This is my version of a ragù I tasted in a lasagnetta, a little lasagna in the restaurant, Il Divo, in a cave in Siena. The inclusion of fennel seeds is typically Tuscan. Instead of buying minced pork or sausage meat, Italians usually split sausages open and use the meat inside. Often the contents are just minced pork, garlic and salt so, if possible, buy Italian ones like this or go for the best quality lean ones you can find with little or preferably no added bread.
The recipes for both the ragu and the gnocchi are from my book ‘The Italian Cookery Course’ which you can purchase here.
Gnocchi al ragù di salsiccia e semi di finocchio
Tomato, sausage and fennel seed ragù with gnocchi
6 lean best quality pork sausages
6 tablespoons of olive oil
2 whole cloves of garlic, lightly crushed
Salt and freshly ground pepper
½ white onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon of fennel seeds
2 bay leaves
125ml of red wine
400g Italian tinned tomatoes
3 heaped tablespoons of tomato concentrate
25g finely grated Parmesan
gnocchi for four
Put a large saucepan of salted water on to boil. Meanwhile remove the sausages from their casings and chop up the meat from them to break it up.
Put the olive oil in a frying pan onto a medium heat and add the garlic and salt and pepper. Fry for about 2 minutes, until the garlic becomes light gold. Then add the onion and fry for a few of minutes, until translucent.
Stir in the fennel seeds and bay leaves. Put the meat into the pan and fry for 6-7 minutes, or until it is cooked through. Using a wooden spoon, break up the meat into mince and stop it sticking. If the sausages release a lot of fat, pour it away, although a little won’t harm.
Add the wine and let it reduce for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato concentrate and tinned tomatoes and stir well. Leave the ragù to simmer for ten minutes while you cook the gnocchi (recipe below) in the boiling water. When the gnocchi are cooked, drain them and toss into the ragù. Serve in warmed bowls and scatter over some parmesan.
Gnocchi di patate
Nothing is as comforting as soft pillows of potato gnocchi to banish woes. Both are satisfying and welcoming. Gnocchi are best made with potatoes that are neither too floury or too waxy, such as King Edwards, Maris Piper and the Italians says they should be boiled in their skins so that the water doesn’t penetrate. I am not sure I believe this, although I do think the flavour is better when potatoes are cooked in their skins.
The secret of light gnocchi is to trap as much air inside as you can and rubbing the cooked potatoes through a passatutto (foodmill) or ricer will achieve this but otherwise you can mash them. Freezing gnocchi before they are cooked can give an even better result than cooking from fresh, they tend to hold their shape better.
1kg potatoes (King Edwards or Mary Piper), unpeeled
250g ‘00’ or pasta flour, plus up to 100g extra, depending on water content of potatoes
1 heaped teaspoon salt
A generous twist of pepper
Cook the potatoes in a large pan of boiling salted water until tender – this could take up to an hour, depending on their size. Drain and peel them while they are still hot, either by holding them in one hand on a fork or with a cloth, and peeling the skin away with a knife in the other hand.
Pass them through a passatutto or ricer into a bowl. Stir in the egg with a wooden spoon. Add one-third of the flour to form a soft, pliable dough. Pour the remaining flour onto the work surface in a mound and turn out the dough onto the flour. Knead the flour in with the dough, adding a little more if the dough sticks to your hands. (the more flour you add at this stage, the heavier the gnocchi will be, so only add the extra 100g if the dough is really sticky).
You need to decide how big to make the gnocchi. The trick is to keep them the same size so that they have the same cooking time. Roll out the dough into long sausages and chop it into pieces between 2 and 4 cm in length.
You can then roll them over the tines of a fork for texture or make an indentation in the top with your finger – this means more sauce will stick to them – but you can leave them simply pillow shaped and plain.
If you plan to eat the gnocchi straight away, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil and drop in the gnocchi. They are cooked when they bob back up to the surface – this takes about 2–4 minutes. Drain well and toss in your chosen sauce.
To freeze gnocchi before cooking, spread them on a well-floured tray, making sure they don’t touch each other, and put them in the freezer. When frozen, shake off any excess flour and transfer to a freezer bag. Use within 3 months. To cook from frozen, allowing an extra 1–2 minutes cooking time.