Politics often mark the destiny of people even in terms of cuisine. When Napoleon ceded Venice to Austria in 1797, new eating habits were introduced in Italy: beer, sausages, Prague ham and the use of potatoes in the preparation of gnocchi.
Ferdinando Galiani, also known as “the abbot”, was an author of essays, a linguistics expert and a precursor of important economic theories. He was one of the most brilliant figures of the XVIII century. What was his favourite dish? Gnocchi, of course, and one day they nearly cost him his life. Legend has it that Galiani was about to choke on a piece of gnocchi, of which he was fond. Apparently, from then on, in the Campania region the gnocchi were called strangulaprievete, meaning “priest-choking”. According to others, instead, the name has greek roots, deriving from the words stroggulos and preptos , whose union indicates a round object indented by hand, that is, the exact form of Sorrento’s gnocchi.
Their history, however, dates back to the XVI century, when potatoes were imported from America and were added to the dough that later substituted the “zanzarelli”, which were little balls made of bread crumbs, ground almonds, milk and cheese. The zanzarelli were eaten to celebrate weddings and military victories at the court of the Sforza family in Milan.
There was also a popular dish in Rome called “malfatti”, which means “roughly-done”. They were defined like that because they were prepared without giving a specific shape to the pasta that was cut from the main dough. Gnocchi, however, have become a symbol of Sorrento cuisine. They are made of potatoes and are served with mozzarella cheese, tomato and basil while they are still hot in the pignatiello, atypical terracotta pot.
RECIPE – INGREDIENTS FOR FOUR PEOPLE
FOR THE GNOCCHI
1 kg of potatoes
1 medium-sized egg
300 g of flour
Salt (just enough).
FOR THE SAUCE
1.2 kg of red tomatoes
100 g of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
250 g of mozzarella cheese
6 leaves of fresh basil
Extra-virgin olive oil (just enough)
Salt (just enough)
For the gnocchi: wash the potatoes, cook them in a kettle full of water for 40 minutes, adding salt as required, then drain them, peel them, and mash them while they are still hot. As you mash them, let them fall into a flour well. After forming a dough, split it into pieces and roll them with your hands to create 3-centimeter-thick strips. Use a knife to cut the gnocchi from the strips, put them on a floured kitchen cloth and, meanwhile, let water boil in a kettle with the required salt. Immerse the gnocchi in the boiling water and wait for them to come to the surface, then drain them using a slotted spoon. Put them into a saucepan and pour the previously prepared sauce and diced mozzarella over them. Sprinkle the gnocchi with grated Parmiggiano cheese and put them in the oven for five minutes at 250°C (480° Fahrenheit).
For the tomato sauce: wash the tomatoes, cut them into wedges and take out the seeds. Blanch the tomatoes in water with salt, mash them with a food mill and collect the pulp in a bowl. Pour the pulp into a saucepan, adding oil and basil, and cook it for 30 minutes over low heat, stirring it from time to time.
Sorrento Style #2