Gnocchi with Meat Sauce:
I have always been in love with Italian food, especially gnocchi with meat sauce, but not just in love with the food but also the culture surrounding the food. I always picture this mythical loving Italian grandmother in the kitchen making everything handmade with fresh herbs and vegetables from the garden outside. Later, a bunch of family and friends enjoying the meal outside together, with laughs, candles, and lots of wine. This always plays in my mind whenever I cook Italian food. It’s my Zen. I have also always wanted to go to Tuscany, I’ve seen pictures, and have tasted wine from there and something about that place has always intrigued me. My house has a Tuscan theme to it, my container garden on my back deck is filled with greenery in the summer time so that I can escape to what I imagine Tuscany to be. I love it!
As I started this blog, one of the greatest things that I was looking forward to is challenging myself in the kitchen. Oh boy did I succeed! This week’s recipe is inspired by one of my absolutely favorite books by Francis Mayes called Bringing Tuscany Home. For those of you whom have never heard of her, she is the author of Under the Tuscan Sun. Which of course, was also, one of my favorite movies when I was younger and on my own. Anyway, I fell in love with this book more than Under the Tuscan Sun. The book is almost a how-to guide for anyone interested in Tuscan decor, food, wine and culture. The pictures make you wish you could be there right now. A special note: if you ever get the book on page 127 & 160 there is a pattern of serve-ware that I love. I have the mass production version that I use to serve with but I also have just one original handmade small plate to this set (shown below- isn’t it wonderful!).
Back to the goods!
This recipe is actually done in three parts. The making of the gnocchi, the making of the soffritto, and lastly the making of the meat sauce. If this is your first attempt at making this, I would highly suggest that you make the gnocchi two or three days in advance and the soffritto a day in advance to your party or gathering. It is a recipe that is made with a lot of love and a lot of fun when made with the right people, I am very lucky that my husband was interested in learning how fresh gnocchi is made. 🙂 It is always nice to share the experience with someone in the kitchen. When I make this recipe again, I foresee inviting a few family members over to share in the experience.
The first part of making the gnocchi, is pretty simple. You will only need about 8-medium matured potatoes, a tablespoon of salt and 1 and 1 half cups of all-purpose flour (unbleached).
Bake the potatoes for an hour at 350 degrees. When done, peel the potatoes and put them through a ricer. I happened to have a family heirloom of my husbands that was actually a Swedish ricer. The tool is massive and uses a ton of muscle! So, if you have a regular ricer I highly recommend using it, but it was fun to have finally used it. Once all of the potato has been through the ricer, add the salt to it.
Then on a flat surface put your flour down and the potato in the middle of it and start mixing with your hands until the mixture turns to dough, took me 5 to 7 minutes of kneading. I created a bread or scone-like mound, then I took a very long knife covered in flour and cut the mound into eighths, like a pizza or scone. Then take each section and roll into a long skinny stick about 1/2 inch thick. It helped me to create 6 or 7 rows of the 1/2 inch round dough and cut them all at the same time (You will need plenty of flour so your dough doesn’t stick together when they are put next together and your knife or cutting apparatus will need plenty of flour to cut through and not stick together as well. Also, when handling these little guys make sure you have plenty of flour on your fingertips).
After that, split all of the gnocchi up into sections. I separated them in fourths. Drop your gnocchi one section at a time into boiling salted water. Cover the water in between each batch for approximately 2 minutes to bring the water back to a boil. Once the gnocchi floats to the top remove with a slotted spoon. When the gnocchi are all done, set aside for when your meat sauce is ready (I did not boil the gnocchi until the sauce had 30 minutes remaining on the stove).
If you feel that making homemade gnocchi is out of your wheel house, then there also is nothing wrong with running to the store and purchasing it pre-made. It was my backup plan in case mine did not turn out (luckily it did!).
The soffritto in my opinion is the heart of the recipe, it’s a base of carrots, onion, celery and parsley usually ran through a food processor and stored for other sauces or soups. I was familiar with the concept because a lot of Spanish or Latin based cooking has a similar base only used with Latin or Spanish herbs. Since I have a blooming herb garden at the moment, I changed mine up from the traditional Tuscan style.
To make the soffritto, grab one carrot, one onion, one celery stalk, and a handful of parsley and run it through the food processor until well pulsed. I added a handful of basil and 2 garlic cloves because I happened to have them on hand. This should make a little over a cup. Then take 4 tablespoons of olive oil and sauté the soffritto in a 4-quart saucepan for about 10 minutes.
MEAT SAUCE (Ragu Di Carne)
In a 4-quart stock pot brown the 1 pound ground beef and 2 pork sausages worth of meat (for the pork sausage, you can either grab some from your local grocery store and remove the casing or go to your local meat market and they will provide it for you without the casings, less work for you). Once the meat is browned, add a pinch of salt and pepper, and the cup of red wine, cook until wine has cooked out. Finally, add the soffrito, tomatoes, and tomato paste. Partially cover and simmer on low heat for 3 hours (I typically stirred every 30 or 40 minutes while binge watching Netflix, it was a lazy rainy Sunday). This was my favorite part, the house filled with wonderful Italian smells and made me harness the inner Italian grandmother within me.
One final step, take the freshly boiled gnocchi and add to a frying pan and grab some of your finished sauce to coat the gnocchi. It brings the gnocchi to life and add such wonderful color to it. I fried my gnocchi a little longer than you are supposed to but that’s how I like it, usually until they are a light to medium golden brown and then I add in the sauce to coat.
If you enjoyed this recipe of Gnocchi with meat sauce then check out another Italian recipe, Stuffed Peppers!Print