Originally written as part of the World Cup 2014 cooking project.
The Golden Boot is the award for the top scorer in a World Cup tournament. There have been some amazing winners throughout the years: Eusébio, Fontaine, Müller, Lineker, Šuker and Ronaldo, but the one that sticks in my mind was that of Paolo Rossi back in the 1982 World Cup in Spain. The mere presence of Rossi in the tournament was a bone of contention for many. Rossi was banned from playing football for 3 years (later reduced to 2 years) in 1980 for allegedly being part of a betting scandal whilst playing for Perugia. He always claimed his innocence, but the ban stood. He returned to football just in time for the World Cup, out of shape and looking aimless in his first couple of games. What I will always remember though was the game against Brazil, where Rossi came to life and plundered a hat-trick against what was declared as the best ever Brazil team not to win the World Cup. Italy won a memorable game 3-2 and went on to win the cup, with Rossi scoring again in the final. Rossi finished with 6 goals and claimed the Golden Boot.
I also have great memories of Italia 90, the closest England came to winning the trophy since 1966. That football tournament in Italy, for me, had the equivalent glamour, flair and passion as it does in Brasil this year. And who could forget the enchanting Nessun Dorma by Pavarotti as the tournament’s theme.
After beating England in a close game in the first match of Brazil 2014, Italy somehow imploded and followed up the win with two defeats, eliminating it from the tournament. It’s always tough for European teams to acclimatise to South American conditions, but I did expect Italy to go further.
Italy is home to some of the world’s finest ingredients. To cook Italian, in my mind, is to keep it simple by treating these ingredients with the utmost respect. Mushrooms should be wiped not washed to retain those under the skin nutrients and flavours; pasta should be gently cajoled by making it on a work surface not in a mechanical device; olive oil should be drizzled naturally not cooked; a tomato sauce should be full of flavour and acidity by cooking it lightly and for a short period of time; onions should be translucent and sweet in soffrito; and squid should griddled quickly on a roaring heat with a little salt and pepper. I don’t stick to this rigidity all the time, but when I do I notice a marked improvement in flavour and texture.
From an incredible range of Italian cuisine I have opted for one dish that I simply find amazing. Light potato gnocchi with exotic mushrooms in butter and sage finished with truffle oil and a deep fried sage leaf.
This may seem a simple recipe but the key to a really light gnocchi is in the detail and understanding what is happening. We need to keep the starch in the potato to help the binding process, so I bake the potatoes (also imparts a wonderful baked flavour). It’s also imperative not to let the potato continue to cook with its residual heat once passed through a fine drum sieve, otherwise the potato may go gluey. On the other hand if it cools too quickly it can dry leaving undesirable bits in the gnocchi. To keep the gnocchi light work the dough very gently. And when cooking in boiling water do not stir; the gnocchi will tell you when they are cooked by rising to the surface. Keep to this and you will please any Italian.
Gnocchi with Exotic Mushrooms in Butter and Sage - ItalyPrint
- For the Gnocchi:
- ■ 5 small-medium baking potatoes | I use Sebago, but any non-waxy potatoes like Maris Piper or King Edwards are great.
- ■ 20-30g sea salt | For rolling the potatoes in.
- ■ 300-400g plain flour | You may not need to use it all.
- ■ 2 large eggs |
- ■ pinch Salt |
- For the Sage Leaf:
- ■ 100-200ml grapeseed oil | Quantity depends on the size of your pan.
- ■ 4 large sage leaves |
- For the Mushrooms:
- ■ 125g unsalted butter | A good quality one is imperative.
- ■ 1 large garlic clove | Finely diced.
- ■ a medley of exotic mushrooms | Thickly sliced. I used: 1 pine, 3 shiitake, 4 oyster and 3 bunches of enoki (separated, not sliced) mushrooms.
- ■ 10 large sage leaves | Roughly torn.
- ■ seasoning of sea salt |
- ■ a drizzle of truffle oil
Preheat an oven to 220°C (430°F). Wash the potatoes and dry well. Put the sea salt on a bench top and roll each potato in it so the salt sticks. Put the potatoes straight on to the oven shelf and bake for 1¼-1½ hours. The skin should be crispy and the inside like mashed potato.
For the sage leaves: Heat the cooking oil in a very small frying pan or saucepan until it reaches 180°C (360°F) . Drop in one sage leaf and when it stops bubbling remove it from the oil with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Repeat for the other 3 sage leaves. Put aside.
For the gnocchi: take the hot potatoes and cut each in half. On a fine drum sieve place a potato half flesh down. Now protecting your hand from the heat with some folded up kitchen towel push the potato through the sieve on to a kitchen work top. Do this for all the potato halves. Alternatively scoop the potato from each skin and push through a potato ricer. The aim is to have a very fine potato. (The skins can be kept for later as a deep fried snack with sour cream.)
Bring a large pan of water, with a little salt, to the boil.
Spread out the potato so it is about 2-3cm thick. Sprinkle half of the flour (about 200g) over the potato and then crack two eggs over the flour with a pinch of salt. Using a dough scraper start to scoop and cut the flour, egg and potato together until it becomes doughy. Add more flour as required. Bring the dough together and very gently knead it until smooth. Do not overwork the dough or else the gnocchi will become dense. Flour the surface with some of the remaining flour and break off a portion of the dough. Roll it to a thin even sausage shape (about 2-3 cm in diameter) and then on an angle cut it in to 4cm pieces. Gently squeeze each piece to give it a rustic appearance and put on a floured baking tray loosely covered with cling film. Repeat for the rest of the dough.
For the mushrooms: to a medium frying pan add the butter and over a medium heat cook it until it starts to gain a light brown colour. Now add the garlic, fry for about 30 seconds and then add the mushrooms and torn sage leaves. Cook until the mushrooms have just softened. Add salt to season to your taste.
Drop some gnocchi into the boiling water – don’t overcrowd the pan. When they have risen to the surface remove immediately with a slotted spoon. Repeat for all the gnocchi.
To serve, place some gnocchi pieces in a bowl. Spoon a quarter of the mushrooms and butter over the gnocchi, drizzle over a little truffle oil and garnish with a deep-fried sage leaf. Repeat for the other 3 bowls. My other half has been waiting for this one in particular, and to quote her “wow, that is just amazing!”