Silvia Colloca’s Baked Gnocchi Sorrentina

As a child growing up in Milan, Silvia Colloca’s mother would prepare large batches of homemade gnocchi on special occasions. The following day, whatever remained would be baked in the oven, fresh tufts of torn mozzarella thrown on top being the only new addition.

“For me, it encapsulates Italian frugality and ingenuity all at once,” Colloca tells GRAZIA. “The dish is linked to the Neapolitan cooking traditions, and when it comes to food, the Neapolitans know a thing or two about it.” For Colloca, an actress turned cookbook author and television host, the recipe’s simplicity accounts in part for its enduring appeal to both seasoned and home cooks alike, no matter their dietary preferences. “It’s also a go-to crowd pleaser and perfect for, say, a first date when you’re getting to know someone.” It appears below in a form true to its origins, untouched and unaltered – the only acceptable manner for approaching a traditional Italian recipe, says the cook. “You can change how much olive oil, garlic or basil you want to add, but at the core it centres on the fresh and traditional flavours.”

True to its nature as Italian home-cooking, Colloca says that precision is not an essential ingredient; instead, the cook, who describes her style in the kitchen as “very instinctual”, advocates the ‘add as much as you need and cook it until it’s done’ approach that was imparted to her by her mother and Nonna. It’s also an economical dish where time is concerned. “The sauce takes about 15-20 minutes to cook,” says Colloca. “That’s just about the time you need to roll your gnocchi. But, look, if you mess up and need more time, this dish is incredibly forgiving!”

Below, in the spirit of the day, Colloca shares her recipe for Baked Gnocchi Sorrentina as an alternative to the exorbitant meals that Valentine’s Day might ordinarily occasion no matter your relationship status. “Nothing beats sharing a glass of wine together while cooking, and savouring the preparation of a meal. It’s a beautiful, romantic ritual,” says Colloca. “Keep it simple. Masterchef techniques belong in Michelin-starred restaurants. There, I said it!”

Serves 4

Full-cream ricotta (450g)
2 egg yolks
1/2 teaspoon salt flakes
1 pinch freshly ground white pepper
Plain flour, plus extra for dusting (100-120g)
2/3 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving (50g)
5-6 basil leaves, finely shredded

2 400g tins of Mutti Cherry Tomatoes
2 shallots, finely chopped
4 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, skin on, bashed with back of a knife
1 small celery stick, finely chopped
Salt flakes, to taste

To top
A handful of basil leaves
1 cup of bocconcini
Freshly grated parmesan cheese

Heat oil in a large heavy-based frying pan. Fry the shallots, celery and the garlic on medium heat for 1-2 minutes or until the shallots turn translucent and slightly golden and the garlic smells fragrant. Add the Mutti Cherry Tomatoes, season with salt and cook on medium-low heat for 15-20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the celery and basil leaves. Cover with a lid and set aside.

In the meantime, make the gnocchi. Discard any excess liquid from the ricotta and put it in a large mixing bowl with the egg yolks, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Add the flour and work with floured hands or a wooden spoon until you have smooth soft dough – it should be pliable and a little sticky but not too wet. Don’t be tempted to add lots of flour to make it easier to work the dough, as the resulting gnocchi will almost certainly be dense and doughy.

Flour your hands and cooking bench generously and divide the dough into 6 pieces. Take 1 piece, sprinkle it with flour and roll it with your hands to form a log. Cut the log into small rectangles and set aside on a floured wooden board. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Turn the heat back on under the tomato sauce on low and preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius.

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and drop the gnocchi into the pan, in two or three batches, stirring gently. Cook for 1–2 minutes or until they come up to the surface, lift them out with a slotted spoon and drop them straight into the pan with the tomato sauce. Repeat until all the gnocchi is cooked. Coat them well in the sauce.

Place the gnocchi and sauce in a large oven safe dish. Distribute the Bocconcini evenly, grate parmesan on top and bake for 15-20 minutes or until the cheese has melted and the gnocchi looks bubbly and irresistible.

Serve with basil leaves and drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, if desired.

Tile and cover image: Supplied