arizona.
If you fancy having a go at making gnocchi, try this recipe. I can’t guarantee it will be as amazing as Nanna’s but I’m sure it will be pretty, damn good!
HOMEMADE GNOCCHI WITH TOMATO BASIL SAUCE
INGREDIENTS for gnocchi:
270g plain flour, plus extra
INGREDIENTS for tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, crushed
680g jar tomato passata
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup basil leaves
freshly grated parmesan, to serve
- Peel potatoes and cut into large chunks. Place in a large saucepan of water, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer until cooked.
- Drain potatoes well and mash until smooth. Allow potato to cool for 10 minutes.
- Add eggs and mix well.
- Add flour a handful at a time and work in with your hands until the potato mixture is a dough-like consistency.
- Turn potato mixture on to a lightly floured bench and knead until smooth. Add more flour if it is too sticky, but don’t over do it.
- Divide dough into eight pieces. Dust bench with flour and roll each piece into a sausage 1cm diameter.
- Cut gnocchi into 2cm long. Leave as is, or press the back of a fork onto each gnocchi (the indentations help the sauce stick to the gnocchi).
- To make the tomato sauce, heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan over medium high heat.
- Cook the onion until soft and starting to colour, add garlic and cook another minute.
- Add tomato passata, reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
- Add salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring a large pot of water to the boil and add a tablespoon of olive oil. Collect all the gnocchi onto a tea towel and carefully tip into the pot.
- Once all the gnocchi have floated to the top, cook for another minute, drain and return to pot. Carefully stir through tomato sauce, add freshly torn basil and serve immediately with parmesan.
Recipe created by Melissa Hughes for Kidspot.