In the Town Hall Hotel’s kitchen on Johnston Street, the flour is flying. Chef Harry Lilai is showing us how to make his signature gnocchi, and his enthusiasm for this popular potato-based pasta is completely infectious.
“Since my family was from the north of Italy, gnocchi wasn’t something that we really made when I was growing up,” says Lilai over a tray of steaming potatoes. “It wasn’t until I became a head chef, after being trained in French cooking, when I decided I wanted to properly explore Italian food traditions for myself.” Taking into account his long tenure at Cecconi’s before creating the Town Hall Hotel’s warm and robust Italian menu, Lilai’s gnocchi recipe has been built over years of experimentation and refinement, and relies upon the best produce. Lilai stresses that this is the kind of recipe that is ultimately about feel and that you shouldn’t be discouraged if the first few times your gnocchi aren’t as pillow-soft as expected. His tips for getting the best gnocchi are, firstly, make sure you use the appropriate kind of potato – you’ll notice Desiree potatoes in the ingredients list, but he recommends any red-skinned potato that errs on the drier side. Secondly, when you are combining ingredients, you won’t want to overwork the dough, as this will result in tough gnocchi.
After cutting the dough into pieces (at a speed that borders on super-sonic) and then boiling them, Lilai finishes off the gnocchi by tossing it in a pan with a simple butter and flat-leaf parsley sauce, peeling some fat curls of parmesan over the top once it is plated and then drizzling with a moat of balsamic vinegar. “Make sure it’s good balsamic vinegar – the 25-year-old stuff.”
This is the perfect base recipe for you to build and refine your pasta-making skills with. Once mastered, you can change it up in terms of the sauces or cheeses involved and build a gnocchi repertoire to impress all your nearest and dearest.
Gnocchi di patate
2kg Desiree potatoes
300g plain flour, plus another 150g plain flour for dusting
3 whole eggs
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Pre-heat oven to 180C.
Boil potatoes with their skins on until tender (make sure to poke a few holes in the potatoes with a skewer so they don’t burst while boiling).
When cooked, drain and place on an oven tray and dry potatoes in the oven for approximately 25–30 minutes.
Put a large pot of salted water on to the boil. Clean bench and dust with flour.
Remove potatoes from oven, peel skins while they are hot and place potato flesh in a Mouli grater and pass through on to the prepared bench, spreading it evenly (if you don’t have a Mouli grater, use a potato masher to make it as smooth as you can).
Sprinkle flour, eggs, parmesan, salt and nutmeg on to the potato.
Using a large metal spatula, incorporate the ingredients together to form a soft dough. Try not to overwork, as overworking will lead to tough gnocchi.
Divide the dough into 4 equal balls and roll evenly into lengths with a 3cm thickness, dusting with flour. Cut each roll into 2cm pieces.
Add ¼ of the gnocchi to the boiling water. As they cook, gnocchi will rise to the surface of the water. Continue cooking gnocchi at the surface for about 10 seconds then remove with a large slotted spoon and drain well. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi. Serve immediately, tossed together with your favourite sauce.