Uforic Food Cafe Torquay

The Blog

Gnocchi di Patate con Bolognese (potato gnocchi) Nanna’s way

Posted on

The golden rule when cooking gnocchi is to always use old potatoes. I’m talking about the ones you have forgotten about for a week or two that are starting-to-shoot-and-grow-more-eyes, kind of old.

My mum tells me about when she first cooked gnocchi for dad, after they were married, and how instead of serving him up the beautiful plate of pillowy, doughy morsels she had envisioned, she had to throw out a saucepan full of watery, potatoey and floury mush. She obviously didn’t listen to Nanna.

Well I sure did. Last Saturday I spent the day cooking deliciously sweet potato gnocchi with my amazing grandmother and I’m about to share her words of wisdom (and her recipe) with you now.

My nanna and I. Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Before I do though, let me tell you a little more about my Nanna Maria.

Firstly; she is amazing. If you continue to read my posts, you will only begin to appreciate how true this is. I know everyone has a special place in their heart for their Nanna but mine truly is a star. Let me explain.

When Nanna, her mother Giussepina and her older sister Palma made the trip to join my great-grandfather Antonio in Australia back in 1938, the globe was about to be caught in the grips of World War II. My great-grandfather had begun to make a life for them, working as a potato and onion picker.

My great grand mother Giussepina’s passport. She is with Nanna Maria.

Unable to speak a word of English, Nanna tells me that it was her mother’s food that endeared their family to the fearful and predominantly Australian community of Warrion – in South West Victoria. Giussepina would bake loaves of bread in the old stove, sending wafts of wheaty smells into the town air and like the music in the Pied Piper, these smells would draw all the children to the Luppino home. Being Italian, Giussepina was only too keen to share her food with the children and I guess this is how they overcame the cultural divide: with food. It’s a philosophy I continue to employ today when I share food to bring people together.

Nanna when she was just four years old – with her eldest sister Palma.

So in the spirit of my great-grandmother’s generosity, I will now share with you, Nanna’s Gnocchi di Patate con Bolognese recipe. I vividly remember Nanna making these most weekends and watching in awe (and some frustration) as she would artfully flick the gnocchi up the back of a fork to imprint them.

Using a fork to add ridges to the gnocchi – which helps them to hold on to the sauce. Picture: Matthew Furneaux

I never could get the hang of that until last week! You can use a gnocchi board to put ridges in too (this looks more professional) but Nanna insists on using the fork (the ‘old school’ way) and I must admit, it does seem more authentic.

Using a gnocchi board. Picture: Matthew Furneaux

Nanna also prefers steaming the potatoes rather than boiling because they don’t take in too much moisture. You can boil or bake them though if you prefer. I’ve also provided you with a version of Nanna’s secret bolognaise sauce and meatballs that she serves with the gnocchi. With a little parmesan on top, it’s absolutely too die for. So read on and enjoy!

Gnocchi di Patate con Bolognese

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Gnocchi (serves four)

  • 500g of old potatoes, peeled, chopped and steamed
  • 50 g butter
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • 50g self raising flour
  • 250g plain flour


While the potatoes are still warm, add the butter and mash well. Pour in the egg and mix through.

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Sift the two flours together and mix through about three quarters of the combined flour. Mix through with your hands to form the dough. It should hold together and be soft and smooth so add more of the flour if it’s still too sticky.
Heavily flour your board or bench top and work the dough into a ball. Be careful not to overwork it though. Pull off a section at a time and roll it into a ‘snake’. Each snake should be about 1cm thick. Keep the length of your snake manageable (just cut off whatever you don’t need and redeposit into the ball).

Once you have your four or five manageable ‘snakes’, start cutting the individual gnocchis with a butter knife. They should be about 1.5 cm long. Place them on prepared trays laid with baking paper.

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

After cutting all the gnocchi, use a fork or gnocchi board to put indents into the dumplings. If using a fork, the easiest way is to push the fork into your bench/board with the back facing upwards. Then, place the gnocchi on the bottom of the fork and using your index finger, roll it upwards. (See the photo below)

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

This sounds tricky but really isn’t, just give it a go and see what works for you.

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Fill a large saucepan three quarters full with water and bring it to the boil. Add a good pinch of salt.

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Pour the gnocchi all in at once. At this stage, Nanna says that you should not stir but use Nonno’s trick of sticking the end of a wooden spoon into the middle and just tapping the bottom firmly to help separate the dumplings.

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Within minutes, the gnocchi will rise to the surface. Once they are all up, boil for only another two minutes or so, and then strain well.
Serve with Nanna’s bolognaise sauce and meatballs, or your favourite sauce, and enjoy!

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

Now that you have the gnocchi, here are two sauce ideas you can serve it with – both can be made ahead of time, and freeze really well too.

 Nanna’s Sauce

  • 1 brown onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, crushed
  • Olive oil
  • 300g mince beef
  • 4 tbs red wine
  • 1 litre of tomato sugo (tinned tomatoes or supermarket ‘passata’ will do)
  • 3 tbs tomato paste
  • 1 handful of fresh basil
  • 1 handful of fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 eggs, hard boiled and then shelled
  • Salt and pepper

Heat a good glug of olive oil in a large saucepan and add the meat.

Mix and separate the meat until brown. Remove from pan.

