My favourite way to cook is when there are people around the house that will jump when I announce the food is ready. This is how my parents cooked, and this is what I find the most comfortable. It must be a remnant of the event-oriented culture I grew up in: dinner starts when the food is ready.
In Switzerland (and I suspect many other western European countries), dinner happens at a specific time. If the dinner is announced for 7.30pm, everyone becomes jittery at 7.35pm. What happened to the food? Late?
Having food prepared for a specific time is challenging for many dishes that are dear to my heart. For example, risotto. The risotto does not wait for you, you wait for the risotto. Having guests over means there is no preparation in advance, as even the punctual Swiss can occasionally be late; serving substandard risotto is not an option. Preparing the risotto while the guests are here means I have to ignore them for at least half an hour. (And no, I do not need help with cooking. Go away.)
Another such dish—or in my world, part of a dish—is (are?) gnocchi. The simple list of ingredients creates what I consider the perfect accompaniment to Boeuf bourguignon. Simple ingredients and quite technical preparation mean that I always get a bit of an adrenalin rush while making gnocchi, and that precious feeling of relief when they succeed.
The recipe is taken from the wonderful cookbook by Giorgio Locatelli, “Made in Italy. Food and stories.”
1 kg floury potatoes, ideally similar in size
2 small eggs
240 g flour (you might not need all of this, or you might need a bit more. Hey! I said it is tricky to make gnocchi)
First, boil the potatoes. Put unpeeled potatoes in cold water and bring to boil. Leave to simmer for 40 min to one hour, depending on their size. After about half an hour, start checking the potatoes regularly, as it is very important not to overcook them.
While the potatoes are cooking, prepare all the ingredients and equipment, as it is very important to form the gnocchi while the potatoes are still hot.
When the potatoes are cooked, drain them and peel them while they are still hot. As you peel one potato, pass it through the potato press on the working surface. Spread the pressed potato around so that as much as possible of steam evaporates.
Make a well in the centre of the pressed potatoes, then add the eggs, a pinch of salt, and almost all the flour. Mix well and, as soon as the dough comes together, stop—only add more flour if you really feel you need to.
Dust your working surface with flour and flatten the dough into a square about 1.5 cm thick. Cut it into stripes about 1.5 cm wide. Roll each strip with floured hands until you get a cylindrical shape, a “snake”. Cut small nuggets from the snake.
Dust the nuggets with flour and proceed with shaping the gnocchi. You can use a fork or other dedicated machinery (this is my choice) to create a hole in the gnocchi and the characteristic shapes on the surface. As you make each one, roll it on a tray dusted with flour.
Now they are ready to cook. You really need to cook them as quickly as possible, but if you need to keep them for an hour or so, you can keep them on a floured tray, separate from each other, shaking them every 10 min or so to prevent them from sticking.
Alternatively, you can freeze them. First, put individual gnocchi on a sheet and freeze them individually. Once they are frozen, you can put them in a freezer bag and they will not stick together.
To cook gnocchi, put them in a large pan of boiling salted water. They are ready when they float to the surface.