On one of those magnificent lunches we were invited to during the sculpture symposium, we ate a most delicate and delicious homemade gnocchi at the home of Candido Martinelli in Montefegatesi. Candido is one of the artists at La Rondine Gallery. So rapturous of the melt in the mouth texture and yummy homemade tomato sauce, we were able to convince Candido to give us all a lesson on making it in our studio. He came down to Ponte last weekend, the final weekend of the symposium and it became our last beautiful meal together, although Ryoichi had already gone.
The first thing you put on the stove is the tomato sauce and the potatoes to boil. So, you must have a couple of kilos of fresh very ripe tomatoes, we used Roma tomatoes, onion, garlic, chillis, celery, carrots, parsely, oregano and basil. The carrots give sweetness to the sauce and as they are roughly chopped up, not small but chunky, when they are finally soft and mushy a couple of hours later, they are the true indicator of the readiness of the sauce. Candido just roughly chopped everything up and put it all in together with some olive oil and let it stew.
While we were making the tomato sauce, the potatoes had been put on to boil, two medium potatoes per person, left in their jackets and uncut, salted with rock salt as it hasn’t been bleached and therefore the best flavour. When they were tender but firm, we drained them and plonked them on the table to peel before pushing them into a giant garlic crusher.
The potato squeezed out like spaghetti onto the marble top table and was mixed with plain flour, a well made in the middle and eggs cracked into it. One egg for every four people.
Flour was added regularly and it was kneaded till it felt like bread dough.
Then it was divided and lightly rolled out on the table into long snakes about an inch thick that we then cut every half inch.
This is not the end. Candido then pulled out a curved cheese grater and tried to teach us, (this was surprisingly difficult), to roll the little gnocchi along its surface lightly so that not only did its surface puncture but the rolling created a cavity or a curl in the centre – this is the secret! – that hollow middle makes it incredibly light.
Ok! So now the gnocchi is laid out on floured boards while the water boils in an ample pot, a couple of table spoons of rock salt, no oil.
The stewing tomato sauce is ready to attend to as the carrots are soft and mushy – all the flavour is out. We had intended to put the sauce into a mulli grinder but we lost one of the pieces so it all went into the food processor for a light blend, still keeping the texture.
The water is boiling and in go the gnocchi. When they rise to the surface they are ready. Candido put a couple of spoonfuls of sauce into the bottom of a broad dish and then, with a holey spoon, scooped up the gnocchi on the surface of the bubbling water and placed them gently into the sauce, a layer of parmesan cheese, a layer of tomato sauce, a layer of gnocchi, and repeated until all the gnocchi is finished.
Spectacular! This with a caprese salad of fresh garden tomatoes, basil leaves and buffalo mozzarella drizzled in the best local Lucchesi virgin olive oil and a bowl of green fresh lettuce out of the garden, hmmm yum!