Gnocchi alla Sorrentina
The secret to gnocchi alla Sorrentina is the tomatoes that grow in the area, the local mozzarella and the indigenous fresh basil. That’s why even the greatest chefs are never able to reproduce the true recipe elsewhere, without the original ingredients.
I will nonetheless tell you how I saw it being made here, in its homeland. We began by assembling the ingredients to make the gnocchi:
1 kg (2 lbs) russet potatoes
300 gr (1 1/2 cups) all purpose flour
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil
Boil the unpeeled potatoes 30-40 minutes (according to potato size) in lightly salted water. Let them cool a bit then peel and mash them with a hand-powered mill or a ricer into a bowl.
Let the mashed potatoes cool off a bit more, sift the flour over them, and mix it in with a wooden spoon. Pour the potato/flour mixture over a board dusted with flour and knead briefly as you would any other pasta dough .
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Note: Over kneading may make the dough tougher, so keep it to the minimum to obtain a uniform consistency, dusting extra flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the work surface.
Cut a fist-size piece and roll it into sausage-like cords about 3/4″ in diameter and use a knife to cut each into 3/4″ buttons. Use your thumb to make an indentation in each piece. This can be achieved with the help of the back of a cheese grater or the tines of a fork, and it gives gnocchi a rough surface in which the sauce finds refuge. As you produce the gnocchi, moves them on a plate and keep going, fistful after fistful, until all the dough is used up.
Technically all this can be done in advance, but it is better not to let too much time pass between the making and the cooking. While you’re cutting the gnocchi, bring a pot of water to a rolling boil. Once all the gnocchi are ready, toss a dozen of them into the water and wait until they all surface. This takes less than 2 minutes, so it is important that your attention does not wander. Use a skimmer (or a slotted spoon) to fish the floating gnocchi out of the pot and place them in a bowl covered with a tight lid so the gnocchi keep warm. Repeat the casting-fishing routine until all gnocchi are cooked.
Next we prepare the Sorrentina sauce. Be prepared to meet taste bud euphoria. This is Italian food history happening before your eyes, so a toast is in order. Uncork the wine, please.
400 gr (2 cups) ripe heirloom tomatoes
1 large mozzarella (weighing about 1/2 lb) or Provola cheese, which is a local smoked mozzarella
Extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, peeled
A bunch of fresh basil
Save 2 and blanch the rest of the tomatoes in 1 inch of water and a drizzle of olive oil for about 20 minutes. Peel them, remove the seeds and crush them through a food mill.
While you preheat the oven at 150° C (300° F) you can begin to sauté the garlic and half the basil in 3 tablespoons of olive oil for about 2 minutes. Add the pureed tomatoes and cook over a medium flame for about 10 minutes.
Coarsely chop the mozzarella (or provola) and the 2 whole raw tomatoes. Next we prepare 4 terrines (glazed and preferably earthenware) or a single deep oven dish with a few tablespoons of sauce, a few chunks of chopped mozzarella and raw tomatoes. Cover with some boiled gnocchi, cover with more sauce, more chopped mozzarella and raw diced tomatoes, torn basil leaves and a generous dust of grated Parmigiano, building layers to the top.
Pop in the hot oven and heat through until a crispy crust forms on the top and the cheese has melted.
Gnocchi alla Sorrentina demand to be eaten piping hot, so if you’re serving them in the earthenware terrines, consume them directly out of those, minding that you don’t burn your tongue in a mad devouring rush.
The best wine to pair this dish with is a dry white, like a Chardonnay or a glorious Greco di Tufo.