Compared to many other countries, notably France, and contrary to appearances, Italy doesn’t really have a national cuisine. What it does have is a collection of regional cuisines and famous dishes from those regions. Unlike France, however, very few of these are celebrated as national dishes but are seen as belonging to their particular regions, and are often only available there.
Two books have been hailed at home and abroad alike as containing what is the closest one can come to as an Italian cuisine as they have raised awareness of regional dishes on a national level. One of these is Il Cucchiaio d’Argento (The Silver Spoon) first published in 1950. In the post-war period there was a revival of interest in Italy as a nation, and at this point many regional dishes, made it to the national rather than local level. The book, still very popular, has become a sort of bible of Italian cooking at home and abroad.
The other book is La Scienza in cucina e l’Arte di mangiar bene (Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well) by Pellegrino Artusi, published in 1891. Although it contains recipes from all over Italy, Artusi who was from Emilia-Romagna and lived in Florence, wrote about what he and his cook knew and so the recipes are predominantly Tuscan. His recipes are, therefore, of particular interest to me.
Artusi’s recipes are often a bit vague and contain shortcuts, assuming the reader knows how to do particular things. I will be including many Artusi recipes on this blog, but adapted to the modern way of writing recipes.
This recipe for gnocchi comes from Artusi. It’s the only gnocchi recipe in his book and as well as including the usual potato, it uses boiled chicken breast. You could pre-cook the chicken any way you like but boiling it creates a really moist stringy texture, which makes it incredibly easy to chop finely, essential for working it into the gnocchi dough. The chicken creates a light, delicate texture, unusual for gnocchi which are often a bit dense. The marriage of chicken with parmesan cheese is one made unmistakably in Italy.
Artusi serves his gnocchi in the chicken broth they are cooked in, but I chose to serve them with a red pepper and basil sauce. I’ve used Bull’s Horn peppers since they are sweeter than the normal bell peppers, but you could use either. Also his gnocchi are small, and similar to the usual shape but I made them into flat disks more like gnocchi alla romana (a dish which probably goes back to Roman times).
So here’s the recipe and buon appetito!
Gnocchi con salsa di peperoni rossi
Preparation time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 5 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
For the red pepper sauce:
4 red Bull’s Horn peppers
2 San Marzano tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and finely chopped
1 onion, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 tablespoons dry white wine
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
100 ml (3 fluid ounces) water
a pinch of salt
10 basil leaves
For the gnocchi:
200g floury potatoes, peeled
1 chicken breast
40g parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 teaspoon salt
pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
40g plain flour
1 litre chicken broth
For the garnish:
red and yellow peppers
Make the red pepper sauce:
- Heat the oven to 230° C (445° F).
- Seed and cut the peppers into flat strips. Place on a baking tray lined with tin foil and roast in the oven until the skins come free, about 15 minutes.
- Leave to cool, then remove the skins and chop finely.
- Put the onion and garlic in a pan with the oil and heat gently until softened, about 5 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and wine, boil and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Add the balsamic vinegar, water, and salt and cook for a further 5 minutes.
- Leave to cool, then add the basil leaves and blend to make a sauce.
Make the gnocchi:
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1cm (1/2 inch) pieces. Place in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
- At the same time, place a chicken breast in a saucepan of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 15-20 minutes until cooked through.
- Drain the potatoes and then press them through a sieve with the back of a spoon.
- Cut the chicken breast into small pieces with a hachoir.
- Mix the chicken and potato together. Leave to cool a little.
- Add the cheese, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the potato and chicken. Mix well.
- Add the flour and mix together to form a dough.
- Bring a saucepan of chicken stock the the boil.
- Roll the dough until 1cm (1/2 inch) thick and then cut into 5cm (2 inch) circles with a pastry cutter.
- Place the circles in the stock and cook for 5-6 minutes. Serve on top of the red pepper sauce. Garnish with finely chopped red and yellow peppers, and basil.