I think of this as a Sunday dinner meal, mostly because the idea of making gnocchi from scratch conjures the image of a smiling Italian lady kneading and chopping dough in her sunny kitchen before heading off to church, pulling basil from the pots on her windowsill and enjoying a creative and peaceful moment before the day really begins.
If leisurely cooking seems more fantasy than reality, maybe we need to start thinking about “appointment cooking,” rather than “appointment TV.” A couple of hours put aside in the relaxed pursuit of a special meal can be as good for the cook as it is for those who enjoy the fruits of the cook’s labor. It’s uplifting to stand in a clean kitchen, chopping, stirring, tasting – making all the little decisions that lead to a final product made with your own hands. There are so few things in life that have a clear beginning, middle and end; cooking a meal provides a small sense of accomplishment, while engaging in simple tasks that let the mind to wander and allow one’s perspective to expand – and, finally, there is appreciation for your culinary effort. It’s therapy with delicious benefits.
Gnocchi are not at all difficult to make, though several steps are involved. Once the gnocchi are made, you chop up some tomatoes and mozzarella, throw it all together and voila! – an elegant, summery pasta salad awaits. Basil and gnocchi are always compatible, but when the basil is added directly into the gnocchi dough, something special happens. The gnocchi stand on their own, without need for sauce, and they become more than a vehicle for butter or red gravy. They have an earthy, slightly nutty, pesto flavor – classic summertime fare – served at room temperature. This makes for an excellent outdoor buffet dish; the bocconcini and tomatoes add texture and flavor in a light twist on the TBM trope, and a splash of olive brings it all together. I hope you’ll put some time aside for yourself this weekend, and cook up a little peace of mind.
Prep time: 1 hour and fifteen minutes
For the gnocchi:
- 1 pound medium-sized russet potatoes
- 1 ¼ cup semolina flour plus 4 tablespoons for dusting
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons basil, finely processed in food processor
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
For the salad:
- ½ pound grape tomatoes, cut in half
- ½ pound bocconcini, cut in half
- 5 basil leaves, thinly sliced
- ½ cup grated parmesan cheese
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- salt to taste
To make the gnocchi:
- Boil potatoes with skin on, in a large pot of salted water. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Drain, let cool and peel.
- Pass through a food mill or ricer and mash until smooth.
- Add flour, salt, basil, and eggs. Mix with a fork, gathering together, and knead lightly.
- Divide dough into 6 portions.
- Dust wooden board with 4 tablespoons of semolina flour.
- Roll each piece of dough into a long rope, about half an inch thick, and cut into half-inch wide pieces. Using the back of a fork, roll each piece with the tines of the fork to imprint ridges on gnocchi.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Working in batches, add gnocchi and cook until just tender (about 5 minutes.)
- Scoop gnocchi out with a slotted spoon and transfer them into a large bowl. Allow gnocchi to cool to room temperature.
- Add bocconcini, basil leaves, oil, tomatoes,cheese and salt. Serve.