Gnocchi

Even wait staff in the best Italian restaurants in the States struggle to pronounce gnocchi correctly!  You may hear “no-key” or “ghh-no-key”. . . but it’s very rare for a wait person to say is like this, “nyo-key” but where it rhymes with “chalky”.  Okay, now, try saying it out loud to yourself!

With Fall in the air and Winter on the way, gnocchi is a great Italian primo that will “stick to your ribs”. Marco made “roast chicken with truffle gnocchi, sage butter and cavolo nero”  from a recipe book, “500 tapas” by Christine Watson.  He improvised with some truffle butter that we had brought home from Piemonte this summer.

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This past summer, we spent a couple of days in the region of Piemonte.  It is where Ascheri winery is located (from the blog post titled, Local Wine). I would love to be there in the Fall for its rolling hills dappled with vineyards and olive trees, the harvest time of grapes and olives, and, mostly for the harvest of the tartufo, or truffle, and the ensuing festivals that take place to honor this fabulous fungus.

Tartufo is a culinary delicacy that flavors food with a rich earthy tastes and aromas that are hard to describe but unforgettable once tasted.  They are expensive due to their rarity.  They grow in few environments, are “hunted” with the help of trained pigs or dogs, and are harvested carefully to maintain the unique underground soil conditions necessary for future plants.

I’ll share how he made the gnocchi and you can use that base for any sauce.  It is great with a pesto sauce or bolognese!

First, bake 4  floury potatoes (such as russet).

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Then, send the potatoes through a potato masher.  If you don’t have one, they can be mashed in a large mixing bowl.

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Next, make a well in the center of the potatoes and add 1/2 cup of Italian “00” (or all-purpose) flour, 1/4 tsp. salt, and 2 1/2 tsp. finely grated Parmesan cheese.

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Stir in 1 egg yolk.

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With clean, floured hands, press the mixture together to form a dough, adding a little more flour if the mixture is too wet.

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Roll into long log(s).

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Cut into 1 inch lengths, press down the tops with a fork, and press the sides to resemble pillows.

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Now, you’re ready to make the sauce! When it comes time to boil the gnocchi, bring a pot of salted water to a boil and poach the gnocchi for 1-2 minutes or until they rise to the surface. Then, drain and add to your sauce.

Buon Appetito!

 

Quick Home Pizza

One of my favorite meals in Italy is pizza!  It’s hard to describe what makes it so good. . . but much of my impression has to do with food principles that I share in this blog.  It is simple, quality ingredients and not too much of them.  So, the pizza crust is great tasting, but very thin.  The tomato sauce is flavorful, but sparingly used.  Mozzarella and all the other toppings are placed on the pizza without any one ingredient overwhelming the rest.  It also helps that it is made in wood-fired brick ovens!

We don’t even try and replicate the pizza in Italy.  (The only home-cooked pizza I’ve had that rivals this is from our friends in New Hampshire who built a wood-fired brick oven in their backyard and are great cooks!) Instead, we found a simple recipe for a pizza crust in the manual that came with our KitchenAid mixer many years ago.  We’ve tweaked it some and have discovered the best pan to make a nice crust on the bottom and have fun with toppings.  And, aside from the 1 hour of dough rising. . . the pizza dough really takes 5 minutes or less!!

Ingredients:

  1. 1 package active dry yeast
  2. 1 cup warm water (I just get the tap as hot as possible)
  3. 2 t. salt
  4. 2 t. olive oil
  5. 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

First, I warm up the mixing bowl by letting warm water sit in it.  While the bowl warms, I mix the yeast in a cup of warm water.  Once the yeast dissolves , pour it in the warmed-up bowl.  Then, add the salt, olive oil, and flour. Next, use the dough hook attachment of the mixer and knead on number two until it is a well-formed ball.

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If the dough isn’t made into a well-formed ball, you can sprinkle some flour on the table and knead by hand a few times till it looks like this:

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Next, place the dough in a bowl with a little olive oil, cover with a towel, and let it rise for about 1 hour.

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For toppings, our favorite is zucchini that we sauté with shallots in olive oil.  We always use fresh whole milk mozzarella that sits in water.

We use a metal pizza pan with holes in it.  We find it is the best at allowing the heat to brown the crust.

Bake at 450 for 20 minutes.

Here’s a photo of the pizza before placing in the oven:

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I forgot to take a photo of the finished product. . . but here is another one topped with bacon!

 

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Enjoy playing with your own toppings!!!

Sunday Dinner/Pranzo

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I grew up in the 70’s. In our family, we ate a big meal at lunch time every Sunday and it was called “dinner”. It was a sit-down affair with the family in the formal dining room. We often had guests, but even if we didn’t, it was eight of us around the table. We first went to church in the morning, (my father being the minister. . . ) and then came home to eat our large meal at lunch time. . . (remind me to ask my mother how she prepared this while being at church).

I first experienced a Sunday pranzo of Italy in the Fall of 1997 when I visited Marco for a two-week stay. This was October, three months after we first met in Sweden, fell in love, and decided to spend our lives together. Marco wasn’t yet out to his parents and did the radical thing of getting his own apartment where we could stay together (Italians live with their parents until marrying)! This was my chance to “check out” his family and friends.

We had an amazing two weeks together, reaffirming what we already knew. . . that we were anime gemelle (soul twins) eager to rid ourselves of the 3500 miles that separated us from Boston to Cremona. I loved his family, enjoyed his friends, and embraced our daily lives under the same roof. Marco even gave me a special gift on our three-month anniversary. We were in Venice. We ate dinner together. After the meal he took out a cigarette (a smoker since the age of 13), lit it and said, “my anniversary gift to you is that this is my last cigarette ever!” And it was!

