“Svegliati che la mamma sta facendo gli gnocchi!” (Wake up! Your mother is making gnocchi). That is how my father used to convince me to get out of the bed on Sunday morning in that time of my life when my body seemed to need an indefinite amount of sleep. It is no secret in my family that I am crazy about this dish, but I’ve always also enjoyed to participate in the making process. In no time I would be from my bed to the side of the table where my mother was mixing up all the ingredients. The kitchen was already full of the sweet smell of boiled potatoes and flour. Often my grandmother, who used to live on the floor below, would come up to help. We where then all together. Three generation of women gathered around what for me was the one and only holy ritual on a Sunday.
Each of us had a specific task. My mother would start rolling pieces of dough into long and uniform ropes. My grandmother would put a few of these pasta ropes one next the other and proceed with the cutting. Several soft rectangles would slip quickly under her hands, like deliciously scented mini pillows. My responsibility was to push a dent into each and every one of these little pieces with fast and precise movements of my forefinger and middle finger. This dent would later serve to convey as much sauce as possible into each bite. Now and then, during this methodic process, a few of these gnocchi would jump accidentally into my mouth. Probably your face just put on a disgusted look, phew. But here is the truth: I love gnocchi raw as much as I loved them cooked and if this is not love, I wonder what is!
Now that I am a ‘grown up’ I make gnocchi myself. I’ve taken charge of all the passages (and I still eat some gnocchi raw.) I’ve abolished the Sunday limitation and because the ingredients are usually widely available, I’ve made gnocchi everywhere I went. Italy, Corfu, Helsinki, Utrecht and now Sint Maarten. Gnocchi taste like home to me. I prepare them whenever I feel nostalgic, but also to surprise and cuddle friends who most of the time have problems even pronouncing their name. (It is ˈnyo-ke). Sweet, soft taste, a caress on the palate, gnocchi go with just everything (goose meat sauce is my favourite!). They are good warm, cold and even better, the day after.
Alright, enough with the introduction and walks down memory lane, I’ll tell you HOW TO MAKE GNOCCHI.
NB. Prepare the sauce you want to have with your gnocchi before starting preparing them. Once they are ready they will have to be cooked rather quickly (unless you want to freeze them).
INGREDIENTS for 4 people or 2 hungry ones:
1 kg of floury (starchy) potatoes
300 gr of wheat flour
1 pinch of salt
1 small egg
Boil the potatoes with their own skin in unsalted water. You know when they are ready when a fork can easily prick them without breaking them. Let the potatoes cool down, before peeling them off with your hands. This might sound obvious, but I learned the hard way that when you are impatience you tend to forget that you hands are not heatproof. Finally, mash the peeled potatoes with a potato masher (or more patiently with a fork if you ain’t got one).
Gather the potatoes in the center of a working plane and shape them roughly in the shape of a volcano. Put 2/3 of the flour on its slope (the remaining flour will be used later when it’s needed) and an egg in its crater. Add the pinch of salt. With one hand start mixing the egg with the rest, making sure the egg does not escape. When the egg has been mostly absorbed, mix everything with two hands, massaging the dough with your palms, applying force with the part closer to your wrist. If the dough is too sticky you can add a bit of the flour on the working plane (but not too much). When your dough is smooth and compact you can clean your hands.
Evenly spread some flour on the corner of your working place and put your dough there. Press the dough gently down to enlarge it and then cut it in stripes. Clean the centre of your working plane and sprinkle there too a little bit of flour. Take one stripe of dough to the centre and start rolling it under your hands to form a rope. Just freshen up your plasticine skills of when you were a kid! Cut the ropes into rectangles or square (if the rope is quite thick) and press your two fingers on each ‘gnocco’ in order to create a comfy place for the sauce that will later complete them.
Gather all gnocchi in a well floured tray. Make sure that they are not too crowded cause they could stick to each other.
Put the gnocchi in plenty of boiling salted water and take them out as soon as they resurface. They need less than 3 minutes to cook! In order not to cool down the boiling water, you can decide to cook first one half of your gnocchi and then the other half.
Finally, season your gnocchi to taste, with tomato sauce, a cheese cream or even with pesto.