Once I got tired of the usual tomato-style pasta sauce and the typical pasta types, even at restaurants, I started looking around for other interesting Italian food to eat and to cook. Gnocchi was something I found fascinating, even though at restaurants I often found their version stodgy. In fact, I'm becoming more and more intrigued by the thought of making fresh pasta at home, if one day I can persuade myself that the investment will be worth it, not just an indulgence to be taken out once a year, like the waffle maker.
Anyway, gnocchi doesn't require any special equipment so it's the easiest thing to start with. The only thing was to decide what kind of sauce to make it with, since I was determined not to make yet another tomato sauce. I really enjoy pesto but the taste can be strong for kids so eventually I hit upon the idea of a deconstructed pesto, which would be lighter and yet flavourful. As usual improvising with other ingredients I had in the kitchen, since I wanted more veggies to form the meal, I decided to use the broccoli and leeks to create a mash which could be eaten along with the gnocchi, as a kind of sauce.
The gnocchi, as typically made with only potatoes and flour, didn't appeal to my need to add flavour, so I added a chiffonade of basil to the gnocchi dough, which turned out really well. Feeling unnecessarily chuffed at having turned out fresh gnocchi :)
6-8 medium-sized potatoes, boiled and drained
2 cups of plain flour
15 large basil leaves, cut into long, thin strips
Use a potato ricer or a sieve to press the boiled potatoes through so you have a really fine potato mash. Add in the chiffonade of basil. Make a mound of the potatoes with a central well, into which add in the egg and mix well. Set a pan with 2.5 - 3 liters of salted water on to boil.On your worktop, spread a broad layer of 1 cup flour, then spread out the still warm potatoes over it. Sprinkle over 3/4ths of the remaining cup of flour, reserving the rest in case you need it - the less flour you use, the lighter the gnocchi.
Work the mixture until it forms a dough, adding in the rest of the flour if needed - it should be soft but not sticky. Make the dough into 5-6 balls.
Working with one ball of dough at a time, roll it into a long, thin sausage shape of about 3/4 inch diameter. Cut into 1 inch wide pieces. Using the back of a fork, press each piece up against the tines so ridges form on one side, while on the other side your thumb makes an indentation. Drop the pieces into the boiling water and let cook until they float up to the surface - about 2 minutes - and remove with a slotted spoon. Keep warm until all the pieces cook, then toss lightly in olive oil.
Handful basil leaves
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted
Parmesan cheese strips
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
I made the pesto sans garlic, since I was using garlic in the broccoli mash - but you can add 3-4 cloves of garlic roasted in olive oil ( roast them in plain olive oil, with skin on till the skin turns brown, then pop the skin off. It takes the pungency off the garlic while imparting lovely sweetness).
Just top the gnocchi with these ingredients, then toss lightly to mix. Serve with freshly grated parmesan and fresh ground black pepper on the side.
One small head broccoli, 3 leeks, cut into slices and well-washed, 2-3 cloves garlic, 2 tsp olive oil
Steam one small head of broccoli. Cook leeks and the garlic in olive oil until tender. First puree the leeks and garlic, then add in the broccoli and pulse lightly so you get a slightly grainy texture of puree. Add salt to taste.