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January 24, 2022
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Traditional ligurian gnocchi with fragrant basil pesto

This recipe is divided into the potato gnocchi and the pesto. After all, you might want to serve the gnocchi differently: say, splash them with tomato sauce or serve them with red wine-braised lamb and peas.

Gnocchi are fine to make up to two days ahead of time. Store them in the refrigerator and, when ready to serve, reheat by putting them into boiling water to warm through and soften up. If you’re serving them in a hot sauce instead of in fresh, uncooked pesto, simply warm the cold gnocchi with the warm sauce.

One caveat for making gnocchi: you must use old floury potatoes (see box on previous page). Fresh potatoes make gummy gnocchi.

3 large old baking potatoes, like the classic Russet (about 1 lb. 2 oz. / 560 g), unpeeled and whole

2 tsp. (10 ml) salt

2 tbsp. (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

1¼ to 1½ c. (300-375 ml) all-purpose flour, plus extra for rolling out

butter or olive oil, for the plate

fragrant basil pesto (recipe to follow)

Boil or bake the potatoes until they are very tender. If boiling, pour off the water and leave the potatoes to dry for a few minutes in the hot pot, covered, as you shake it back and forth for even drying. If baking, just remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.

Peel when cool enough to handle; though most gnocchi recipes say to do this while the potatoes are hot, you might have better luck waiting until the potatoes are cool. It is important that the potato flesh is not gummy, but is light, dry and fluffy.

Place the potato flesh in a bowl and mash or put through a ricer. Mix with half the salt, the olive oil, egg, and about two-thirds of the flour. Place the rest of the flour on a board and knead the potato dough into it — about 15 to 20 turns — to absorb the flour. The dough should be slightly sticky, but smooth and pliable.

Divide the dough into four or five segments. Working with one segment at a time on a board, keeping the board floured, knead the segment of dough a few times, then roll out into a rope, about as thick as your forefinger or middle finger. Using a knife, cut the rope into 1½-inch (3.8-cm) pieces, then with a fork, make little indentations on one side; the lumps will start to look like gnocchi now. Gently push them over to the floured side of the board or onto a baking sheet and proceed until you have used all the potato dough.

Bring a big pot of water to a boil, add the remaining salt and, when the water is gently boiling, begin to add the gnocchi. You’ll need to do this in batches; even a very big wide pot will still need about 2 or 3 batches. Do not overcrowd.

After a few minutes, the gnocchi will, one by one, come popping up to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and place on a buttered plate or baking dish. Repeat until all the gnocchi have been cooked.

Serve the gnocchi right away, with fragrant basil pesto. Serves 4.

Fragrant basil pesto

After proudly showing off the huge, heirloom, generations-old mortar and pestle, most Ligurians will then show you what they really use for making pesto: a food processor. Still, you’ll get a more fragrant and less harsh result by first pounding the garlic in a mortar and pestle, and then tipping it into the food processor.

An endearing quality of pesto: it freezes beautifully.

2-3 garlic cloves

2 tbsp. (30 ml) pine nuts or 15 to 20 walnuts or blanched, skinned almonds

1 bunch fresh basil

¼-½ c. (60-125 ml) extra-virgin olive oil, or as desired

3-4 oz. (90-125 g) freshly grated Parmesan, Grana Padano, pecorino, or half Parmesan and half pecorino


Crush or cut up the garlic and add it to a food processor or blender. Add the nuts and whirl into a fine meal, then add the basil and whirl again. Add the olive oil, starting with about half and working your way up until the pesto is the consistency you like — rich and green with specs of garlic and nuts, or creamier. Add the cheese and season to taste with salt, then whirl again.

Pesto can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week in a jar or bowl. Simply pour a slick of olive oil on top so the pesto is entirely covered, then cover with a lid or plastic wrap. Serves 4.


Both new and old potatoes can come from any variety. New potatoes are less mature potatoes that have been harvested in the late spring and summer. They generally go directly from field to market. They’re thinner skinned, firmer and waxier. They’re also less starchy.

Old potatoes are fully mature and harvested in the fall. They’re often held in cold storage in order for their skins to toughen. This protects the flesh. They’re starchier, lighter and dryer. Most of the potatoes in supermarkets are old potatoes.

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