Like everyone who loves a spud, northern Italian cooks owe a debt of gratitude to the Spanish explorers who returned from South America brandishing an exciting new root vegetable—the potato. By then gnocchi was already part of the Italian repertoire—in some cases, made with flour and breadcrumbs—but the addition of potato lifted it to fresh, fluffy, cloudy heights. Today, regions across the north of Italy and beyond have their own gnocchi di patate specialities, with myriad sauces and serving styles. The roast tomato sauce on page 125 is simple to make, deep red, and rich as a Piedmontese prince. It makes a classic partner—just because it’s gnocchi with tomato sauce, not tomato sauce with gnocchi, a common mistake at cheap Italian restaurants.
Regardless of what sauce you choose, something every nonna knows is that these small, puffy pillows are best made with old potatoes because their lower moisture content makes drier, lighter gnocchi. In Australia, the best variety for gnocchi is widely regarded as Desiree, but some cooks find success with Dutch creams and Nicolas.
For best results cook the gnocchi on the same day they’re made; if you keep them overnight they’ll discolour. Gnocchi can be successfully frozen in a single layer and cooked directly from the freezer.
To cook the entire batch of gnocchi you may need to cook in two batches. An important note: the sauce must be made first as it takes slightly more than an hour. It can easily be made ahead of time.
1. Place the potatoes in the Varoma tray.
2. Pour 1 litre water into the mixing bowl, fix the Varoma in place, place the lid on and steam the potatoes for 25-30 minutes/Varoma/speed 1, they should be thoroughly cooked through and soft.
3. Remove the Varoma and take off the lid to allow the potatoes to drain and dry.
4. Tip the water out of the mixing bowl and dry it thoroughly.
5. Insert the butterfly in the mixing bowl and add the hot/warm potatoes. They will puree much better while still warm. Mix 10 seconds/speed 4, then scrape down the mixing bowl and mix again 10 seconds/speed 4.
6. Remove the butterfly. Add the flour, egg yolk and salt then knead 30 seconds.
7. Tip dough out of machine onto lightly floured work surface. With floured hands, work quickly and lightly to form the mixture into a roll approximately 5−6 centimetres in diameter. Cut the roll into 8 equal pieces.
8. Roll each piece into a sausage shape about 2 centimetres diameter, then cut into 8−10 little sections.
9. Roll each small section into a ball, then, working away from you, roll each of the balls over the tines of a fork to form an oval shape with ridges across it.
10. As you form the gnocchi, place them on a floured tray and once they are all done, cover them and refrigerate while you organise the cooking water and heat the prepared sauce.
11. If you don’t need the entire batch of gnocchi, freeze any extras on a flat tray. When you need them, cook them directly from frozen.
1. Gently heat sufficient roast tomato sauce in a wide shallow pan; it should be simmering very gently, not boiling.
2. Bring a generous pan of salted water to the boil then turn the heat down so the water is simmering.
3. Lower a few gnocchi at a time into the simmering water and cook gently. They are ready when they float to the surface.
4. Immediately remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer into the hot sauce.
5. Grasp the handle of the pan and use a steady swirling motion to move the gnocchi around in the sauce over a low heat allowing them to absorb the warm sauce. Don’t stir them. The sauce should just cling to the gnocchi, not drown them.
6. Season to taste. Serve dressed with extra virgin olive oil and a generous grating of parmesan.
AND … Whether you’re rolling and cutting the gnocchi, simmering them or coating them in sauce, treat them gently—the best, fluffiest home-made potato gnocchi is made with a light hand.