A few years ago I was lucky enough to stay at an enchanting agriturismo near the medieval town of Radda in Tuscany. As one might expect, the proprietor had a partiality to Italian classical music. He especially loved playing it at full volume while the guests enjoyed their breakfast on the terrace. I have colourful memories of Vivaldi’s “Summer 1” thundering across the valley while we ate our prosciutto and delicious crusty bread. Now anytime I even think of cooking something Italian it has to be accompanied by “The Four Seasons”. Listening to the cogent violins while sipping on Chianti Classsico is enough to transport me to a magical world of Etruscan vineyards and Cypress trees.
Instead, I’m making gnocchi in my English cottage, which I guess could be considered equally as romantic. It’s a glorious March day, which is rare. The windows are flung open and the obligatory Vivaldi playlist is on repeat. I’m getting ready for a weekend visit from some of my favourite London friends.
When cooking for crowds, I’m always drawn to recipes that involve only a few quality ingredients, where the freshness and flavours speak for themselves. It’s one of the many things I love about simple Italian food. Some of Italy’s most loved dishes involve only three or four components, yet it’s enough to create something splendid.
A lot of people describe themselves as foodies, but I would argue that for most of these people it goes far beyond the food. For me, it’s the people I’m cooking for or the person cooking for me. The kitchen I’m cooking in and the music I’m listening to. It’s the memories of homemade coffee cake during long summer holidays. The old scrapbook filled with my mother’s recipes. It’s my wedding day or a simple Thursday morning breakfast. It’s where you bought your ingredients and who grew them. It’s the story…and the people telling that story.
With the insurmountable number of food blogs out there, it’s a wonder anyone has the guts to start one in the first place. In this highly visual world there’s a pressure to produce perfect recipe after perfect recipe. I’m guilty of it too. There’s a certain thrill to a faultless piecrust and nothing worse than a soggy bottom. Obviously the recipes are crucial, but it’s the imperfect stories behind them that I fall in love with.
I’ve two-stepped around the idea of starting a food blog for years now and I’ve just decided to bite the bullet. This is my first post, so now there’s no going back. I’m not a professional, but I definitely describe myself as a foodie. I make a lot of mistakes, but I also have the odd roaring success. I tread a fine line between mishap and perfection. I guess what I’m trying to say is that now I’ve finally joined the huge chorus of food bloggers, I may not always sing in tune. But what’s a soggy bottom between friends? It’s all part of my story. Welcome to the feast and turn up the Vivaldi.
Gnocchi with Tomato, Mozzarella and Basil
For the sauce:
1 Large sweet white onion
2 X 400g Tinned chopped tomatoes
A handful of fresh basil leaves
2 Buffalo Mozzarella balls (drained and torn into pieces)
A handful of freshly grated parmesan
Salt and Pepper
For the gnocchi:
600g floury potatoes
2 eggs, beaten
1 egg yolk
200g plain flour
It’s possible to buy delicious readymade gnocchi from your local deli or supermarket, but it’s also easy enough to roll up your sleeves and make your own.
To make the gnocchi, cook the potatoes (unpeeled) in a large saucepan of boiling water for 25 minutes. When they’re tender, drain well and cool slightly. Peel the potatoes and press them through a potato ricer into a bowl. While they’re still slightly warm, add a couple of pinches of salt, the eggs and flour. Mix the ingredients together and then turn them out onto a floured surface. Knead lightly until it becomes a sticky dough. It’s important not to over-knead, as this may cause the gnocchi to be tough.
Cut the dough in half and roll each piece into a long sausage. Cut into 2 or 3 cm pieces, pressing each piece with a fork. Then lay them out on a floured tea towel.
Heat a big glug of olive oil in a saucepan and fry the chopped onion at medium heat, until soft and translucent. Add the basil and chopped tomatoes, bring to a simmer and cook gently for 10 minutes or so, remembering to stir the sauce every few minutes.
Cook the gnocchi in a large pan of boiling water for just two minutes. When they float to the surface they’re ready. Using a slotted spoon, transfer them to the pan of tomato sauce. Add the torn pieces of mozzarella and gently stir the mixture over a medium heat for around 30 seconds, until the mozzarella has melted slightly. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve immediately, with a sprinkle of Parmesan and fresh basil leaves to garnish.