Giorgio Locatelli, Judge
Favourite family food: Gnocchi
My first memory of food was sitting on a stool at the table and watching my big brother help our grandmother make gnocchi, and feeling so jealous because I wasn’t allowed to join in! That was the first thing I learnt to do in the kitchen, roll gnocchi with a fork — my grandparents owned a restaurant, so I grew up in a very foodie environment and gnocchi is very traditional to northern Italy.
When we think of Italian food, we think pizza, pasta, spaghetti, but that’s all from the south. In the north, where I’m from, it’s gnocchi and risotto. I make gnocchi often, and my children will help. My son Jack is 27 and my daughter Dita is 21, and last week we were on holiday and the potatoes were good enough, so my daughter and I made it one morning. When we cook, it’s not just one person alone, it’s everyone together, and when we eat we talk and relax — it’s a special relationship you can have with your children through the pleasure of food.
Britain’s food has a bad reputation, but you had the Beatles, the Rolling Stones — what did Italy have? Maybe because there were so many other types of cultural expression, food went on the back burner.
When I first moved here in the 1980s food was certainly only seen as fuel. But that’s changing, and young people in particular are really interested and adventurous in what they eat. British cuisine blends together foods and styles from different ethnicities.
The Italians cook good Italian food, the French cook good French food, but the British cook good food from all over the world. It’s much more open than any other cuisine in Europe: if people knew that, it would make a difference to how British food is seen around the world.
Potato gnocchi dough
Makes about 1kg. It is quite difficult to work with small quantities of dough, so make a larger amount, then lay the finished gnocchi on a tray and put it into the freezer. When the gnocchi are hard, put them into a freezer bag.
1kg very starchy potatoes (Spunta or Desiree are the best)
About 320g plain flour
2 small eggs, lightly beaten
A pinch of salt
1. Have all your ingredients ready — it’s very important to work with the gnocchi dough while the potato is still hot.
2. Leave the potatoes whole, still in their skins. Cover in cold water and bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer until soft (about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on the size). Put the potatoes into a warm oven to dry out (preheat to 100—120°C/gas 1 /2 before you start), especially if the potato skins have split during cooking and they have absorbed a little too much water — not too long, though, or they will become crusty and stick to the oven tray.
3. While the potatoes are still hot, peel them, put them through a fine sieve and then mix with the egg, a pinch of salt, and about three-quarters of the flour. Mix well and, as soon as the dough comes together, stop — only add the rest of the flour if you need it.
4. Dust your work surface lightly with flour, then take your dough and flatten it down with the palms of your hands into a rough square about 1.5cm thick.
5. With a knife, cut it into strips about 1.5cm wide — so you have “square” cigars.
6. Dusting your hands with flour all the time, roll each piece lightly until they are cylindrical. Trim off the ends, then cut them into pieces (1—1.5cm in width).
7. Take a fork (or a gnocchi paddle, if you have one) and push each piece of dough onto the prongs, so that it rolls itself up and is marked with lines — they don’t have to be perfect, but they should be the same size so that they will cook evenly. As you make each one, roll it on a tray dusted with flour.
8. When they are all ready, cook them as quickly as possible. Two things are particularly important: don’t let the dough get cold or the finished gnocchi will become chewy, and work it as little as possible.
Gnocchi with black pepper and goat’s cheese sauce
1/2 recipe quantity potato gnocchi dough
About 2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp milk
About 160g soft goat’s cheese, broken into pieces
Small bunch of chives, half of them chopped and the rest cut into batons
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
1. Follow the recipe for potato gnocchi dough, but mix the 2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper into the flour before you add it to the potatoes. Shape into gnocchi.
2. Warm the milk in a sauté pan, add the goat’s cheese and let it melt gently to form a thick sauce. Grind in enough black pepper to taste.
3. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, put in the gnocchi and keep stirring until they rise to the surface (a minute or so), then lift them out carefully with a slotted spoon or a spider and put them into the sauce.
4. Sprinkle in the chopped chives and toss the gnocchi around very carefully, just to coat them in the sauce. Add the parmesan, and a little of the cooking water if you think the sauce needs loosening, but don’t leave them in the sauce any longer than about a minute, or they will start to break up.
5. Serve garnished with the batons of chives.