I’m in Australia until early February and the trip always makes me feel oddly nostalgic. My grandmother is my family’s kitchen queen. Everybody thinks their grandmother is the world’s best chef and my family is no different. She has been preparing meals for her family since she was in her early teens. Her father died in the war and her mother died of a ‘broken heart’ shortly after. I was always dubious of this so-called cause of death, but Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher have converted me. My grandmother cooked for the family that adopted her, then she cooked for her husband, her children, her grandchildren and hopefully, one day, her great grandchildren.
Almost 80 years of preparing the same recipes, my grandmother doesn’t need a recipe book. The dishes she makes are quintessential Southern Italian country fare. Over the past four years, I’ve managed to write down most of my grandmother’s recipes for the family, but I thought I would share some of them with you also. Authentic Italian recipes are incredibly hard to come by even for someone like myself, who lives in Italy. We are not immune to pre-packaged sauces and ready meals! This recipe is as my grandmother makes it. I haven’t changed an iota of it, so you can whip up a batch wherever you are and dream of Southern Italy. While you’re at it, whip up two batches. These freeze beautifully and can be cooked straight from frozen for a quick mid-week Italian dinner recipe.
If you’re not familiar with gnocchi, they’re potato dumpling made in almost every region of Italy. They were particularly popular in areas of the country where flour was short and pasta was off the menu. Potatoes were always available to my grandparents in Calabria, which is why gnocchi is still one of my grandfather’s favourite dishes.
If you’ve been scared off preparing gnocchi in the past, don’t fret. These pillows of potatoey deliciousness are surprising easy to make. Perhaps even easier than making normal pasta! Flour, finesse and foreplanning are all you need. My mother has kindly volunteered as hand model for this recipe. It’s a good idea to rope someone else into helping you, especially when it comes to rolling out and cutting. Naturally, you can do it by yourself, but many hands make light work, as they say.
I usually boil my potatoes the night before. With gnocchi, it’s important to keep the potatoes from retaining too much water. Boiling them whole is the first step to this. After they’ve cooked and cooled, mash them, season with salt and chuck them in the fridge to dry out. The next day, add your egg yolks and flour, stir and knead. You will need more flour. Don’t go overboard. Too much flour will produce a tough and chewy gnocchi rather than the airy fluffy beauty you’re looking for. Just keep adding flour and kneading until the dough is no longer super sticky. When it comes to cutting the gnocchi, you can roll out thin sausages, cut into bite-sized pillows and move on with your life. Or you can attempt the traditional gnocchi shape with a gnocchi roller or a fork. Don’t work, I have a gif to show you how it’s done!
I served these with sage and butter. Literally just melt a square of butter in the pan, add a few sage leaves and fry until crisp. Then toss in your gnocchi and serve with grated parmesan. That said, you can use whatever sauce you like. Gnocchi are super versatile and their potato flavour stands up to even the punchiest sauce. Give these gnocchi a try and I swear to you, they will become your go to dish whenever you want to impress or just savour a taste of Italy!
1 kilo russet potatoes
2 egg yolks
3 cups plain flour, plus extra for dusting
Scrub the potatoes, place in a large saucepan of cold salted water and bring to the boil over high heat. Cook for 25-30 minutes or until very soft. Drain and leave to cool for a few minutes before peeling. While the potatoes are still warm, use a mouli grater to mash until very smooth. Add 3 teaspoons of salt, mix well and leave to cool.
Add the egg yolks and stir. Gradually add the flour, one cup at a time until mixture comes together and isn’t sticky. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until the mixture resembles bread dough and holds its shape. Divide into 8 equal pieces and roll each piece into a 30cm-long rope.
Cut into 2cm-long pieces and place on a lightly floured surface. Using a gnocchi board or a fork, gently roll the pieces to get that characteristic gnocchi shape. Make sure the fork is well floured or it will stick. Set aside.
Cook the gnocchi, in batches, in a large saucepan of salted boiling water with ½ tablespoon of olive oil for 3–4 minutes or they float to the surface. Don’t stir or the gnocchi will fall apart. Drain and serve with sauce. Serves 4.
Really to take the leap? Hell yes!