Talk about Italian cooking to most new cooks and the only dish that comes to mind is pasta. But gnocchi, made from potatoes, should be just as famous. Many cuisines feature potatoes – French fries, Jewish latkes, American hash browns, Swiss rösti – so it was inevitable that cooks as imaginative as the Italians would make their unique contribution as well. Ladies and gentlemen, introducing gnocchi – one of the most exciting food-related things you can do with a couple of potatoes.
To make gnocchi with basil pesto for four, you will need:
250g white flour
And for the basil pesto:
4 cloves garlic
½ cup grated hard Italian cheese
2 cups basil leaves pressed firmly
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup pine nuts
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
So what’s gnocchi, I hear you ask? The partial answer is little dumplings grooved with a fork, boiled in water and smothered in the sauce of your choice. In my humble and self-critical opinion, the ones in the picture are too big – the best gnocchi are smaller, 15mm by 10mm. The pictured ones are giants and four times the size. Okay, now to make them! Boil the unpeeled potatoes in lightly salted water for as long as it takes for them to become soft. Dump them into a colander and run cold water over them until they are cool enough to handle. Slide off the skins by hand and then mash the remainder to a pulp. Separate the eggs and add the two yolks to the mashed potatoes, mixing them well.
Slowly add the flour, taking care to mix it well into the eggy mashed potatoes. Add a half teaspoon of salt. Sprinkle some flour onto the work surface of your choice and using your hands, produce solid rolls 10mm or slightly less in diameter. Cut these into 10mm to 15mm sections and press a fork on the surface of each to create sauce-retaining grooves. Bring a 4â„“ saucepan of water to a rolling boil. Add the raw gnocchi 10 to 15 at a time. When cooked, they float to the surface. Skim them off and reserve while you complete the process. And that’s it. Now for the pesto. This amazing sauce is a simple assembly job. Remove all red spiders, aphids and other wildlife from the fresh basil.
Toss the leaves into a food processor with the peeled garlic cloves, the pine nuts (expensive but wonderful), the Cape extra-virgin olive and the freshly grated hard Italian cheese such as parmesan or romano. Rev the processor to the red line, reducing the contents to a coarse green paste. Season to taste with the salt and black pepper then rev it one more time. Add the pesto to the hot gnocchi. Toss in a few freshly grilled rosa tomatoes dressed with feta cheese to add colour and flavour. Only a rough, tough red wine has the cajones to compete with all these flavours. Enjoy! – David Basckin |fw