I’ll never forget a spectacular, sunny October day several years ago when we hiked through the Cinque Terre on the Italian Riviera. The five villages, nestled along cliffs overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and connected by a walking trail, attract many tourists throughout the year. There are few road into “The Five Lands” that are accessible by car, so visitors typically access the villages by train or on foot. The hike through the area is an all-day affair but is worth the effort. The vistas are breathtaking!
The Cinque Terre sits in the Liguria region of Italy. Given its proximity to the sea, seafood is plentiful in the local cuisine. Locals cultivate grapes and olives on the heavily terraced landscape. The area is also known for pesto, the delicious sauce made from fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, olive oil, and Pecorino or Parmesan cheese.
My memory of that day in Cinque Terre takes me to back to a small trattoria where we enjoyed a fantastic lunch of gnocchi with pesto and fresh local seafood. The photograph above shows the view from the restaurant.
The lunch we enjoyed in the Cinque Terre that day inspired today’s post. Gnocchi is not difficult to make, but it requires a little time. I find that making gnocchi is a great way to spend a rainy Saturday afternoon. This recipe makes more gnocchi than you’ll need for this recipe but it will keep several days in the refrigerator. Feel free to halve the recipe if you don’t want leftovers.
The photographs below show step-by-step instructions for making gnocchi.
After potatoes are done, press them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have a ricer, a food mill will work. Also, most everyone has a larger fine mesh strainer. Potatoes can be pressed through a strainer with the back of a large spoon.
Spread riced potatoes on a cooking sheet to cool completely.
When potatoes are completely cool, form them into a mound and create a well in the middle of the mound.
Pour beaten egg into the well.
With a pastry cutter, start incorporating the egg into potatoes.
When the egg is mostly incorporated, start adding flour 1/2 cup at a time. Continue working dough with pastry cutter.
When all flour is incorporated, knead until the dough is smooth and mostly dry on the surface. If dough feels tacky to the touch, add a small amount of flour at a time until the surface of the dough feels relatively dry.
Cut dough into four portions.
Work with one dough portion at a time and cover the remaining portions with plastic wrap. Roll dough into a long, even log with your hands to a 3/4 inch diameter.
Cut log into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces.
Roll each piece of dough against a gnocchi board or a fork to create ridges. The ridges help sauce to adhere to the surface.
The gnocchi can be prepared ahead of time for this dish. After cooking the gnocchi, place them on a baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil. Toss them around so they are lightly coated with the oil. This will prevent them from sticking together. Keep them in the refrigerator until you are ready to use them.
This dish is so worth the effort if you enjoy a weekend cooking project. Gnocchi with pesto really can’t be beat!
3 large russet potatoes (about 2 pounds)
2 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt, plus 1 tablespoon for water
2 cups basil leaves, packed
1 large clove garlic
1/4 cup chopped, toasted walnuts
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 pound haricots verts
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 cups cooked gnocchi
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 pint grape tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
Pesto to taste
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt and pepper
1. Peel potatoes and cut into 1 1/2 inch pieces. Make sure all pieces are similar in size.
2. Place potatoes in a medium large pot of cold water. Add 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes or until potatoes can be pierced with a knife tip with no resistance.
3. Drain potatoes and place on baking sheet. Let them sit for two to three minutes so all moisture evaporates from surface of potatoes.
4. Push potato pieces through a potato ricer onto a baking sheet. Alternatively, you can use a food mill or push potato pieces through a larger fine mesh strainer with the back of a large spoon. Spread riced potatos in an even layer on baking sheet and let cool completely.
5. Form cooled potatoes into a mound on a large cutting board or a counter top. Make a well in the middle of the mound. Pour beaten egg in the center well and start blending with a pastry cutter.
6. When the egg is dispersed through the potato, start adding flour in 1/2 cup increments, incorporating each addition with pastry cutter. When all flour is added, start kneading dough with hands until completely blended. Dough should not be tacky, so if it feels too moist add a little flour at a time until it feels dryer to the touch.
7. Form dough into a loaf shape and cut into four equal portions.
8. Set three portions of dough aside and cover with plastic wrap. Place one portion on cutting board and start rolling the dough into a log shape. Continue rolling log until it is roughly 3/4 inches in diameter.
9. Cut log into 1/2 to 3/4 inch pieces with a sharp knife. Using your thumb, roll each piece of dough against a gnocchi board or a fork. Place gnocchi on a floured baking sheet until you are ready to cook.
10. Bring a medium large pot of water to boil. In batches, drop gnocchi into water. Using the end of a wooden spoon, gently stir gnocchi around to make sure they don't stick to the bottom of the pot. The gnocchi will rise to the top of the water when done.
11. Prepare a baking sheet with a thin layer of olive oil. Place cooked gnocchi on an oiled baking sheet. Toss gently to coat gnocchi with oil. Set aside until ready to assemble the dish or refrigerate if you are making them ahead of time.
1. Combine basil, garlic, walnuts, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor. Process until finely chopped.
2. While processing, slowly add olive oil until well blended.
3. Transfer pesto to a bowl and add Parmesan cheese. Stir until blended. Set aside.
1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil. Prepare a ice bath in a bowl with water and ice. Blanch haricots verts in boiling water for three to four minutes. Remove from water and place immediately in ice bath to stop cooking. Remove from ice bath and set aside.
2. Melt butter in a large non-stick skillet over medium high heat. Add gnocchi to skillet and cook for four to five minutes, tossing gently, until gnocchi are slightly browned.
3. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in another large skillet. Add haricots verts and tomatoes and cook for two to three minutes until warm. Add gnocchi and toss. Add pesto to taste and mix well. Remove from heat and serve immediately. Season with salt and pepper to taste and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese.