Gnocchi with Spinach and Basil Sauce

These tender, little Italian dumplings are best when homemade, and make a delightful alternative to pasta dishes. You can use fresh or canned tomatoes. Serves 6.

2 1/4 pounds potatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
Water or oil for mixing (optional)
Grated vegetarian or regular parmesan cheese, to serve (optional)
Basil leaves, to garnish

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 sticks of celery, finely chopped
1 1/4 pounds plum tomatoes, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
5 cups finely chopped spinach
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil or 3 tablespoons dried basil

1. Cook the potatoes in a pan of salted boiling water for 15 minutes, or until tender. Drain and press through a strainer. Stir in the tablespoon of basil and gradually add the flour. Mix to a soft dough, adding a little water or oil if the mixture is too stiff, or more flour if it is too wet.

2. Cool slightly, then knead the dough lightly until smooth. Divide into quarters and shape each portion into a roll, 16 inches long and 1 inch in diameter. Cut the dough into 3/4-inch pieces and press a fork lightly into each one to make a pattern. Place them on a floured surface and leave to dry for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Meanwhile, make the sauce. Heat the olive oil and saute the celery until soft. Add the tomatoes, tomato paste, and spinach, and cook, uncovered, over medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the basil and season to taste with salt and pepper; keep warm.

4. Cook the gnocchi, in batches, in boiling water for 2 to 3 minutes, or until they rise to the surface. Keep warm until they are all cooked. Top with the sauce and serve at once. Sprinkle with a little cheese, if desired, and garnish with basil leaves.

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