Have you ever tried this traditional recipe from Sorrento (and extended to the Naples area)? If the answer is no, then you definitely should 🙂
I prepared them together with my wife, it might sound a bit long to prepare, but it’s not too complicated and what’s more important it’s very very good 🙂
The ingredients are simple, and as always the attention to the details will lead you to the best results. And we always aim to those, right? 😉
As I said it’s a traditional recipe typical of the Sorrento coast area, one of the most beautiful and fascinating locations in Italy, traditionally it was a dish for the Sunday, and you can find it in the near city of Naples too. There are some variants, and in Naples you could find also a version with the Neapolitan meat ragù rather than the tomato sauce, but what I’m going to show it’s a recipe with the most commonly used ingredients.
Gnocchi: in most of cases the usual gnocchi made with potatoes, but someone in Sorrento area still use the basic version of gnocchi, made just with water and flour: they are not so soft like the potato gnocchi, but it’s an option (you have to boil half liter water, then you add half kilo flour, you make an homogeneous dough and then you work it in the same way than the others). Personally I definitely prefer the ones made with potato, so I use those. For a nice and fulfilling portion I use to count 250 g gnocchi for each person 🙂
Potatoes: we need dry and starchy potatoes, so avoid young potatoes but choose older ones. And choose the flourish types. Since we need them dry don’t boil them in water, but bake them for a better result.
Tomatoes: in summer of course it’s better to use fresh ripe tomatoes, even better if the San Marzano type. In winter tomatoes are usually quite tasteless and I don’t usually buy, so it’s much better to use a good tomato sauce, for example the one you prepared yourself in the end of summer using some very good tomatoes 🙂 that’s what I used this time. The sauce has to be quite thick, in both cases, otherwise you will have unpleasant liquids on the bottom of your dish.
Mozzarella: traditionally cow’s milk mozzarella is used, in the area of origin the one made on the “Monti Lattari” area, the mountains over Sorrento which is an area very famous for their dairy products. The cow’s milk mozzarella because of its characteristic it’s more stringy when melted, but also buffalo mozzarella is a good option and often used nowadays, more tasty but less stringy. The cow’s milk mozzarella available here in Hungary are in most of cases Hungarian or German products, and most of them are not really the best choice to make perfectly these Italian recipes because they don’t have much taste and they are usually too dry, but of course you can use them if you don’t find any better (actually they are not really mozzarella, in the sense that they don’t follow the exact procedures and the same standards of making a good quality traditional mozzarella, and it’s quite a different product, HERE you can see one example of what I mean: the difference is clear). But here it’s easier to find some “Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP”, buffalo mozzarella with the PDO certification, even in some local supermarkets so I used that and it was a good choice. Someone actually like to use also scamorza or provola, they have a bit more intense taste, but the most common choice is definitely the mozzarella, either from cow or buffalo milk.
Basil: use fresh basil.
Grated cheese: Parmigiano Reggiano, the original, no fake parmesans, as I said we aim to the best results and the best taste 🙂 in alternative Grana Padano.
Let’s see how to make it now.
INGREDIENTS (4 big portions):
For the gnocchi:
- 800 g potatoes
- 200 g white flour (but it depends on how much dry are the potatoes, it could be a bit less or a bit more)
- 1 yolk (optional)
- freshly ground black pepper (optional, but in this case I used some, it fits well with the mozzarella)
For the sauce:
- 1 kg of ripe tomatoes, or 1 liter of tomato sauce (we will reduce and make thicker)
- 2 cloves of garlic
- extra virgin olive oil, 3-4 tablespoons
- 300-350 g of mozzarella (I used buffalo mozzarella, but read what I wrote before)
- fresh basil, count at least 3-5 leaves per person
- freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, count about 2 full tablespoons per person
- First of all we have to prepare the gnocchi. Bake the potatoes in the oven at 180-200 °C, until they are completely baked. Then peel them while they are still hot (hold them with a fork, for example), and then squeeze them using a potato ricer. Spread them on a wider surface (better if metal, otherwise put first some of the flour on the bottom), and when there is no more steam add on the top half of the flour and start working with hands from the external sides to the center. Then add the remaining flour and keep working, add also the yolk if you want to use it (I did, but not too much). Then add the salt (about 1 full teaspoon) and the freshly ground black pepper if you would like it. When you have a nice dough hit it on the table, 5-6 times. It has to be compact but soft, and easy to work.
