This week, Vincenzo and I hosted a cooking class at a beautiful local kitchen shop called Figue. The main dish that we created together with the group was a classic Tuscan sauce called Ragu Finto. This translates to "Fake Ragu" and is a poor man's sauce that is created with vegetables and herbs to mimic a rich meat ragu sauce.
The history of this dish goes back a time in Italy when noble families were the only ones who could afford to have meat in their sauces on a regular basis. The servants would make this poor man's dish for their own families in order to give the impression that they too were rich (in both food and spirit). Most families lived on fresh vegetables and herbs in season from their own gardens. Even today, these traditional dishes live on and are some of the most treasured recipes from Vincenzo's collection.
I'm including the recipe for Vincenzo's gnocchi (from his grandmother) along with the sauce, as this is how he traditionally serves this sauce. However, it is also delicious with a short pasta like rigatoni if you prefer pasta instead of gnocchi.
Have fun cooking. And, join us sometime in the Figue kitchen as we teach the traditions from Italy. We'd love to cook with you!
2 pounds medium russet potatoes, cleaned
1½ cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg
1 tsp. salt
In a large pot, boil the potatoes in salted water until tender to the fork (40-60 minutes).
When the potatoes are tender, take them off the heat and drain. When cool, peel the skins off the potatoes. Rice the potatoes with a hand potato ricer or potato mill and place into a large bowl. If you don’t have either of these, you can use a hand potato masher.
Add 1½ cups of flour, 1 tsp. of salt, and mix together with the egg.
Use your hands to mix together until it forms a dough ball (dough should be moist but not sticky).
Cut around 8 sections of the dough off and roll each section of the dough by hand (use flour if needed to keep from sticking) to make a long log that is no higher than about ½ inch (should be like the thickness of your thumb).
Cut ½-inch sections of the log with a knife to form small gnocchi dumplings. There are many other techniques for this, such as rolling the dumplings off a fork or a wooden tool that has ridges in it, but this was the simple way that Vincenzo’s grandmother always made them. They look like little square pillows.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add 2 tablespoons salt, then boil the gnocchi (around twenty dumplings at a time) for 4-5 minutes (when they float easily to the top of the pot, they are ready). Remove from the water with a slotted spoon and add to the pan with your sauce already warm.
Continue cooking until you have all of the batches of gnocchi boiled. If using pesto, add the pesto to your dish first and then add the gnocchi on top and gently stir.
Serve with your favorite tomato or pesto sauce.
Serves 6-8 people.
Ragù Finto (Tomato and Vegetable Herb Sauce)
Olive oil (4 tablespoons)
1 garlic clove
1 medium onion
4 celery stalks
2 sprigs of fresh or dried rosemary
2 tablespoons chopped fresh or dried parsley
½ cup white wine
2 tablespoons tomato paste
½ cup of water
Salt (to taste)
Fresh basil (5-6 leaves, chopped)
Olive oil for serving
Place the vegetables together into a food processor and chop until fine. In a medium saucepan, add 4 tablespoons of olive oil to pan and warm over medium heat. Next add the vegetable mixture and sauté for 5 minutes, then add the white wine and the chopped rosemary. When the wine has evaporated, add the tomato paste and simmer for 15-20 minutes.
Note: If you like a more tomato flavor, add one 14 ounce can of canned cherry tomatoes or 2 cups of fresh cherry tomatoes cut in half.
Add the basil and parsley just before serving. Serve with gnocchi with grated Parmesan cheese over the top and add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil.