Columbus Day Gnocchi

Columbus Day Gnocchi

Today I’m delighted to offer a Columbus Day recipe from chef Roberto Grazioli, executive chef to the Ambassador of Italy to the United States, Claudio Bisogniero, and his wife, Laura Denise. The Italian Embassy is a very popular place in Washington; people are eager to be invited to enjoy Italian delicacies, great wines, and good music.  Claudio and Laura Denise are frequent and gifted hosts, whether at the embassy or at their residence, Villa Firenze. Villa Firenze is a grand estate of 20 acres set in the greenest, leafiest part of the city, perfectly designed to host large groups for dinners, receptions, and musical performances. The Bisognieros have been active and gracious hosts in Washington, supporting many charitable organizations and serving as leaders of the diplomatic community here.

Laura Denise chose chef Grazioli for his authentic Italian cooking skills, and especially appreciates his northern Italian dishes. A few weeks ago, he demonstrated three great recipes for a small group of admirers, and the one I want to share today is for gnocchi with tomatoes and kabocha squash.  Chef Grazioli is so skillful that he made everything seem simple, including making the gnocchi from scratch, which he whipped up with a genial ease.

Columbus Day Pasta

I’ve never made gnocchi, but after watching Chef Grazioli do it, I felt ready to try.  The trick, says the chef, is to use old potatoes with as little moisture in them as possible, and to smash the potatoes with a ricer, not a potato masher. He said the potato masher will make the dumplings heavy, and Laura Denise agreed. Gnocchi preparation is thought to be affected by the humidity, but the 98 percent humidity on the day Chef Grazioli cooked did not hamper him in the least. He made perfect, feather-light little dumplings in his sleek Italian kitchen as if he were cooking in the dry heat of Umbria or Tuscany.

With sincere thanks to Ambassador and Mrs. Bisogniero, and Chef Grazioli for a beautiful recipe…

Columbus Day Pasta Gnocchi

Serves: 4
Prep time: one hour, thirty minutes for the gnocchi, 15 minutes for the sauce
For the béchamel sauce:


  • 1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ½ tablespoons all purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  • ½ bay leaf
  • 1/2 cup milk, heated
  • ½ cup chicken stock, heated
  • salt and pepper to taste

For the gnocchi:


  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 5 ounces all purpose flour
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 pinch of salt

For the sauce:


  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 7 ounces kabocha squash, diced
  • 2 tablespoons red onion
  • 6 ripe plum tomatoes, peeled and diced
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 ounces bechamel sauce
  • 6 leaves of fresh basil
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chives
  • 2 ounces parmesan cheese, grated

For the béchamel sauce:


  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter.
  2. Stir in flour and cook until blended.  Add paprika and bay leaf.
  3. Gradually add the milk, whisking constantly, and add the chicken stock.
  4. Turn heat to low and whisk until sauce is smooth and thickening, and season with salt and pepper.
  5. Simmer for several minutes, and discard the bayleaf.Columbus Day Pasta bechamel sauce
    For the gnocchi:
  6. Boil potatoes, unpeeled, until tender.
  7.   Cool for about 30 minutes or until lukewarm.
  8. Remove potato skins and put potatoes in a ricer one at a time, to crush them, and place on a large cutting board.
  9. Using your hands, mix the potatoes with the flour, salt and egg yolk, keeping the board dusted with extra flour so the dough doesn’t stick to the board.
    Columbus Day Pasta Kneading the dough
  10. After dough is made, cut into several pieces, and roll each piece out on the flour-dusted board in the shape of a long snake (about 20 inches by one-inch thick).
    Columbus Day Pasta rolling out the dough
  11. Cut dough in half-inch pieces from the roll, to make the individual gnocchi.
  12. Put gnocchi on a dusted tray and don’t allow them to touch each other.  Put aside while preparing the sauce.
    Columbus Day Pasta cutting the pastaKabocha and Tomato Sauce:
  13. In a medium saucepan, mix together extra virgin olive oil, squash, and onion, and heat on medium heat until onion is transparent and the squash starts to become soft (3 or 4 minutes.)
    Columbus Day Pasta squash
  14. Add the tomatoes, adjust the salt and pepper, and sauté for five minutes until soft.  Add 3 ounces of the béchamel sauce and the fresh basil.
    Columbus Day Pasta making the sauce
  15. Bring salted water to a boil in a large pot.  Drop gnocchi in and when they float to the surface (about 4 minutes), remove the gnocchi delicately, using a wire ladle, and put them into the sauce.
    Columbus Day Pasta cooking the gnocchi
  16. Sprinkle with fresh chives and parmesan cheese.

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