Gnocchi are an ancient dish, you can find it with many variations throughout Italy, not an exclusively in Verona. However in Verona this dish has a special meaning because it is linked to a very important tradition at the origin of the ancient Veronese Carnival.
Gnocchi Friday Carnival
In Verona, the most important day of Carnival is not Shrove Tuesday, as it is in most cities, but the last Friday before the beginning of Lent, called "Venerdì gnocolar" or the Friday of gnocchi.
Tommaso da VicoThe legend says that at the beginning of '500, after a severe famine, the poor of the city, especially in the popular district of San Zeno, were starving. Tommaso da Vico, veronese doctor, promoted a charity fundrising to feed the hungry.
Il Bacanal de gnoco Carnival paradeIn memory of this event, upon his death, da Vico left a sum of money so that, on the last Friday of carnival, the inhabitants of San Zeno could celebrate by stuffing themselves with gnocchi and wine.
Thus was born the Bacanal de gnoco, the great parade through the streets of the city that ends in Piazza San Zeno with a great feast of gnocchi.
Papà de gnocoThe figure of da Vico is symbolized by Papà de gnoco, the mask that leads the parade. He is a fat and ruddy figure, with a long white beard and a garish dress. In his hand he holds, like a scepter, the piron, a large fork surmounted by a gigantic dumpling.
If you want to know more
At the time of da Vico gnocchi were probably still the version made with a mixture of only flour and water, passed in abundant melted butter and even more abundant grated cheese. In the course of the 1700's, however, it became prevalent the version with the addition of potatoes which had been widely spread after the discovery of America becoming one of the basic ingredients of popular cooking.
This is the version that we are going to prepare:
Ingredients for 4
- Potatoes: 700g (24 oz)
- Flour: 200g (7 oz)
- One egg
For the sauce
- Butter: 50g (24 oz)
- Sage: 3 leaves
- Gratet cheese (Parmigiano or aged Monte Veronese. If you want to add more character you can use smoked ricotta cheese.).
- Black pepper
In a large pot, boil the potatoes with their skins on in plenty of salted water until they are cooked. A toothpick should be able to go through them with some resistance. 20 minutes is usually enough but it depends on the type and size of the potatoes. The important thing is not to overcook them to prevent them from absorbing water. You can also bake whole potatoes in the oven so they lose some of their moisture.
The type of potato is crucial to the success of the gnocchi. Ask your local greengrocer or try the ones they sell at the supermarket.
While they are still hot, peel the potatoes and mash them in a large bowl with a potato masher.
You should not use a blender otherwise your potatoes will turn into glue.
Add the flour and egg that you have beaten before and knead very gently with a wooden spatula. It is very important to knead the dough as little as possible so that it remains soft. If you knead too much the gnocchi will be sticky and too compact. The amount of flour are indicative, if necessary reduce or increase it depending on the humidity of the potatoes. The less flour you use, the fluffier the gnocchi will be, but if you use too little flour, they may fall apart.
Sprinkle flour over the work surface to prevent the dough from sticking.
Divide the dough into 5-6 equal-sized pieces and knead them into sausages 2-3 cm (1 inch) in diameter and about 30 cm (10 inch) long.
Cut each sausage into regular pieces 2-3 cm (1 inch) long each.
Gently round each piece with the palm of your hands.
With your thumb, roll each piece on a grater with large holes or on the prongs of a fork. This will form the characteristic parallel grooves on one side and the hollow left by the thumb on the other.
As you go along, place the ready gnocchi in a tray sprinkled with flour.
In a large pan, brown the butter and oil with the sage leaves. Remove them when they have taken on a nice golden color.
Boiling the gnocchi
In the meantime, put plenty of water to boil in a large pot.
When the water boils, throw in the gnocchi. Initially they will fall to the bottom of the pot, but after a while they will rise to the surface. This means they are ready. Remove them with a skimmer.
Place the cooked gnocchi in the pan with the sauce and sauté for a minute. Turn them very gently so as not to ruin their shape. Serve and add a sprinkling of black pepper and plenty of grated cheese.
This is actually just one of the possible toppings. Gnocchi can be eaten with a tomato sauce, with gorgonzola cheese, with horse shanks, etc.
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