When I was a young man just past my twenties, in the early nineties, I once visited a friend of mine who was having his Erasmus year in England. It was a shabby, not really charming city in the very north of the country and the Polytechnic there hosted a new campus – built with EU funds I was told – that was attended mostly by foreign students: Germans, Italians, just like my countryman and me, Greeks, Spaniards, plus other nationalities I didn’t identify at once.
The students seldom ventured out of the campus, as they were regarded as usurpers of some sort by the locals and Saturday nights out could be dangerous if one went out in search of trouble.
As I arrived on a rainy and rather depressing Saturday afternoon, the prospects for an exciting Saturday night were close to zero. Most students stayed in the campus, phoning home, playing cards, watching tv and enduring the unutterable sense of boredom that surrounded the place.
At some point in late afternoon a guy with a ponytail from an Italian town I don’t recall now came up with an idea: “Hey, let’s cook! I mean, cook for real!“.
Being able to cook wasn’t fashionable at all back in the nineties and finding a 20 year old student of Electrical Engineering who claimed to cook like my grandma without even a simple cookbook somewhat puzzled me. Maybe he wasn’t able to cook at all and he was just trying to stir things up, I thought. Fortunately, the guy could cook and organize work in the kitchen. Many others volunteered to help him.
The dish he prepared was potato gnocchi with tomato sauce and when the word spread in the campus that someone was cooking good food, almost everyone ventured to take a peek (and a bite) in the kitchenette where we were preparing gnocchi in great quantities.
Soon a great atmosphere of comradeship took over and we had a great night just staying at the campus, telling stories and sharing a good dish.
What captivated my imagination at the time was seeing how a simple, homemade dish like this could turn people from such different backgrounds, people who were just ignoring each other a couple of hours earlier into good friends.
The Germans were enthusiastic, so were the Greeks, the Spaniards.. That’s when I first realized the true social potential of food and the value of cooking traditions.
Years later, I tried to cook the same dish for my friends. I remembered exactly the ingredients, the quantities, the preparation.. And the result was not bad at all.
So, the recipe we are seeing today, is a celebration not just of a popular traditional dish from my country but also of the social value of cooking, the love of sharing and giving. The true essence of food. Enjoy!
Potato gnocchi with tomato sauce recipe
- 1 Kg of potatoes
- 300 g. of flour
- 1 egg
- A bit of salt
First, you have to prepare the potatoes: wash them and put them in a pot with salted water and let them boil until they are soft enough to be mashed. Peel them while they’re still warm, mash them and put them in a well-floured bowl.
Now, just add all the flour, a bit of salt and start kneading the mixture until it’s soft and uniform.
Then add the egg, some more flour and keep kneading until the dough is ready. It should be compact and with no lumps, soft and not sticky.
Then, divide the dough into strands with a thickness of 2-3 centimeters, place them on a floured surface or tray and cut them into small dumplings.
You can use a fork to “mark” them – a typical feature of gnocchi – slightly pressing them on one side.
Finally, you have to let stand your homemade gnocchi for about 15 minutes. Meanwhile, you can prepare a big pot with generously salted (couple of spoons) water.
You will cook your gnocchi there: they will be ready in 4/5 minutes, when you will see them float to the surface.
Drain them and serve gnocchi dressed with your favorite sauce: tomato sauce is my favorite, but also gorgonzola sauce or pesto sauce are great alternatives.
In this case, we are using a homemade tomato sauce, made with 8 ripe tomatoes, 2 spoons of olive oil, 1 carrot, two spoons of salt and a bit of pepper. It takes quite a lot of time to prepare it (at least one hour, cooking over low heat and paying attention that the bottom doesn’t burn and stick to the pot by mixing continuously), but this is another tradition I cherish.
Serve with some Parmesan, a leaf of fresh basil and enjoy your homemade gnocchi!