As a proper Italian woman there are three things I will never give up pasta, wine and shoes. Recently, I’ve been thinking about the lost art of pasta making. As a child my mother often spent the weekends making pasta and sauce. Potato gnocchi, tomato sauce and pesto were a family favorite. My parents immigrated from Genova a city in northern Italy. Genova is nestled in the Italian Riviera. Many dishes made in Genova feature gnocchi. The origins of gnocchi are unknown, many regions in Italy lay claim to originating gnocchi, but the truth is there are several variations of the dumpling and they are found throughout the Italian peninsula.
I decided to try my hand at making gnocchi. Most Italian family recipes are based on taste and texture. Italians rarely measure ingredients. I learned from my past pasta making experience to pay attention to the feel of the dough as I worked flour into it. Too much kneading and too much flour will result in dense inedible gnocchi; too little flour will cause the gnocchi to disintegrate in the boiling water. Armed with my Italian DNA, I decided to make gnocchi with a sausage ragu sauce. First and foremost was finding the best ingredients, and that meant a trip to Guercio’s on Grant Street for the proper unbleached flour and San Marzano canned tomatoes. For the sausage I went to Scime’s on Delaware Ave in North Buffalo and Wegmans for the russet potatoes.
Next was picking the perfect wine. There are so many great choices! How does one pick (of course I sampled a few)? I needed a wine that would be great in sauce and would complement the meal. If you don’t enjoy drinking the wine, you certainly don’t want to cook with it. I decided a trip to Paradise Wines (Five Points neighborhood) would be the perfect solution to my dilemma. I chose a Tuscan Chianti, Fattoria Rodano 2015 vintage. I was very impressed with their selection of wines and the staff was very knowledgeable. If you haven’t been to Paradise Wines I highly recommend going and that goes for Scime’s and Guercio’s too.
If anything, this Gnocchi making experience has taught me that the City of Buffalo has truly been blessed by the food and wine gods. I had so much fun locating the best ingredients, it was fantastic sampling the wines at Paradise, and shopping at Guercio’s and Scime’s.
It was time to execute. I used the family gnocchi recipe:
6 large russet potatoes
4 cups of unbleached flour
2 Tbsp salt
Dash of ground white pepper (optional)
Boil the potatoes in their skins about 45 minutes, until they are easily pierced with a fork. When cool enough to handle, peel and rice the potatoes, and set them aside to cool completely, spreading them loosely to expose as much surface as possible to air.
Bring 6 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of the salt to a boil in a large pot. On a cool, work surface, gather the cold potatoes into a mound, forming a well in the center. Stir the remaining 1 tsp. salt and the white pepper into the beaten eggs and pour the mixture into the well.
Work the potatoes and eggs together with both hands, gradually adding 3 cups of the flour and scraping the dough up from the work surface with a knife as often as necessary. (Incorporation of the ingredients should take no longer than 10 minutes–the longer you work it, the more flour it will require and the heavier it will become). Dust the dough, your hands, and the work surface lightly with flour and cut the dough into six equal parts. (Continue to dust if the dough feels sticky.)
Using both hands, roll each piece of dough into a rope ½” thick, then slice the ropes at ½” intervals. Indent each dumpling with a thumb or use the tines of a fork to produce a ribbed effect. (This helps the sauce stick to the gnocchi).
Drop gnocchi into boiling salted water and cook until the gnocchi rise to the top. Gnocchi cook within 2-3 minutes.
Sausage Ragu Recipe:
- 2 tablespoons good olive oil
- One diced cooking onion
- ½ cup of carrots finely chopped
- ½ cup of celery finely chopped
- 4 teaspoons minced garlic (4 cloves)
- 1 pound or more of loose sausage (you can also use ground sirloin, turgey, veal, pork)
- 1 cup or so red wine- you can substitute white wine but traditional ragu calls for red.
- 1 cup of beef stock or chicken, vegetable
- 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, preferably San Marzano
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Handful of fresh parsley leaves, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano for serving
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large (12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Saute the onion, carrots, garlic and celery until the onion is translucent. Be careful not to burn the garlic. Once the onion is translucent remove the sautéed veggies and set aside. Add the sausage and cook, crumbling with a wooden spoon, for 5 to 7 minutes, until the. sausage has lost its pink color and has started to brown. I drain the excess fat. Return the sautéed veggies to the pan, pour 1 cup of the wine into the pan and stir to scrape up any browned bits. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, 1 tablespoon salt, and 1 1/2 teaspoons pepper, stock stirring until combined. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 60 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a tablespoon of salt.
Finish the sauce. Add the nutmeg, parsley, cream, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally until thickened. When the gnocchi are cooked, drain and pour into a large serving bowl. Add the sauce and toss well. Serve hot with Parmesan on the side.