For the gnocchi
2 ¼ lbs potatoes, whole and unpeeled
2 ½ cups Italian organic 00 soft wheat flour
salt, to taste
For the tomato sauce
3 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic
2 ½ cups canned peeled tomatoes, including their juices
salt, to taste
pepper, to taste
4 leaves of fresh basil
1 cup, or more, as desired, shredded mozzarella
1 1/2-1 ¾ cup parmigiano
Wash the potatoes, then boil in their skins for about 30 minutes, until soft. If they are not soft, continue cooking until they are.
Drain the potatoes, and when cool enough to handle, peel, then mash–while still hot– until smooth.
Place the mashed potato on a work surface and work in the organic flour and salt. Make a well and add the egg. Mix the ingredients well, first with a fork, then with your hands, working the mixture quickly until you get a soft and non-sticky dough.
Cut the dough into 4-5 portions and knead each portion individually, ending up by rolling them into a long strip with a thickness of about 1 inch. Cut each strip into pieces about 1/2-3/4 inches and continue until all the dough is finished.
Now, take each piece, working one at a time, and roll the dough in the palm of your hand; pressing lightly with the tines of a fork or the traditional tool known as “rigagnocchi”, to obtain the classic slightly concave and striped shape of the potato gnocchi. As each is ready, place well-spaced out on a floured tray; continue until all of the dough is made into dumplings; they are ready to be boiled. Set them aside while you make the sauce.
For the sauce: sauté the garlic clove in the extra virgin olive oil in a large non-stick skillet; when it starts to sizzle, add the tomatoes, salt, pepper and fresh basil leaves. Reduce heat and cook over a low to medium heat for about twenty minutes, or long enough to reduce the liquid in the sauce and make it thick and deliciously flavored. Set aside while you cook the gnocchi.
Cook the gnocchi in abundant salted boiling water. Remove as they rise to the surface. Drain and toss the gnocchi with the tomato sauce. Then, in a large baking dish, layer the gnocchi with the mozzarella and parmesan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes in a preheated oven at 375F, until the cheese melts and the whole things melts together. Serve piping hot.
Legend has it that the dumplings we know as gnocchi date back to the 16th century. It was in Sorrento, Italy, in an old tavern, and the cook was searching for inspiration in ways to cook potatoes.
So, he boiled a few potatoes, crushed them into a mash, added a little flour, and decided this would be a perfect pasta-like dumpling—unheard of until that moment!
He rolled them into small round balls, figuring (correctly) that the shape would help prevent the dough from falling apart. After he fished a few out of the bubbling water, and tasted them, realizing they were good, he gave them a name: gnocchi, from the Italian word for nut “nocciolo”, referring to their size and shape (though another legend tells that the gnocchi were invented in the north and named gnocchi after the word for “lump”).
Now: what to do with these small dumplings? The cook had the happy idea of layering it with the gorgeous local tomatoes, mozzarella from the nearby town of Agerola, fresh basil and grated Parmigiano cheese, all popped into the oven to brown and become gratin-like. When you are in Sorrento, this is what to order! And when you are not in Sorrento, you can make them at home!