Gnocchi are a classic part of Italian cuisine &, particularly in northern & central Italy, a popular first course. Despite the simplicity of the ingredients from which they are made, they are a delicacy. Connoisseurs declare that they taste best au naturel with nothing more than a little melted butter & freshly grated Parmesan; yet it would be a shame to forego all the other delicious gnocchi dishes.
Gnocchi probably originated in Lombardy in association with the pre-Lenten carnival celebrations. Traditionally, gnocchi were prepared by the man of the house & eaten with butter, tomato sauce or with sugar & cinnamon.
Cooking perfect gnocchi is an art form that requires some time. They must be fluffy, yet retain their shape during cooking. Almost no one achieves this on their first try.
Gnocchi goes brilliantly with this sweet & salty sauce, which James’s Italian cooking mentor; Gianluca, showed us how to make. James spent a month in the Tuscan town of Lucca at his cooking school & we stopped off for lunch during our pilgrimage (knowing he usually has a trick & a bottle of wine up his sleeve). He made us this as it was pumpkin season, but you should definitely give gnocchi a try with your favourite pasta sauce or just a spoonful of pesto & a grating of Parmesan – it’s easier than you think.
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium saucepan & begin to fry the sausage, breaking it down into small pieces.
Once the sausage has taken on a little colour, add the onion & garlic & sweat for about 5 minutes until they have softened, but not coloured.
Next, add in the pumpkin, cover the pan with a lid & cook on a low/medium heat for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is tender.
Boil the gnocchi for 3-4 minutes in salted boiling water until they rise to the surface. Drain.
To finish, toss the gnocchi in the sauce with the grated Parmesan & season to taste with salt & pepper; adding extra olive oil if needed. Serve on warmed plates with extra grated Parmesan & the parsley.
To make the gnocchi, put the ricotta in a colander over a bowl & leave in the fridge for about an hour to drain off any excess moisture.
In a mixing bowl, beat together the drained ricotta, egg, Parmesan, flour & season to taste with salt & pepper.
Once combined, turn the mixture out onto a lightly floured surface & knead it until you have a smooth & soft dough.
Cut your dough ball into six pieces & roll each piece into a sausage shape, about the diameter of a pound coin.
Cut each sausage into 2-3cm pieces.
Roll each piece on the back of a fork to create a ridged surface. This will help each gnocchi to hold more sauce.
Boil the gnocchi in salted water for about 3-4 minutes. You will know they are ready when they rise to the surface.
They can be eaten like this, but we prefer to fry them in butter to give them a fantastic golden color & a deeper flavor.