Baked gnocchi is such a good comfort food, it’s quick and easy to make and it’s really cheap too. Gnocchi has less flour in it than pasta, so even though it’s filling it doesn’t leave you with that heavy feeling afterwards! I find this baked gnocchi works well as a dinner when you want to just curl up on the sofa and zone out to a film or TV show. My favourite way to eat it is with a rocket and olive oil side salad, they go so well together.
Gnocchi are essentially an Italian dumpling, the simplest ones being made out of just flour and potato. In Verona, gnocchi is traditionally served with a tomato sauce and dates back to Carnivali, which started in the 1500s. The mozzarella in this recipe is a modern twist on this tradition. Gnocchi are little pieces of floury potato, which are boiled for a few minutes and served (usually) with a simple, rustic sauce. Almost all pasta sauces can be served with gnocchi, though traditionally they are eaten with something simple, such as tomato and garlic sauce or crispy sage with browned butter. Nowadays there are so many different variations on the basic flour potato gnocchi, such as malfatti (meaning ‘misshapens’) which add egg and water, and gnudi which include ricotta.
You can find gnocchi throughout most provinces in Northern Italy, and there is a lot of dispute as to which region invented them. The origin of the word gnocchi is also disputed: some say it’s from knohha, the Lombardy word for ‘wooden knot’, others say it comes from nocca, which means ‘knuckles’. However, one thing that we can be sure of is that gnocchi started appearing in Italy around the sixteenth century, just after the Spanish explorers first brought potatoes from South America to Italy.
Bartolomeo Scappi, in his 1570 cookbook, has a recipe for gnocchi. He makes it from flour and breadcrumbs mixed through a cheese grater. In the nineteenth century, Pellegrino Artusi has a recipe for gnocchi with potatoes, which is the same recipe that is most commonly used today. He recommends scoring the gnocchi by pressing it with the back of a cheese grater, creating those dimpled textures that allow the sauce to stick better to the pieces.
WHAT YOU NEED
Where possible, try to buy local, seasonal, free range and organic ingredients. Apart from it being better to support local businesses and good farming practises, it does make a huge difference to the taste of your food!
A large glug of good quality olive oil
1 onion, diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1-3 tsp crushed chillies, depending on how much spice you like
A large splash of dry white wine (100-125ml)
8-10 medium sized vine ripened tomatoes, finely chopped
500g good quality gnocchi
A ball of buffalo mozzarella
8 basil leaves, hand torn
Salt and pepper, to taste
Prep Time: 10-15 mins
Cooking Time: 20 mins
- Set a medium sized pan of water to boil. Heat the oven to 200°C. Put the olive oil in a large, hot frying pan, there should be enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan.
- Add the onions with a pinch of salt, sweat them on a medium heat until they turn translucent. Turn up to a high heat, add the minced garlic and stir.
- Pour in the wine, let the sauce sizzle and reduce for 2-3 minutes. Add the chopped tomatoes and chilli and cook down for 10-15 mins, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have reduced into a thickish sauce.
- Try to cook your gnocchi so that it’s ready along with your sauce. It only takes 2-3 mins to cook. Just before you think the sauce is ready, tip the gnocchi into the boiling water. It will sink to the bottom. Once it floats, it’s ready – take it out, drain and set aside.
- Taste the sauce and adjust seasoning if needed. The tomatoes need to cook down to the point where they release their sugars and the acidic taste disappears. To speed up this process, you can add a pinch of sugar if you wish.
- Mix the gnocchi into the sauce, tear up your basil leaves by hand and mix those in too. Tip everything into an ceramic baking dish, scatter the mozzarella over the top. Finish with a good covering of cracked black pepper. Bake in the oven for 15-20 mins, or until the top is bubbling and golden. Serve immediately, accompanied by your favourite side – rocket salad goes really well with this dish.
LF – use lactose free mozzarella, it actually works really well!
GF – use gluten free gnocchi
V – this dish is naturally vegetarian
Ve – If eating this as a vegan dish, leave out the mozzarella. You don’t need to bake it and can just eat it at the stage where you stir the gnocchi into the sauce