This Gnocchi with Tomato and Mushroom recipe is a much simplified version of something I saw a Michelin-starred Italian chef do on television. The program was ‘Rick Stein’s Long Weekends’ and on this particular weekend he was exploring the Bologna food scene, (Side note: doesn’t he have a great life, in fairness?). For this segment of the show, he was watching an incredibly skilled chef rustle up some tortellini filling of boiled and pureed onions, mixed with a heaping pile of grated parmesan, egg yolks and semi-set with gelatine leaves. All looked okay so far. Then he so easily rolled out some pasta dough with a rolling pin, blobbed the filling onto the wafer-thin dough and, as if it was nothing, formed tortellini, ready for boiling. He then threw together a simple sauce of butter, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes and I thought ‘That looks so easy!’ Sure he’s an experienced Italian chef with a michelin star and has probably been making pasta since he was a young bambino but I have a low-traffic food blog! Surely he and I are on a par? And, unlike Signore Rolling-Pin, I have a dusty, old, twice-used pasta machine. This was going to be like taking dulce from a baby!
It turned out that the onion and cheese filling was very doable and the tomato sauce was very simple. But I have since decided to donate my pasta machine to a charity shop. Maybe the dough was too dry and tough or it could have been any number of things but my tortellini were an absolute disaster. All I can really remember about that awful afternoon was the sweat-inducing labour of trying to get that lump of dough through the machine wheels over and over and over again. It would then either stick together or get bunged up in the mechanism of the machine. I started out intending to make a massive batch, freeze three quarters and enjoy one quarter with a friend who was visiting. But once I managed to produce a foot or two of useable pasta, I accidentally over-filled the them so most burst even before I cooked them.
We ended up with two or three cauliflower ear tortellini that were tough and still floury after plenty boiling but the sauce was seriously delicious. I decided to give it another go with gnocchi, pasta’s more forgiving and attainable cousin. I added some parmesan to the gnocchi dough to replace that in the filling and added a diced onion to the sauce. I used less butter than the original recipe and instead, added the diluted tomato puree to loosen the sauce.
The whole thing turned out really well and I will definitely be making it regularly in future. The gnocchi themselves were so light and soft, so much nicer than the packets you buy. While they are, essentially, a type of pasta, and even the most patriotic Italian will say that boiled pasta on its own isn’t great, these do have flavour coming from the parmesan. I really liked the sauce given below but feel free to take the gnocchi recipe and mix up the sauce if there are elements you don’t like.
- 450 g potatoes
- 160 g plain flour
- 1 pinch of sea salt flakes
- 30 g parmesan, finely grated
- 1 egg
- 50 g butter
- 2 tbsp olive oil, plus more for drizzling at the end
- 1 medium onion, diced
- 3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 sprigs of fresh oregano
- 3 large portobello mushrooms, chunkily chopped
- half a tsp of chilli flakes
- 5 sun-dried tomatoes, thinly sliced
- 3 tbsp tomatoes diluted in 150 ml boiling water
- 30 g parmesan, finely grated
- 1 handful of basil leaves
- Roast the potatoes at 180 degrees celsius for 50 minutes. Remove, allow to cool slightly and peel.
- Add them to a mixing bowl with the flour and mash together well or use a potato ricer and mix well.
- Mix in the salt and parmesan. Mix in the egg with a fork at first before bringing everything together with your hands until you have a soft, smooth dough.
- Divide into 4 pieces and roll each piece on a floured surface into a snake shape with your hands that is about a centimetre thick. Then cut is into 2 centimetre segments and set aside until later making sure they are well floured so they won't stick together.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil as you melt the butter and oil together in a large frying pan until foaming. Add the diced onion and allow to cook for a few minutes over a medium heat.
- Add the garlic and oregano leaves. Stir and cook for a minute before you add your chopped mushrooms and chilli flakes. Clamp the lid on and cook for 10 minutes over a medium low heat.
- Stir in the sun-dried tomatoes and diluted tomato puree. Clamp the lid on again and allow to cook for another 5-6 minutes.
- As that is cooking, the salted water should be boiling so drop in the gnocchi. Give them a gentle stir to stop them from sticking and allow them to boil for about 4 minutes or you will know they are done when they all float to the top of the cooking water.
- Take a mugful of the starchy cooking water to add to the sauce later to loosen it and strain the gnocchi.
- Now remove the lid from the sauce, stir, add the gnocchi and mix.
- Mix in the reserved starchy cooking water and check and adjust the seasoning.
- Plate up and scatter over about a tbsp of grated parmesan and some chopped, fresh basil and drizzle over a little extra virgin olive oil.