Sunday came and it meant pranzo at Marco’s family home. He and I stopped along the way to get an aperitivo. This meant a Prosecco and some stuzzichini (bar snacks). Once at the family table, the home-cooked meal began with a pasta course followed by a meat course with side dishes (contorni), then fruit. We ate a home-baked dessert. Italian meals finish with caffè (always espresso coffee). The last offering was a digestivo (digestive) of lemoncello.

Back to America. . .I don’t think we were the only family that had the Sunday dinner of my childhood. I think it was a common practice for families of that era to join in a big meal on Sunday afternoon. Today, there are many factors that challenge that tradition, not the least being the children’s sports schedules that have encroached upon this time. It also seems that Brunch is a more popular Sunday event for today’s families.

With Fall and Winter coming, Marco and I renew one of our favorite Sunday traditions. We spend the morning preparing a meal, and then sit and enjoy it as a family or with friends. Marco and Matteo give me a hard time because I often call this, Sunday “dinner”. They haven’t experienced the tradition of Sunday “dinners” and prefer to say “lunch”!

Pranzo is alway lunch. It is the meal in the middle of the day, and, in Italian culture, has traditionally been the largest meal of the day. So, for many Italians in Italy. . . a Sunday meal at the 12:30 hour is likely a large meal akin to my childhood Sunday “dinners”.

This past Sunday, we had a friend for dinner/pranzo. Marco was in charge of the home-made pasta. He then used some dried porcini mushrooms that Matteo brought back from the Italian Alpes to make a porcini sauce. Marco also made a first ever peach bread pudding. I was in charge of the roast chicken, a side of haricots verts, and a baguette from our local bakery. Our friend brought a nice red wine to accompany the feast.

Here is how Marco made the pasta (it’s a standard recipe but he is follows the one in the Williams-Sonoma Complete Pasta Cookbook):

Ingredients:

  1. 2 cups (10 oz/315 g) semolina flour
  2. 1 cup (5 oz/155g) unbleached all-purpose (plain) flour, plus more for dusting
  3. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  4. 3 eggs at room temperature
  5. 3 tablespoons water

Steps:

  1. Gather all the ingredients in the food processor and pulse to mix.

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2.  Scrape sides and pulse several times until the dough forms a ball.

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3.  You may need to dust a surface and knead to make sure it is a smooth and silky texture.  Then cover and let rest for one hour before cutting into 4 pieces.

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4.  Crank each piece into the pasta machine a few times, reducing the setting until you reach the desired thickness.

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5.  In this case, Marco uses the tagliatelle setting.

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6.  If you don’t have the fancy pasta drier, simple spread out the noodles with a bit of flour to dry.

 

7.  When it comes time to cook the fresh pasta, remember that it doesn’t take as long as dried pasta.  These took about 4-5 minutes.  Experiment with times and taste them to make sure of al dente texture.

I realize that we only showed you how to make the fresh pasta.  In a future blog I will include the porcini sauce recipe!  In addition, it will probably be helpful to place a video of the pasta making in a future post!

A Picnic with a View

Fourteen years ago Marco and I went to France for our honeymoon. We spent one week in Paris and another week driving through the country-side South of Paris, enjoying the small towns, and picnicking in the castle lawns of the Loire Valley. And, as you can imagine, we ate our share of baguettes!

A baguette sandwich on the Champs Elysees

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What simple pleasures. . . a baguette, a little something to put on top, a piece of fruit, chocolate, and, of course, some red wine! In Paris, we went to a boulangerie to buy a baguette sandwich – – simply a buttered baguette with slices of chicken. In the country-side, we  improvised with local cheeses and whatever else caught our eyes at the local market.

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Of course, this delightful dejeuner (lunch) is nice in a Parisian park or a castle courtyard; beautiful meal spots spent with loved ones, enjoying the company, the sights and the tastes. But, why wait till we go to Paris or the Loire valley? Why not find beautiful spots in our local community? We all have them, don’t we?

Last weekend, Marco and I celebrated our 14th wedding anniversary. In addition to reminiscing about the wedding day and watching our video I remembered our honeymoon (Luna di Miele in Italian) picnics. I also recalled a blog that I follow by Donna Seger called Streets of Salem (streetsofsalem.com) where she shared about a local park. She wrote about the Coolidge Reservation located in Manchester-By-The-Sea, Massachusetts, in her September 16, 2013 blog post titled, “Views, but no Rooms”.

So, Marco, Matteo and I put our simple picnic lunch together and drove 12 miles up the coast to the Coolidge Reservation. It is owned by The Trustees of the Reservations and has a 1 mile trail leading through its 66 acres. Thomas Jefferson Coolidge, a great-grandson of Thomas Jefferson owned the land and built a “Marble Palace” where Presidents and other dignitaries once visited.  After World War II a smaller building was constructed, but all that remains of the buildings is an outline of the foundation(see http://streetsofsalem.com/2013/09/16/views-but-no-rooms/ for more detail).

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We enjoyed our walk through the pine trees, past the salt marsh, to the “Ocean Lawn” with spectacular views of the ocean and Cape Ann coast. After scouting our shaded picnic spot, we enjoyed our food, the smells of sea salt, ocean views, and the quiet of waves rolling over rocky coast. It was a nice escape from our bustling downtown home!

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View from Coolidge Reservation

View from Coolidge Reservation