(= Potato Gnocchi with Asparagina)
Recommended wine: Vernaccia di San Gimignano Riserva D.O.C.G.
There’s an old Tuscan saying that says “Ridi ridi che la mamma ha fatto i gnocchi” (= Laugh, laugh because mum has made gnocchi); it’s a sarcastic way to point out to someone that there’s nothing to laugh about, but at the same time it shows us how gnocchi have always been a popular dish in our area that’s loved by everyone, created, in poorer times, when people used to cook with whatever was in the vegetable patch. To make them they preferred (and we still do!) white potatoes, with floury flesh, or red Celica potatoes, grown at 500 m.a.s.l. on the Pratomagno hills, on the slopes facing the Casentino area. This is a particularly hardy and flavoursome variety of potato, recently recovered and promoted by Slow Food.
La Vialla’s Asparagina goes perfectly with gnocchi. Here we use green asparagus, if possible wild ones, which have more flavour and aroma, and “pop up” between April and June in sunny spots on the edge of the woods. Where exactly? This – as for wild mushrooms – is a jealously guarded secret…
First of all prepare the Asparagina: use a sharp knife to cut the fibrous, woody end off the asparagus. Wash them thoroughly under running water, without leaving them to soak. To make sure you have eliminated the earth and other impurities, scrape the stalks with a small knife and then rinse them again. Drain the asparagus and tie them into small bunches with kitchen string. Arrange them upright in a narrow saucepan (or better still a special asparagus pot, with a basket for draining them) in 4-5 fingers of boiling water to which you have added half a tablespoon of coarse salt. Cook them for about 20 minutes, without the lid on, until they begin to “bow their heads”. For this recipe the asparagus need to be well-cooked. Remove them from the saucepan; drain them using a pair of tongs and put 4 to one side (they will be used later on). Eliminate the end part if it is still tough and then blend them with the other ingredients, pine nuts, oil, basil, vinegar and salt, in the mixer. The result will be a soft, fragrant purée of asparagus; put it in a bowl that’s large enough to contain the gnocchi as well and set it aside.
To prepare the gnocchi: wash the potatoes thoroughly, then put them, with their skins on, in cold water with a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When they are well cooked (check with a fork to see if they’re done), take them out of the water and peel them as soon as possible, while still hot. Squash them with a potato masher or put them through a food mill. Put the mashed potato on your table and mix it with the flour, egg and a pinch of salt, amalgamating everything thoroughly until the mixture becomes smooth and elastic, but is still soft. You mustn’t add too much flour, otherwise the gnocchi will be hard; if you add too little, they’ll fall apart in the water. Roll the dough into ropes about the diameter of a finger and cut them into pieces 2 cm long (3 cm if you prefer slightly larger gnocchi). Now use your finger to make sort of indentation in the centre of each one, so they look like a sort of “curl”. Lay a tea towel on your work surface and sprinkle it with flour: place your gnocchi on it and leave them to rest for about half an hour. Cook them in boiling, salted water (boiling! ...otherwise they’ll fall apart). They’re cooked when they come to the surface: remove them quickly, as they gradually float to the top, with the help of a slotted spoon and put them into the bowl with the Asparagina. Mix very delicately and serve. They’re delicious with some grated pecorino cheese or Parmigiano sprinkled on top.