- Then from the main dough cut off smaller portions and roll on the table, making a thin “sausage”, about 2,5 cm thick. Cut small pieces of the same size, and if you have the tool you see below make those typical lines by pushing it with your thumb (it’s quite easy to find and cheap, I think I paid it around 2 euros, in alternative you can roll the gnocchi over a fork: those grooves will help the sauce to adhere better to the gnocchi).
- Place your gnocchi on trays, on which you have previously sprinkled some flour otherwise they will get stitched, and cover them with a clean towel. While you prepare the sauce you can put the trays in the fridge.
- Oh, the mozzarella: if you are going to use a good cow’s milk mozzarella or a “Fiordilatte di Agerola” or a real buffalo mozzarella DOP, then some hours before you should cut it in smaller pieces, drain it a bit and then place it in the fridge to get more dry and lose most of its moisture. This will prevent to have an unpleasant white liquid on the bottom of your dish.
- Now we have to prepare the tomato sauce: as I explained before, in summer use fresh ripe tomatoes, and cook them until you make a thick sauce. Otherwise use a good tomato sauce, as I did this time: take a large pan and heat the extra virgin olive oil, then when it’s hot enough add the 2 cloves of garlic (smash it with the flat side of the knife).
- Then, before the garlic gets too much golden color, add all the tomato sauce, and let it simmer at medium heat until thicker (but stir it sometimes, take care not to burn the sauce). The time depends on how much liquid it is your sauce, count 20-30 minutes about. Season with salt.
- When the tomatoes/sauce is almost ready start to boil the water for the gnocchi (salted water, as for pasta). When it’s boiling drop the gnocchi inside (you can do it in 2-3 times if the pot is not big enough, you don’t have to put too many gnocchi in few water).
- The gnocchi will be ready when come up to the surface, floating. But to be sure that they are cooked try one. It will take few minutes, 2-3.
- Then drain the gnocchi and add them in the pan with the tomato sauce (but remove the garlic first), mix well, add already some fresh basil leaves and some freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano, 2-3 tablespoons, and mix again. Fast, one minute, we just have to mix the gnocchi with the sauce.
- Now remove the pan from the heat, take 4 terracotta pans (the best and traditional choice, otherwise any other material suitable for the oven, you can also choose just a single big baking pan if you prefer) and add a first layer of gnocchi, then add the mozzarella with some more fresh basil leaves, and then cover with a second layer of gnocchi. Finish with a generous amount of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano (option: you can put the mozzarella on the top if you prefer, it’s a choice).
- Now cook au gratin in the oven, 5-6 minutes in the upper part at 200 °C until the Parmigiano Reggiano has melted and made a thin crust.
- When it’s ready take it out and wait some minutes before serving: when it’s too hot you cannot fully appreciate all the flavors, and you seriously risk to burn your tongue 😀
- Serve and enjoy! I also added a little drizzle of extra virgin olive oil on the top, and basil leaves to garnish 🙂
I love this recipe! The sapidity of a good buffalo mozzarella, the fresh aroma and taste of the basil, the Parmigiano, the sauce, the perfect and extremely pleasant soft texture of the potatoes gnocchi…all those flavors are perfectly combined together, and when you receive all of them in your mouth it’s simply an amazing moment to fully enjoy 🙂
PS: I eat gnocchi with the fork, but in this particular case I prefer to use the spoon, it’s more comfortable to me 🙂