Historic Bendigo in central Victoria may have been founded on the discovery of gold, but on a recent trip there we uncovered some other treasures—of the culinary kind. We even managed to bring some of them back home with us and have introduced a little bit of Italian family tradition into our own household, even though I only have a tiny bit of Italian blood in me, just enough to give me dark hair. The making of ricotta gnocchi has now become quite the family affair.
On a fabulous Food Fossicking tour of Bendigo, we visited a number of local specialty food producers and suppliers. For those unacquainted with Bendigo, let me tell you this thriving little metropolis with a big country feel is quite the foodie destination. I’ll tell you more about the food tour and the other eating delights another time (too much to tell at once) but let me tell you about the gnocchi we discovered at the end.
Fresh and airy Hoo-gah Cafe in downtown Bendigo is the home of Gina, who’s been a chef for 30 years and is now serving up wholesome and delicious goodies in her own cafe, with night time cooking classes on the side. The cafe has been closed of late but they’re back open again now. We popped in there towards the end of the tour and that’s where Gina taught us to make the gnocchi. (Just to be clear: when I say ‘us’ I mean mainly hubbie dear because he’s actually a better cook than me and I was too busy taking notes and photos to pay proper attention to the technique.) We whipped it up in a flash because Gina likes recipes with only five steps, which means she’s talking our sort of cooking language.
Gina’s been making gnocchi forever, so she told us, because her Nonna used to live with her and that’s what Italian grandmothers do—teach the grandkids to cook. Apparently now it’s what Australian grandfathers with English heritage do too. So we learnt how to knead it, roll it out, cut it up and how to bake it – and it was pretty bloody good. I must say I sometimes find gnocchi a bit bland but the addition of ricotta takes it to a new level, then when you add in the tomato sauce, fresh basil and bocconcini and bake it all up, it’s fantastic.
So now, with hands-on instruction under our belts and the recipe in hand, we’ve brought it back home and introduced it to our brood of grandkids. Little Miss 6 is becoming quite a keen little cook and developing a real interest in food. She’s totally enamoured with Masterchef and rides the waves of nerves and excitement with the contestants as they cook-off and fight for immunity and elimination, and she also really enjoys being in the kitchen herself. In fact, she’s becoming quite the little sous-chef.
It’s actually wonderful to see them trying all sorts of foods and flavours and understanding what good food is all about, especially when we can add in herbs or other things that we’ve grown ourselves. It’s a great way to educate while having fun. She’s declared this dish her favourite ever. Now Master 3 (nearly 4) wants to be in the action as well. They’re surprisingly efficient with the rolling and cutting actions.
And you simply can’t believe how much they eat when they’ve helped make the dish themselves. I must say, ours didn’t look nearly as pretty as the originals but as they say on Masterchef, the taste is the most important thing. The whole gnocchi making experience even got turned into a weekly Topic Talk for the Year 1 class, so now a whole bunch of six year olds know about the joys of gnocchi making.
Here’s the recipe from Gina with some extra words from us. Let me know if you have a go at it yourself and how it works out.
Or if you’re in Bendigo, you could pop into Cafe Hoo-gah and try it there.
1.5 cups ricotta cheese
¼ cup parmesan cheese
1 cup plain flour
1 large egg
¼ teaspoon salt
Extra flour for rolling
Place a medium sized saucepan on stove to boil and add a teaspoon of salt to water.
Place ricotta, parmesan, egg and seasoning in medium sized mixing bowl and stir
lightly. Add plain flour and stir lightly again to combine. Sprinkle extra flour onto (clean!) benchtop, take a small handful of the dough and roll out with your hands to form a sausage about 15mm thick. Dough should be firm but pliable. If it seems too soft then add a little more flour to the bowl and remix gently. Cut into 20mm segments with quick strokes (a sharp knife or paint scraper) to retain its shape.
Once water has come to a boil drop in gnocchi in small batches and let it come back to a boil stirring the water gently to allow the gnocchi to lift off the bottom of the pan. When it floats the gnocchi is ready. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and drop in the next batch.
Serve this with your favourite tomato sauce. We place in small ramekins and bake in the oven till piping hot with bocconcini balls, fresh basil and a little more parmesan sprinkled over the top.
Makes approximately 5 serves