After a morning of driving to three shops to find the perfect potatoes, I realised l had seriously under-estimated the importance of gnocchi for Carnevale: the Italian carnival celebrated before lent beings.
These delicious dumplings originate in Italy, and are named after the Italian word for knuckle "nocca".
This tidbit I had obviously googled as an afterthought whilst I was parked waiting for Sandra (my mother-in-law) to come to the car with the correct potatoes. Cooking is always a serious business in Italy, and quality over quantity is key (although quantity is never an issue here). People take time to go and seek out the best product for the job.
We had hit the jackpot by about 10:30 a.m., and I thought we were on the home-stretch until Sandra reminded me that we needed to stop by a specific bakery on the way home to get the flour...
11:30 a.m. and we had made it through the door. Aprons on, potatoes boiling, and Sandra is explaining to me why people eat gnocchi in Verona.
In Verona, Carnevale dates back to 1531, one of the oldest in Italy. Sadly, that year food was short, but a wealthy nobleman from Verona (Tommaso Da Vico) decided to donate a large sum of money so that the people would have flour to make gnocchi. Tommaso then ordered in his will that gnocchi and wine would be given to the people of Verona on the last Friday before lent: "Gnocchi's Friday".
Lesson learned: wait for your potatoes to cool down before trying to peel them! However, according to Sandra, do not peel those precious potatoes before you boil them, as they will absorb too much water!
Kneading the potato-dough, rolling it out, and then passing it over a fork to make the ridges for the sauce to stick to: these are all the important little steps that are taken that make this gnocchi so special. What is even more touching, is that everyone is in the kitchen. It was more than just cooking the gnocchi: it was a moment of slow-living at it's best. Taking time for the things that matter most at that moment.
Needless to say, the gnocchi disappeared very quickly at lunch, accompanied by some homegrown and homemade passata (tomato sauce) with a sprinkling of basil, and some shaved parmesan to top it all off.
Sandra's Potato Gnocchi
This recipe feeds 6 comfortably (don't forget these freeze very well!)
2 kg of potatoes (the secret is to use older potatoes, preferably a variety that is starchy if you can find them!)
300-400 g of flour (grade 00)
1 egg (if you want to half the recipe, beat the egg and just add half)
Boil your potatoes with the skins on (so that they do not absorb too much water) until you can easily stick a fork in them.
When they are still warm (but not so hot that you burn your fingers) peel the skins off and add them to a large bowl.
Mash your potatoes (not until they are a puree, they need to still be somewhat granular). Let them cool down until tepid if not so already.
Add the flour to the potatoes about 100g at a time, mixing with your hands.
Once you have added about half of the flour, make a hole in the middle of the loose dough and add the egg into the bowl, mix well.
Add the rest of the flour and the dough should start to come together nicely. Keep adding flour until you have a dough that you can knead. Do not overwork it (this is not bread!) it should become relatively smooth.
Then, taking small sections, roll out the dough in a sausage shape until about 2cm thick. Cut them to be square (or thereabouts). If you have the time and inclination, roll each of the gnocchi on top of a fork so they get little ridges in them. This helps the sauce stick to them!
Lay out a tray and sprinkle it with some flour. Place the gnocchi on the tray and cover with a teatowel. You can store them in a cool/dry place (or the fridge) until you are going to eat them.
Gnocchi is best consumed within about 3 hours of making them. They do freeze wonderfully, so whatever you do not eat, freeze flat, and then you can portion them out into bags and cook from frozen whenever you want!
Cook by bringing a large pot of water to a rolling boil, and lightly salt the water. Add the gnocchi. When they float the gnocchi are ready! Use a slotted spoon to remove them from the water, and have the sauce ready to mix immediately (we suggest a simple tomato sauce with some basil, but there are hundreds of variations).
Written by Lucy Bidgood-Lund