A few years back, a young Julia Busuttil ventured to some place between the sea and rolling hills, near a small town called Orbetello. Here, on the Italian coast, her love for food was cemented. She learnt the art of selecting local produce and the pleasure in making and cooking pasta by hand. It was here, that “Ostro” was born, an online love letter to food filled her own recipes. Ostro is the Italian name for the southerly Medittereanean wind and the word also shares roots with the etymology of the name Australia. Much like her cooking, the name brings together her Maltese heritage, with her time in Italy and her home in Australia.
Julia says, “Growing up, food was, of course a means of sustenance, but—as is so often the case within migrant communities—for my family it was also a way of preserving memories and maintaining a connection to Malta, their home in the Mediterranean before they immigrated to Australia.”
Julia’s cooking is about simple, fresh ingredients, using your hands and savouring the details—and this recipe is the perfect way to experience all of that. Her debut cookbook, “Ostro,” will take you through the seasons with sweet and savoury, warmth and heart.
Ostro’s Potato Gnocchi served in a Sarah Schembri bowl courtesy of Craft. Photo by Beth Wilkinson for Lindsay.
Julia Busuttil Nishimura, “Ostro”
I really struggle going without tomatoes during winter. When I taste that first summer fruit, however, I’m reminded that the wait is definitely worth it. Thankfully, I have this easy, comforting sauce that provides me with my winter tomato hit without having to sacrifice flavour. Of course, you can make this all year round, but I especially like it with winter-friendly potato gnocchi—a simple meal of simple ingredients when comfort is required. is sauce is also great to use on pizza, spooned over the bases then topped with mozzarella and basil before cooking.
It takes a little practice to master gnocchi – it’s all about the feel of the dough and choosing the right potato for the job. You need a waxy yellow potato—I find white-fleshed floury potatoes not at all suitable for making gnocchi.
60 ml (¼ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 dried chilli, crumbled
680 g tomato passata
1 × 400 g can good-quality whole peeled tomatoes (such as San Marzano)
1 fresh bay leaf
small handful of basil leaves
1 marjoram sprig
grated pecorino or parmesan, to serve
750 g yellow-fleshed waxy potatoes, well scrubbed
150–250 g tipo 00 flour, plus extra for dusting
Serves: 4—6 / Skill level: Intermediate / Vegetarian
1. Warm the olive oil in a large heavy-based saucepan over a low
2. Add the onion, garlic, chilli and a pinch of salt and cook for 15–20 minutes until very soft and fragrant.
3. Add the passata, canned tomatoes and herbs and simmer over a low to medium heat for about 45 minutes until thick and rich, pressing the tomatoes against the pan with the back of a wooden spoon to break them up during the cooking.
4. Season with salt and set aside.
1. Place the potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water.
2. Bring to the boil and cook for 20–25 minutes until tender. The cooking time will depend on the size of your potatoes. Try not to poke and prod the potatoes too often; the less water they draw in the better.
3. Drain the potatoes and leave to dry in the colander for 5 minutes.
4. Lightly flour your work surface and, when the potatoes are just cool enough to handle, pass them through a potato ricer directly onto the floured bench. If you don’t have a ricer, peel the potatoes and coarsely grate them. Leave the potato to cool down a little more—this makes it easier to work with your hands and also helps to remove as much moisture as possible.
5. Add the egg and a large pinch of salt and mix gently with your hands to combine.
6. Begin adding the flour, a little at a time, as you bring the dough together. Don’t overwork the dough, just mix it enough so it can be shaped. Add just enough flour for a nice, soft, workable dough. If you’re unsure about the quantity of flour, err on too little, then break o a small piece of dough and test in a pot of gently boiling water. As soon as the piece oats to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon and taste. It should be light and pillowy. If the dough disintegrates, add a little more our.
7. To shape the gnocchi, take about a quarter of the dough, and flatten it into a rough rectangle about 3cm thick. Cut into strips about 2cm wide and, working with one strip at a time, roll into long sausage shapes, about 1.5cm in diameter.
8. Repeat with the other strips of dough and then line them all up in rows and dust with a little our (this is so you can cut many gnocchi at once), all while working the dough as little as possible.
9. Cut the dough into 1.5 cm lengths to form the gnocchi. You can either leave the gnocchi as they are, or shape using a gnocchi board or the back of a fork to create ridges.
10. Transfer the gnocchi to a clean tea towel or board dusted with flour and repeat with the remaining dough.
1. When you’re ready to cook the gnocchi, return the sauce to the stove over a low heat. Keep at a gentle simmer.
2. Bring a large saucepan of generously salted water to a gentle boil. It is important that the water is not boiling rapidly as this will encourage the gnocchi to break in the water—a gentle simmer will suffice.
3. Cook the gnocchi in batches, otherwise the water will cool too quickly and the gnocchi will turn to mush. As soon as the gnocchi rise to the top, remove with a slotted spoon and stir through the sauce.
4. Serve the sauce-coated gnocchi on warmed plates, topped with extra spoonfuls of the tomato sauce and grated pecorino or parmesan.