Gnocchi with a spicy sausage and fennel ragù

Gnocchi with spicy sausage and fennel ragù

Gnocchi with spicy sausage and fennel ragù

Poor old gnocchi…I feel sorry for them. So misunderstood and under-appreciated by us British. But who can blame us? So often served as stodgy, chewy nuggets rather than the oh-so-light and fluffy little pillows they should be, they’re the forgotten cousin of the straight-A student – well-known and well-loved pasta. But when they reach the almost mythical-like status of fluffy pillowdom, they’re a wonder to behold and should not be passed up.

People automatically assume that making gnocchi is an impossible feat. It’s actually not that hard – a bit time consuming, yes – but follow a few simple rules and you shouldn’t have any problems with them.

I’ve only ever used Giorgio Locatelli’s recipe from his wonderful book ‘Made in Italy’. It’s worked so well every time I’ve never felt the need to mess with it in any way. I love gnocchi with a classic ragù, but when I stumbled across a recipe for sausage ragù in the Bocca di Lupo cookbook, it had to be tried and tested.

A few simple rules

– You need very starchy potatoes for gnocchi. Locatelli recommends Desiree and I find they work really well.

– Make sure you choose potatoes the same the size – you need to boil them whole (and in their skins) so they take the same amount of time to cook.

– The cooked potato needs to be as dry as possible, so put the oven on 100-120°C so you can pop them in for five minutes to dry them out if the skins split. I do this regardless.

– Work the dough whilst it’s warm and as little as possible. If you overwork it, it will keep on getting softer until you have to add more flour, which will make it taste floury rather than of potatoes. Working the dough when it’s cold will result in chewy gnocchi.

Potato gnocchi – Locatelli’s recipe

It’s harder to work with smaller amounts of dough, so make a big batch as per below and freeze the remaining gnocchi on a tray. Once they’re hard you can transfer them to a freezer bag and keep them for when you need them

Ingredients (serves approx. 5 as a main)
– 1 kg very starchy potatoes
– 2 small eggs, lightly beaten
– About 320g plain flour (you might not need it all, or you might need a bit more)
– Pinch of salt
– A sprinkling of nutmeg (my only addition)

Gnocchi and sausage ragù ingredients

Gnocchi and sausage ragù ingredients

Method
Leave the potatoes whole, still in their skins. Cover with cold water and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until soft (about 45 minutes – 1 hour depending on the size of the potatoes). Put the potatoes in a warm oven for five minutes to dry out.

Make a well in the flour, keeping back about a quarter of it to add later if necessary. Add a pinch of salt and the beaten egg. While the potatoes are still hot, peel them and put them through a potato ricer. If you don’t have one you can use a mouli or sieve. Add the potatoes to the flour and egg and mix well. As soon as the dough comes together, stop – only adding the rest of the flour if you feel you need to. It will feel soft, but don’t worry, the eggs will firm it up.

Gnocchi dough

Gnocchi dough

Dust the work surface lightly with flour and break off a chunk of the dough – about a handful. Keeping your hands dusted with flour, roll it into a long sausage and use a knife to cut the sausage into several pieces – each one about 1.5cm in width – until you have several nuggets of dough. They should all be roughly the same size to ensure they all cook evenly. At this point Locatelli pushes each piece of dough onto the prongs of  a fork so that it rolls up and is marked with lines. I don’t bother as it’s a faff and they’re just as nice without. Roll the gnocchi on a tray dusted with flour or lined with baking paper.

Gnocchi

Gnocchi

Now the gnocchi are ready to cook. You really need to cook them straightaway , but if you need to keep them for an hour or so, make sure you dust them again with flour, keeping them away from each other and every 10 minutes or so move them around the tray a little.

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, put in the gnocchi and keep stirring until they rise to the surface – this will only take a minute or so. Lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon, rather than draining and add to the ragù. Stir in very carefully and only leave them for about a minute or so before serving or they will start to break up.

Spicy sausage and fennel ragù

My recipe is based on the Bocca di Lupo version, only slightly adapted with the addition of fennel seeds, wine and a bit of sugar. It’s really hard to find good quality Italian sausage in London, so if I don’t have time to go to a deli that stocks it, I use the best Italian or Toulouse-style I can get in the supermarket. Real Italian sausage is usually quite fennel-y, so if you do manage to get some, omit the fennel I have chosen to add from the recipe.

Ingredients (serves 4)
– 400g Italian sausage or the best quality Italian or Toulouse style you can find in the supermarket
– 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
– 3 garlic cloves, crushed
– 1/2 tsp crushed, dried chilli flakes
– 600 g chopped tinned tomatoes
– 1/2 – 3/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
– 1 cup of white wine
– 1 dessert spoon finely chopped rosemary
– 1 heaped tsp sugar
– Fresh pecorino or parmesan to serve

Sausage ragù

Sausage ragù

Method
Take the sausage meat out of their skins and crumble into chunks. Fry in 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over a medium heat and transfer both sausage and their juices to a bowl when cooked. Add more olive oil to the pan and fry the garlic, ground fennel seeds and chilli for a few minutes in some olive oil, making sure the the garlic doesn’t brown too much. Return the sausage to the pan and add the wine. Reduce until it’s about half its original quantity and then add the chopped tomatoes and a heaped teaspoon of sugar. This helps even out the acidity in the tomatoes. Reduce to a simmer and cook slowly for about 45 minutes until rich and condensed. You shouldn’t need any salt as the sausages are quite salty, but add some at this stage if necessary. Add the chopped rosemary as you remove the pan from the heat. If you need to warm the sauce again before adding the gnocchi, add a splash of water and add the gnocchi once it’s bubbling. Toss to coat or stir in very carefully. Serve with a heavy-handed sprinkling of pecorino or parmesan.

Gnocchi with spicy sausage and fennel ragù

Gnocchi with spicy sausage and fennel ragù

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