|Patata gnocchi in spinach|
I am not a great believer in signs from the heavens, but this was a coincidence that caught my attention. I was standing at an old bookstore and going through a heap of dog-eared books to see if I could find a good Western to read in bed. That was when I spotted a hard-bound cookbook placed on one side of the pile.
I picked up the Hamlyn Cookery School book (150 great step-by-step recipes, said the strapline) and randomly opened a page. Gnocchi with broad beans and Parmesan, the page said triumphantly. So obviously I had to buy it — even though there are enough cookbooks in my house to keep two culinary libraries going.
But let me explain. I’d been having long conversations on the phone with Pinky Dalmia, who runs a place called HUSHH at City Centre in Salt Lake, Calcutta. Dalmia calls it the “ultimate combination of a restaurant, open air bar and a private air-conditioned tent”, but what interests me is that it serves authentic Italian food.
|Gnocchi al forno|
And the menu, obviously, includes gnocchi — which are dumplings made with potato and flour. HUSHH serves, among other items, gnocchi gazpacho, patata gnocchi in spinach, gnocchi al forno, gnocchi pollo parmigiana and gnocchi Genovese.
I like gnocchi — and still remember with wet eyes a wonderful dish of soft potato dumplings dressed in tomato sauce served by Chef Bruno Cerdano at the Imperial in Delhi many moons ago. I cooked gnocchi at home too — but that was an experience that I wouldn’t like to put on the record. All that I can say is every time I said ‘I think I’ll make gnocchi’ — people around me suddenly remembered pressing appointments.
There are different kinds of gnocchi — depending on their size and shape. The small ones, margheritine, are used in soups. The larger ones are called tofarelle or mezze cocciolette or margherite and are often served in light tomato sauces.
You can prepare your gnocchi with or without an egg. For the eggless variety, boil whole and unpeeled potatoes — but don’t pierce them too often for they tend to absorb too much water. Drain and peel them and then mash them until smooth. Beat in Parmesan and salt. Add flour and beat with a wooden spoon.
When it is too dry to mix, knead it into a dough — soft and slightly sticky. Take a roll of the dough in your hand and shape it into a long rope about 1.5cm thick. Cut into pieces that are about an inch long. Press the tines of a floured fork on each piece, leaving a mark, and roll the ends slightly to give it a curved shape. Now boil the gnocchi in salted water for about two minutes. When they rise to the top, take them out with a slotted spoon and drain thoroughly. That is the basic method.
But Chef Ritu Dalmia of Diva restaurant in Delhi, bakes her potatoes in an oven preheated to 200°C, after wrapping each of the spuds in an aluminium foil. After about 40 minutes, or when the potatoes are tender, she grates them or passes them through a potato ricer. She doesn’t mash the potatoes, for they shouldn’t be lumpy but have an even texture.
“I use baked potato — and always prefer to, even if it means some extra work — because it makes the potato drier and you don’t need to use as much flour,” she writes in her book Italian Khana.
Then she mixes the potatoes with salt, pepper and Parmesan, and quickly breaks an egg and stirs it in before the egg cooks in the warmth of the potato. She adds flour, kneads it, cuts it into shapes and boils the pieces. When they are done she transfers them to a tray, drizzles olive oil on top and gives the tray a nice shake so that the pieces don’t stick to each other.
You can also make gnocchi with cooked semolina, egg, Parmesan and butter and bake it in the oven. This one is called gnocchi alla Romana. Sardinia is proud of a variety called malloreddus, which is cooked for almost 20 minutes and then tossed in a tomato sauce with Pecorino cheese.
HUSHH’s recipes have inspired me to try out some gnocchi dishes again at home. If they work out well this time, you’ll hear from me on this subject again. If not, I am afraid I have a pressing engagement.
Gnocchi pollo parmigiana
(Gnocchi with aubergine, bell pepper, zucchini and chicken in tomato sauce)
Ingredients (to serve 4)
• 250gm gnocchi • 30gm aubergine • 30gm bell pepper • 30gm zucchini • 150gm tomato concasse • 10gm Parmesan cheese • 50gm chicken • 2tbs chopped garlic • 2tbs chopped onions •1gm basil • 2tsp olive oil • Salt and pepper, to taste
Sauté garlic and onions in hot olive oil till brown. Add the vegetables, chicken and tomato concasse, toss for a while, season with salt and pepper. Add the blanched gnocchi and finish with basil. Serve hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.
(Gnocchi tossed with pesto sauce with sun-dried tomatoes)
Ingredients (to serve 4)
• 250gm gnocchi • 40gm cream •30gm basil pesto • 30gm sun-dried tomato • 10gm Parmesan cheese • 2tbs chopped garlic •2tbs chopped onions •1gm basil • 2tsp olive oil • Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat olive oil, sauté garlic and onion till brown. Add pesto and sun-dried tomato, toss for a while and season with salt and pepper. Add blanched gnocchi and finish with basil. Serve hot, topped with grated Parmesan cheese.