Pasta Series #3: Gnocchetti sardi + pesto alla trapanese

There was a time in my life (not so long ago!) when making my own pasta seemed unnecessary, time-consuming, something that, as much as I liked to cook, wasn't really for me. After all, dry pasta had its merits, and besides, fresh pasta could easily be ordered at a trattoria, or picked up at the shop around the corner from my house, and for one reason or another, it wasn't anything I felt particularly compelled to make, even in all these years of blogging and living in Italy.

I am longer that person, my friends. 

Since delving in to the world of pasta a few months ago, I've arrived at the conclusion that pasta-making is bewitching, and fascinating, and I can't get enough of it (move aside, baking!) I find both the subject and process to be something I can only describe as magical, from start to finish: what begins as a bowl of flour and an egg or two transforms in to butter yellow, smooth-as-silk pasta dough, with just a little kneading and resting and nudging in the right direction; there is my brand new, shiny-silver pasta machine, which rolls and stretches the pasta (from 0-7!)  and deftly cuts it into delightful mounds of fettuccine-ribbons; there's the satisfaction of knowing that I'm capable of making my own sfoglia, and that I've learned a new skill that I can keep honing. The more I've researched my newfound hobby, the more I've learned about the many forms handmade pasta can take, something that has been reaffirmed by the oh-so-informative Pasta Grannies channel (do check it out) and a new friendship with Trastevere's own sfoglina (more on that soon). There are filled pastas, long pastas and short pastas, pastas made with rolling pins, or shaped on ridged boards or with stamps and little iron rods and something called a torchiothere's everything from the well-known tagliatelle and tagliolini to the less familiar curlugionis (stay tuned) and n'dunderi (idem), to name just a few of a vast sea of many. The shapes and types are endless, and all of them intriguing, with their own stories, traditions, and history. It's a complex subject with so much to learn, and I'm dying to know more. 

So! As you may remember from our previous pasta adventures (these ravioli, this lasagne) we used eggs and 00 flour in our pasta dough, which makes a pasta that is on the softer and richer side and cooks in just a few minutes time. This sort of pasta is more traditional in the North of Italy, for example Bologna where tortellini and tagliatelle are abundant. In the South of Italy, however, pasta made with just water and durum wheat flour (semola rimacinata di grano duro, more specifically) is more common. This pasta -- pasta di semola -- was invented by poorer Italians who couldn't afford to buy eggs to put in their pasta dough, and ever so resourceful, they managed to make something good from the little they had. The resulting pasta is sturdier than egg pasta, pleasantly chewy and humbly delicious, with a character all its own, and I positively adore it. 

Today's recipe is for pasta made just in this way, more specifically gnocchetti sardi, or little gnocchi from Sardinia, which also go by the name malloreddus. They look a lot like little seashells, and good looks aside, I find them spectacularly fun to make; the roll-and-flick motion used to form them makes one feel incredibly nonna-like, and there's nothing more gratifying than seeing a pile of them accumulate in to a flour-dusted heap on your pasta board as you roll. Here's a few I learned to make with the guidance of C.T and J.G (grazie):
These gnocchetti are traditionally served alla campidanese --with a sausage ragu' -- but now that the summer is here (yes, did I mention this?! Warm weather has FINALLY arrived here in Rome after a non-existent Spring!) I can attest that these are also delicious served with pesto alla trapanese, or pesto from Trapani in a Sardinia-meets-Sicily combination. A bowl of this -- happy, festively-ridged shells wrapped up in a pesto fragrant with basil and garlic with a little crunch from the almonds, topped with a few gratings of Pecorino -- is my new favorite dinner. Swoon. 

A couple of notes: When making this sort of pasta, the proportion is 2:1, so for example if you're using 200 grams of semolina flour, you will need to put about 100 grams of cold water. I put cup/tablespoon measurements below, but I recommend you use a kitchen scale when possible when making pasta. Note that the dough here should be quite stiff, not softer like your usual egg pasta dough. The brand of flour that I was advised to use (thanks C.T) and have had good results with is De Cecco. You can use this dough to make everything from orecchiette to strascinati to cavatelli pasta; to learn how to make these different shapes, the Pasta Grannies channel on YouTube is a great resource. I confirm that these gnocchetti freeze well; make lots of them and have pasta whenever you want. Finally, the little board used here to form the gnocchetti can most certainly be found on Amazon or I'd guess in most cooking shops. 

Want to know what recipes #1 and #2 are in the pasta series? I've got these ravioli fatti in casa and this lasagne ai carciofi. Looking for other pesto recipes? I've got this pistachio pesto, this sun-dried tomato pesto, this classic basil pesto, and this lemon, almond, and basil pesto.

Serves 4-6.

Ingredients for the gnocchi:
300 grams (about 1 3/4 cups) of semolina flour
150 grams (About 1/2 cup water + 2 tablespoons) or so of water

Ingredients for the pesto:
8 cherry tomatoes
About 1/2 cup (50 grams) of peeled almonds
1/2 cup (50 grams) of freshly grated Pecorino cheese
A bunch of basil
1 clove of garlic
Olive oil as needed
Salt and pepper 

Start with your pesto! To make your pesto, start by cutting an X in the bottom of each tomato. Blanch them for 1 minute in a pot of boiling water, then strain them and let them cool.  Remove the tomato skins and then squeeze the tomatoes to get rid of the seeds and any liquid inside.  Next, process the tomatoes, basil, almonds, garlic, and a bit of salt and pepper in a food processor, adding olive oil in through the feed as you go until the pesto is nice and smooth (you can eyeball the quantity of olive oil here -- I always do). Once the pesto is blended, place it in a bowl and stir in the Pecorino cheese, tasting for salt and pepper. Set aside. 
To make your gnocchetti: It is possible to make the dough with the food processor: place flour and water in the bowl fitted with the metal blades. Run at full speed until a scraggy mass is formed. Tip it out of the bowl and knead it into a dough. Cover it with an upturned bowl and leave it to rest for a little while. Otherwise, place the flour in a large bowl and pour in the water. Use your hands to get the dough to form a shaggy mass, and then turn it out on to a clean work surface or pasta board and knead it for 10 or so minutes, or until it is smooth and shiny. You can see how to knead the pasta here. The dough is anyways ready with you touch it with your finger and it springs back (note that the imprint of your finger will remain and that is fine). Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap, or place it under an overturned bowl, and let it rest for at least half an hour.
To make the gnocchetti sardi: cut off a piece of dough (keep the rest covered) and roll it out in to a long rope with your hands. Using a knife or a bench scraper if you have one, slice off little pieces of dough (about 1cm each) and then roll them on the ridged wooden board with your thumb, dragging them as you go and curling them over your thumb, and then releasing them. If the dough dries out a little and becomes difficult to roll out just wet your hand with a little cold water. You can see a video of how to do this here, if it helps! 
Cooking the gnocchetti in a pot of boiling salted water for anywhere from 10-15 minutes; to see if they're cooked, take one out and cut it in half to see if it is cooked throughout. Note that the pasta will still be chewy, but pleasantly so. Drain the gnocchetti and toss them with the pesto alla trapanese, sprinkle with a little extra basil and a little extra cheese if you would like, and dig in. 

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