I was reading a restaurant review in the papers at the weekend, and in it the critic wrote a passage on how the italians had it so right with pizza. Pizza is cheap and quick to make, whilst being elevated by restaurants into glamourous food. The same can be said for pasta, and in this case, gnocchi. Gnocchi is desperately easy to make, and it really delicious, but before making it myself, I have never had it cooked for me outside of a restaurant.
Homemade gnocchi is so different to the ready made variety that you can buy from the supermarket. The latter tends to be a bulky, heavy dumpling, likely to leave you holding your stomach after eating dinner. Once you have mastered it, fresh gnocchi is soft and light, and you will never want to go back to buying those vac packs.
The key is how the potatoes are prepared. Many recipes direct you to boil the potatoes until tender, but by baking instead, no water is retained inside of the potatoes, helping the mixture stay nice and light. Mixing the dough lightly and cooking while the mixture is still warm will also help get the best results. If you are going to prepare the dish in advance, blanch the gnocchi for 1 minute before carefully draining and storing in the fridge until ready to reheat later.
Serves 2 as a main, 4 for a starter
For the chorizo pesto:
1 ring cured chorizo, skin peeled and cut into large chunks
1 red chilli, sliced
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 red onion, sliced
3 large sprigs rosemary, leaves picked
1 glass red wine
50g parmesan, finely grated
100g blanched almonds, toasted
1 lemon - juice
1/2 bunch parsley, roughly chopped
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
For the gnocchi:
500g large waxy potatoes such as maris piper
150g plain flour
1/2 a beaten egg
Handful of fresh soft herbs such as basil, parsley and oregano, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
10 or so cherry tomatoes, halved
Large handful rocket (optional)
Sprinkling of grated parmesan
Preheat the oven to 200ºC
Put the potatoes on a baking tray, sprinkle with salt and bake in the oven until cooked and fluffy in the middle, about an hour.
While the potatoes are cooking, make the pesto. Heat a large heavy frying pan with a little olive oil on a medium heat. When hot, add the red onion, chorizo, garlic, rosemary and red chilli and cook until the onion is soft. Turn up the heat a little and add the red wine, letting it reduce down until thick and sticky. Tip everything into a food processor and add the parsley, lemon juice, parmesan, almonds and seasoning. Blitz until all mixed together into a coarse pesto. Add a little extra virgin olive oil, enough to loosen the mixture up a bit. Taste, adjust and put aside.
When the potatoes are baked, scoop the fluffy insides into a bowl and discard the skins (or stuff with cheese and grill). Holding the hot potatoes with a tea towel makes this much easier. Mash them up so there are no lumps. Working quickly, add the beaten egg (remember only half), the flour, herbs and a good seasoning before mixing together carefully until everything comes together as a dough.
Put a large saucepan of salty water to boil.
Split the potato mixture in two and roll each half into a long thin sausage. Using a sharp knife, cut along the sausage on the angle at 3cm intervals, or to the size that you want your gnocchi to be. You can now shape the individual gnocchi as you wish, I prefer to keep them quite rustic.
When the water has boiled, cook the gnocchi in batches until they rise to the surface. Drain well and keep warm. When on the last batch, heat a large non-stick frying pan on a medium to high heat with a little olive oil. When hot, add the gnocchi and fry for a couple of minutes until the outsides start to crisp. At this point, turn the heat down a little and add the cherry tomatoes, and a minute later a good amount of the pesto (plus a little more olive oil if the mix looks too solid still), stirring to coat the gnocchi. When the pesto is heated through and the tomatoes softened slightly it is ready.
To serve, spoon a serving of the gnocchi and pesto onto each plate and top each pile with a little rocket. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and sprinkle the parmesan over. Dig in!