One of my favourite things about going on holiday is the food you get to enjoy. In my opinion one of the absolutely best ways to experience and understand a country is by trying the food and eating what locals eat. This dish is one I make over and over and is inspired not by a dish I had (unfortunately!), but one my Dad had 4 years ago. We were all in Rome on the last day of our holiday after flying to Italy for my Brother's wedding. I was 27 weeks pregnant and we were spending the day experiencing as much of Rome as we could in the short time we had left. We managed to see most of the magnificent historical sites (beautifully breathtaking) but of course as important as that was so was sampling some delicious Italian food(!), so we stopped off at a lovely little restaurant and sat out on the terrace with awnings protecting us from the bright sun. I chose this simple Gnocchi dish which arrived at the table still bubbling and simmering in the terracotta dish it was baked in. A light, fresh tomato sauce coated each little pillow of potato gnocchi and in amongst it all were small pieces of mozzarella that had formed molten pools of creamy, silken mozzarella goodness!
The dish was light, simple and so flavourful that it really stuck with me, and as I said I have been making my own version ever since. Since I am such a lover of spicy food I couldn't help to add a little touch of fresh chilli to the dish, but you could easily miss that out if you prefer. This to me is classic Italian cooking – simple to make, using good ingredients and absolutely delicious to eat. Buon Appetito!
1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1-2 red chillies, finely chopped (de-seeded for a milder taste)
1 x 28oz tin of chopped tomatoes (or 2 x 400g tins)**
1 tsp dried oregano
1 tsp sugar (optional)
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
2 tbsp Italian (flat leaf) parsley, finely chopped
125g fresh mozzarella, cut or ripped into cubes
3 tbsp parmesan cheese, finely grated or Fresh basil leaves, torn
Drizzle of extra virgin olive oil
Heat the oil in a large pan or frying pan then add the onion and cook, stirring, for roughly 8 minutes until softened but not coloured. Add the garlic and ¾ of the chilli and cook for another minute before adding half of the tomatoes (either half the large tin or 1 x 400g tin). With the remaining tomatoes I use a hand-held mixer to puree them until smooth but if you prefer you could use 400ml of Passata instead or simply keep all of the tomatoes chopped. Add the pureed tomatoes to the pan along with the oregano, sugar, salt and pepper. Leave to simmer away gently for about 30 minutes, adding a little water if need be if it starts to get too reduced. Taste to check the seasoning and adjust if necessary.
When the sauce is almost ready bring a large pan of slightly salted water to the boil and cook the gnocchi as per the packet instructions.
Turn the grill (broiler) onto high then drain the gnocchi, reserving a little of the cooking water and add to the sauce with a good drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, ½ of the mozzarella and ¾ of the parsley or basil. Once it is all properly mixed together and the gnocchi is all evenly coated transfer it to one large serving dish or 3 or 4 individual ones. Top with the remaining Mozzarella, chilli and the Parmesan then put under the pre-heated grill and cook until bubbling and golden. Drizzle with a little extra virgin olive oil then sprinkle over the remaining parsley (or basil), serve and imagine yourself sitting in a little restaurant in Rome!
*I know it might not look like a lot, but gnocchi is filling so a little goes a long way. Serve this dish with a nice, crisp green salad on the side and if you like some French bread to mop up the sauce.
**As per the instructions you could puree half of the chopped tomatoes or if you prefer use 1 x 400g/14oz can of tomatoes and 400ml tomato passata instead, OR if you have a fuss-pot husband use 700ml passata or puree all of the tinned tomatoes!