Add some more oil, heat and add onions. Stir constantly for two minutes.

Once the onions are opaque, add garlic and continue to stir constantly for about two minutes or the garlic starts releasing its aroma.

Return the mince to pan, heat through and deglaze the pan with the red wine.

Add the rest of the ingredients, except the boiled eggs, and stir well. Simmer for up to two hours, stirring occasional. The longer you simmer, the richer the flavour but if you’re time pressed, half-an-hour of simmering is fine.

Add the eggs at the end, just to heat through.

 Nanna’s Meatballs

  • 500g mince beef
  • 2 cup of fresh breadcrumbs
  • 2 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup of parmesan, finely grated
  • ½ cup parsley, finely chopped
  • Salt and pepper
  • Olive oil

Using your hands mix everything together in a bowl until well combined. Roll into balls.

Lightly fry in a pan of heated olive oil. At this stage, you only want to brown them, don’t cook through.

Drop into the sauce (above) once it begins to boil and cook through.

Photo: Matthew Furneaux

There it is; a little piece of my culinary history. You’ll find this is a meal that will both satisfy the hungriest tummy and impress the fussiest guest. It truly is an easy recipe to master and one that you can add your own flair to, depending on what sauce you decide to use and what ingredients you put in the gnocchi. This is a basic gnocchi recipe that you could add any flavours to – even sweet ones! Some ideas include chocolate, pumpkin (instead of potato), herbs and more. Have fun with it and let me know how you go!

So what’s your favourite family recipe? How have you used it to bring people together?

Next Monday I will share another family recipe that I love. Mum’s Italian Vegetable and Lentil Soup.

 Recent articles from the Uforic Food table:



20 comments on “Gnocchi di Patate con Bolognese (potato gnocchi) Nanna’s way
  1. Chris Foreman on said:

    Thank you Laura for sharing part of your history. You Nanna sounds like a very awsome lady!! You would have had a ball to spend the day with her learning all her little trick. They make everything look so easy! just their experience they have perfected it all. I can’t wait to try this receipe.. I will go buy potatoes and let them get “old” they are not something we sell at Anglesea Fruits 🙂 The Sauce receipe sound delicious too ohhhh I will have a ball trying out these receipe’s. Thank you on this awsome Post!!

    Chris : )

    • It’s a pleasure Chris! Especially when I get such encouraging feedback. I loved compiling it and am so lucky to have such a patient, generous Nanna. She really has taught me a lot and I’m glad I now have a way to share that with you!

      Laura xo

  2. Well worth the wait…… What an amazing story, amazing Women and oh my goodness the techniques and the recipes. WOW! Thank you. I cannot wait to try all these beautiful foods. (dribbling on the keyboard)

  3. Olannah on said:

    Thanks for this post, I am going to try this recipe this week as it looks fantastic and I love the little techniques you have put in. Your Nanna sounds lovely and if I get the recipe right I am definitely putting it on the ‘cooking list’ for when the granddaughter next visits.

  4. What an awesome story – I finally have a real, easy recipe to follow when it comes to gnocchi!
    Think I’ll be making the dish later this week 😉
    And how fortunate are you to have a Nanna that is passing on family recipes – priceless.


  5. Chris Foreman on said:

    Just wanted to know how gnocchi would go being frozen or vacum sealed… A) will it freeze in a meal form, nothing is better than freshly cooked. But as I live alone its a lot of gnocchi to eat at a sitting 🙂 B) how long if possible it would keep in vacum sealed, as this is possible a great solution for us single people.
    Thanks Laura

  6. Janelle Mitchell on said:

    Hi Laura,

    Well done it is so nice to see you doing so well and you look super happy.

    Can’t wait to give this a go. Just a couple of questions. Being a busy mother of two little monsters, I do a lot of my dinner prep I the morning. I presume that once rolled that these would be best left at room temp, fridge would make them go hard??
    And question 2, I have had some very lovely fried gnocchi lately, would you boil it, pat it dry, then fry do you think?

    • Hi Janelle,

      Thank you! It’s all a lot of fun and I’m really heartened by the response from everyone, it’s so lovely you all want to cook Nanna’s gnocchi. In response to your questions:
      1. Premade gnocchi can be kept in the fridge on trays laid with baking paper ( like in the pictures ) and covered with baking paper too. I wouldn’t make it more than a morning in advance before boiling. It canbe frozen at this stage too but only if laid flat in the same way.
      2. To fry, I suggest par boiling first, straining and allowing to dry a little before frying.
      Good questions and a tasty idea to fry. I reckon a burnt butter, sage and pine nut or walnut sauce would go great with that mmmmmm.
      Let me know how it all turns out and I hope the little tykes enjoy!
      Laura xo

  7. Silvana on said:

    Hey Laura, you nanna’s recipe is very similar to my nonna’s recipe! How lucky are we to have these authentic recipes given to us first hand? Your nanna’s sauce looks yummy – think I’ll add eggs to my next sauce. Has anyone ever told you that you look like your aunty Palma in the photo with you grandmother? Gosh you have the same eyes! Look forward to your next post.

    • Hi Silvana! Yes, we are very lucky. The eggs in the sauce are a bit different, but it works! Nobody has ever said about me looking like Aunty Palma, but I can see it now. Thanks for the support. Laura xo

Leave a Reply