Gnocchi with meat ragù and Grana Padano petals
An important dish for the Sunday before Carnival, like this one, is potato dumplings - gnocchi – even better when they’re homemade – seasoned with a rich, traditional, slow cooked ragù.
The ragù described here is Neapolitan style, which differs from the Bolognese mainly on the size of the meat: minced meat in the Bolognese style, and large pieces in the Neapolitan one.
 
Serves
6 people
Variety
Gnocchi
Francesca D'Orazio
Ingredients
For the gnocchi
1.4 kg potatoes
300 g flour
50 g Grana Padano PDO, grated
salt
extra flour for dusting


For the ragù
500 g veal (in one piece)
500 g pork (in one piece, not too lean, ideally from the neck) 
1 glass of white wine
1.5 l tomato purée
1 onion
1 celery stick
1 carrot
1 bay leaf
3-4 parsley stalks, without leaves
extra virgin olive oil
salt
chili peppers

Grated Grana Padano PDO and some thin slices of Grana Padano cheese (you can cut the slices using a potato peeler or cheese slicer).
 
Preparation
To make the ragù
In a large casserole dish, sear well the two pieces of meat on each side with a little olive oil. Remove the meat and clean the casserole dish using a piece of paper towel to absorb the fat. Pour in 3-4 tablespoons of olive oil, the onion, celery and the carrot cut into large pieces. After browning the vegetables, replace the meat into the dish. Once reheated, pour the white wine over the sides of the dish and leave to evaporate over high heat.
Pour in the tomato purée, then add the bay leaves and parsley stalks, bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook over a very low heat for at least two hours, stirring occasionally, while the ragù is thickening. Salt when halfway through cooking and check your seasoning again later.
Remove the meat and leave to rest, then slice and place it on a serving dish. The meat will be served separately, as a second course.

To make the gnocchi
Wash the potatoes, put them in a pan and cover with cold water, bring to a boil, lower the heat and cook for about 40 more minutes (depending on the size of the potatoes).
Peel, then mash them using a potato-ricer.
Place the mash on a work surface, spread it out and leave to cool. Add in the grated Grana Padano and 3/4 of the flour, mix together until the dough has have a soft, non-sticky texture, adding the remaining flour, a little at a time, if necessary.
Divide the dough into several pieces. Flour and roll each piece, then cut them into 2 cm pieces. Arrange them on a floured tray.

Cook the gnocchi, a few at a time, in a pot abundantly full of boiling salted water.
Drain them gradually, using a slotted spoon, and season with the ragù.

Serve together with grated Grana Padano cheese and - for those who wish - some chili peppers.

For the Grana Padano petals: thinly slice the Grana Padano cheese, arrange the slices on a single layer, on a flat plate and microwave them for about 10 seconds. When soft, you can give different shapes to the slices of cheese.
 
How to make the best gnocchi
1. Choose “dirty" potatoes. The best potatoes are the ones from the mountains, which are dry, starchy, and not watery. If watery, they’ll need more, making them hard and not easily digestible.

2. Cooking potatoes: boil them (starting from cold water), or - even better - steam them, or cook in the microwave. Once cooked, peel them immediately. Mash them while still warm. Arrange them on a floured working surface, salt and add grated Grana Padano PDO cheese.
Start mixing with flour.

3. How much flour? It’s generally calculated based on 1Kg of potatoes and about 200-250 g of plain flour. 
A part of the flour can be replaced with starch or corn starch. Instead of wheat flour you can also use chestnuts, buckwheat, or durum wheat.
Gnocchi can be colored with natural dyes, beetroot, spinach or pumpkin puree. And they can be flavored with herbs and spices.

4. Eggs: yes or no? The egg is used to bind the mixture and to give a different flavor. As always, however, there are two schools of thought. 
Some say with egg the taste is too distinctive other say it gives a good texture.
If you are willing to add egg to your gnocchi, be sure not to add them when the potatoes are hot; instead, add it while kneading the potatoes and flour, and be careful to adjust the amount of flour used.

5. When making the dough, the kneading must be very quick, and it is advised to test cooking a few pieces in boiling water. You can easily add flour, while it’s impossible to remove it!

6. Giving ridges to your gnocchi helps to absorb the sauce better. They can be rolled on a ridged wooden surface, on the tongs of a fork, or on the back of a cheese-grater (the smoother part), pressing gently. When they are ready, place them on floured trays, giving each piece space around it.

7. If you want to make them in advance, it’s better to freeze them. Blanch and drain them, a few at a time, then toss them with a little olive oil and freeze them. Boil them in salted water when you are ready to use them.
 
Tips for the table
About the bread
On this month's table there is also a bread plate, in the top left of each setting. It is not mandatory, especially if it is an informal table, like at a family Sunday lunch.
However, it can also be a decorative element. In addition, if we set the table with American placemats, the slice of bread would be often on the naked table, which is not advisable. 
If you don’t have a small plate for bread, you may use a saucer, you don't necessarily have to buy one though.
I find it exciting to search flea markets or to choose from my grandmother's dishes, finding different decorations and styles of plates. This makes the table a little extravagant but pleasantly fun.

In any case, the bread loaf, or loaves, should always be placed in a basket, on a well-cleaned napkin (it’s always best to serve an already sliced loaf). Everyone should pick a piece without spending too much time choosing the one they like best.
If we want to bring an uncut, freshly baked (and possibly even homemade) bread to the table, I recommend arranging it on a wooden board and using a napkin to assist when cutting the bread, this way guests won’t have to touch it with their hands.

How to eat your bread?
According to etiquette guides, you should never cut the bread using a knife, but break it with your hands, and bring it to your mouth with one hand, one piece at a time. It’s not correct to bring a large piece of bread to one’s mouth and bite off a piece with your teeth.

“Fare la scarpetta”, Yes or no?
The Italian phrase can be translated as, “To make the little shoe.” This refers to the actions of taking a small piece of bread and using it to wipe up the remainder of sauce on your plate after finishing.
It is allowed, but only at family dinners, provided that the piece of bread is not held in your hand, but on the end of a fork. This is what the etiquette guides say, but who can resist the temptation of a good ragù left on their plate, after enjoying their gnocchi?
The important thing is to know the rules, then, at home, everyone will be free to do their best, right?

Last but not least: do not waste bread! It can be reused in many recipes. The first, quick and easy, is to dip the slices of stale bread in some milk, without soaking, then arrange them in a well buttered pan, sprinkle with plenty of grated Grana Padano and bake until golden in the oven for 10 minutes at 180°C, or put them in the microwave at maximum power for 30 seconds.
 
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