Potato gnocchi are pretty filling, the kind of food you may associate with the cooler weather. But, in fact, you can enjoy gnocchi all year ’round. They are delicious with pesto, for example, or with a simple tomato sauce. In fact, one of the classic Campanian summer dishes is gnocchi alla sorrentina, or potato gnocchi in the manner of Sorrento, mixed with some tomato sauce, a few fresh basil leaves and bits of mozzarella, then topped with pecorino and more mozzarella and baked in a hot oven until bubbly and oozing with cheesy goodness. If you use your own homemade sauce, preferably with fresh tomatoes in season, mozzarella di bufala and homemade gnocchi, this dish is pure heaven.
Serves 4-6 persons
- 500g (1 lb.) potato gnocchi, preferably homemade
- One batch of a simple, Southern Italian-style tomato sauce (see Notes), preferably made with fresh tomatoes
- One large ball of mozzarella, preferably di bufala, drained and cut into small cubes
- Grated pecorino romano cheese, to taste
Cook the gnocchi and transfer them to a large bowl. Add about 3/4 of the tomato sauce, 1/2 the mozzarella and a sprinkling of grated cheese and mix gently with a spatula, taking care not to damage the delicate gnocchi.
Pour the gnocchi into a greased gratin dish (or into individual gratin dishes as pictured) and top with a bit more of the tomato sauce, the remaining mozzarella cubes and a good sprinkling of grated cheese.
Place in a very hot (220C/450F) oven just until the mozzarella has melted and the gnocchi are bubbling hot. Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes before serving.
As with most Italian recipes, quality counts when making gnocchi alla sorrentina. If you make the gnocchi yourself, use best quality mozzarella di bufala and make your tomato sauce from fresh tomatoes in season, you’ll experience this dish at its very best. But, I must say, it isn’t half bad even using store-bought gnocchi, supermarket mozzarella and sauce made from canned tomatoes. By the way, you can improve store-bought mozzarella considerably by cutting it into large chunks and soaking it for a few hours in a mixture of half water, half milk, well seasoned with salt. No, it won’t have the taste or mouthfeel of the real thing, but it will produce a softer, more flavorful cheese.
Many recipes for gnocchi alla sorrentina call for running the gnocchi under the broiler rather than in a hot oven, but I prefer this method, which ensures more even cooking. But just be sure that the oven is really hot and pre-heated, so that the gnocchi are not over-done after this second cooking.