When you mention Italian food, people invariably think of pasta. Depending on where, exactly, you are in the world, some form of pasta generally tends to be combined with a given sauce. In the U.S., the combination often involves meatballs, in Germany, it's “Bolognese.” Neither, of course, is truly a traditional Italian dish.
Naturally, there is much more to Italian cuisine than just pasta. An often forgotten dish involves little potato dumplings, known as Gnocchi. While you can find readily prepared Gnocchi in just about any grocery store, these dense little balls don't have much in common with home-made Gnocchi.
Gnocchi are quite easy to make and don't require any special equipment. They come together nicely and are very filling. For a quick dish, they can simply be doused with a bit of sage-infused butter and then topped with fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Today, however, we're going to dig a little deeper into the pantry and pull out a few extra stops to transform our Gnocchi into a wonderfully tasty and utterly satisfying dish. To do so, we'll not just make the Gnocchi from scratch, but we will also make a tomato sauce from scratch. Finally, we will combine the two, top the dish with two types of cheese, and bake the whole thing in the oven until it's golden brown.
The result looks fantastic, tastes great, and is a dish that guests will appreciate as well.
2 lbs. Russet Potatoes.
5 oz. All-Purpose Flour.
2 Egg Yolks.
1 tbs. Salt
1 ¾ lbs. Roma Tomatoes.
1 medium Carrot, finely diced.
1 small Onion, finely chopped.
2 Celery stalks, finely diced.
1 tbs. Salt.
Pinch of Sugar.
4 Tsp. Olive Oil.
2 Tbs. fresh Basil, chopped.
1 tsp. Thyme.
To finish the dish:
1 tsp. Butter.
1 cup Pecorino (Romano or Sardo).
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano.
Let's get started:
Heat the oven to 380 degrees Fahrenheit.
Wash the potatoes and dry them off with a paper towel.
Wrap the individual potatoes in aluminum foil.
Put the potatoes in the hot oven and bake for 1 hour.
Meanwhile, wash the tomatoes, cut them in half, and remove the stems and seeds.
Chop the tomatoes and place in a large sauce pot.
Add the chopped/diced onion, carrots, and celery stalks.
Cover and cook on low for 45 minutes or until the vegetables are very soft.
Pass the soft vegetables through the coarse insert of a food mill but make sure to include all the vegetable puree that accumulates at the underside of the food mill.
Quickly wipe of the sauce pan and add the pureed vegetables.
By now, the potatoes should be soft.
Remove the potatoes from the oven, let cool down for a moment, and then peel the skin off.
Keep the oven at 380 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pass the potatoes through a potato ricer (or mash otherwise) into a large mixing bowl.
Add the flour.
Add the egg yolks.
Add the salt.
With your hands or a large spoon, incorporate all the ingredients until you have a pliable dough.
Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Now, take about half of the dough, place it onto a work surfaced dusted with flour, and with your hands, roll the dough into a long sausage shape.
Dust the potato sausage with a bit of flour and press it so that it turns slightly flat.
With a knife, cut 1 inch pieces off the potato sausage and set aside.
Repeat with the remaining potato dough.
Once you have transformed the dough into little slices of potato sausage, dust everything with a bit of flour.
Use a fork with long tines and slightly press on each individual piece of potato so that you end up with a flattened potato dumpling with a noticeable imprint of the tines in it.
Heat a large pot with salted water to a boil.
Once the water boils, turn it to low and add all the potato dumplings – one by one – until they are all in the pot of water.
Very gently move the dumplings around so that they don't stick to the bottom of the pot.
Make sure the water does not return to a boil – doing so will cause the dumplings to disintegrate!
Once dumplings starts floating to the top, they are done.
Butter a large gratin dish.
Remove the dumplings with a skimmer, drain well, and place them in the buttered gratin dish.
Heat the tomato sauce, season with salt, pepper, and a pinch of sugar – to taste.
Add the chopped basil and the thyme.
Slowly add the olive oil and carefully integrate it into the sauce.
When done, add the sauce to the dumplings, making sure to coat all of them. You can stir them gently to ensure that all dumplings are covered in sauce.
Mix the Pecorino and the Parmigiano and sprinkle on top of the dumplings.
Bake the gratin at 380 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 to 20 minutes or until the top is a nice golden brown.