I first tried this baked tomato-and-cheese goodness in the seaside town of Sorrento, Italy, where the dish originated. Since coming back home, I have made it several times and think it is the perfect fall or winter dish. It’s best served right out of the oven; gnocchi doesn’t keep terribly well but we’ve never had a problem finishing off a pan-full right away.
I learned to make gnocchi from Lella, a wonderful Italian cooking teacher in Siena. It is delicious but a little time consuming – I’m sure store-bought gnocchi could be used in place of fresh, with fine results. The gnocchi recipe is a little “loose” because depending on the weather and exact type of potatoes used the proportions of ingredients will need to change a little. The dough should feel fluffy and just slightly sticky – too much flour and they will turn into a gooey mess after boiling. A little flour on your countertop and on whatever tools you use to roll them will help keep the gnocchi from turning into a mess.
Every time I’ve made this I use “cheaters” homemade tomato sauce. I would strongly recommend using this recipe rather than jarred pasta sauce, as the consistency is much smoother and bakes up well. If you’re up for the challenge, sauce made completely from scratch would probably yield the best results, although I’m not sure any of us have time for homemade sauce and pasta.
Gnocchi di Patate (Potato Gnocchi): Serves 4 or 5
- 2 pounds white potatoes
- Scant 2 cups flour
- 1 egg
Boil potatoes in their skins for 30-40 minutes, being careful not to overcook (soggy potatoes makes soggy gnocchi). Peel and mash with fork/vegetable mill/potato ricer while hot. Mix with egg, flour, and a pinch of salt. Depending on how well cooked the potatoes are, you may need to add a little more flour. The dough needs to be soft but not so sticky that you can’t roll “snakes” with it. Roll into ~1/2″ thick lengths and cut into 3/4″ widths. (Imagine small “pillows” of dough). Roll the pieces in your hands to make nice little ovals, then lightly roll on a lightly floured cheese grater or fork to give them their distinct ridges. In batches, drop into boiling salted water and cook them until they float back to the top. Don’t do this until the sauce is nearly ready, though, since they are best immediately after being cooked.
- 1 can tomato paste (the small can)
- 1 can petite diced tomatoes
- Fresh basil, to taste
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- Olive Oil
Heat a little olive oil in a large saucepan, add garlic and cook until soft. Pour in the diced tomatoes and tomato paste and stir until smooth. Pour in a tomat0-paste can full of water and simmer until the sauce thickens a little. At the last minute, throw in a few leaves of coarsely chopped basil.
Make a layer of gnocchi in the bottom of an 11×17 baking dish. Pour some of the sauce over, and sprinkle some parmesan and mozzarella cheese over the top. Repeat the layering process until all the sauce and gnocchi have been used, finishing the top with a sprinkle of cheese. Bake at 350* until heated through and cheese is melted. Sprinkle some freshly chopped basil over top and eat right away.