Gnocchi alla Bolognese

Before I met Marco and learned more about Italian tradition and culture, I thought that Italians were the most laid-back people. Don’t we all have the image of them riding comfortably on their Vespas with a little beep of the horn saying “Ciao” to passersby? Aren’t they the lovers of life that have the warm brown eyes and olive tan skin? Don’t they have the dramatic music that just makes you want to relax?

Now, don’t get me wrong. . . I think that all the above is true. Italians have a nice style of life, enjoy the best food and wine, and take life a little less frantically than we Americans. But, one thing I learned over the years that might seem contradictory, is that Italians follow a very structured routine in their daily, weekly and seasonal lives. They eat breakfast the same way and the same time. The lunch meal is such a structured routine that shops and businesses close down to honor the time. And, you can almost tell the time of the day by the times that people go out to stroll the downtown corso or walk to get a gelato. There are nights that one goes out with friends, nights that are traditional for couples, and Italians follow the seasonal festivities to a tee including the traditional meals!

Which brings me to gnocchi. Marco grew up in Cremona where it was traditional for everyone to have gnocchi on Friday. I asked his parents about this and they really weren’t sure why, but they said that the older generation still does this. They thought, perhaps, that it had to do with religion. Nevertheless, in other parts of Italy, Thursday is the day of gnocchi, Friday the day for fish, and Saturday is meat day. Regardless, you will find that Italy as a culture is pretty homogeneous and follows well-worn traditions of food and culture.

The gnocchi pictured above is simply a marriage of Marco’s homemade gnocchi (click here) and Adelina’s Bolognese recipe (click here) that I had left over in the freezer. It’s a wonderfully simple and body warming meal for these waning days of winter! Simply boil the gnocchi in water until the float to the surface, mix with the bolognese, shred some parmesan on top and serve!

Buon appetito!

 

Pollo alla pizzaiola

IMG_7391

The other day I spoke with my suocera about the tomato sauce recipe that I posted in the blog. She exclaimed, “but you forgot an ingredient!” She said to add 1 fresh leaf of basil per can of tomatoes. As I’ve said before, this adding of ingredients is not new. It’s taken 18 years to get the full list of ingredients for her sauces. . . and there are possibly more to come!

One of the amazing things about Italian cuisine is the history. When culinary historians reach back to some of the oldest written recipes in Italy, they discover that the current cooking method is very close, if not the same, to recipes from centuries ago! Families have been passing down the recipes from generation to generation (I’m sure even before the written record).

The best way to learn from an Italian cook is to be along-side watching, tasting, smelling, and taking it all in. Marco’s mother often says “quanto basta”  or “QB” when we ask how much. It means literally, “how much enough”. The translation is “just enough” but when we ask her again, “how much”, she says, “QB” again and again. She really means “to taste”. And for any experienced cook, to taste comes from years of cooking and experimenting. Thus the need cook with her, to watch and learn because she rarely follows a recipe.

The other possible explanation for this slow dribble of ingredients relates to an archetype of Italy. . . the Italian mother. The role of the Italian mother is to serve her family (at least according to the archetype). She sacrifices her wants and desires to make sure that her family is well fed and comforted.  So, perhaps she is just fulfilling her motherly role by slowly rolling out the ingredients over the years.

Nevertheless, once we have the base of the tomato sauce (with the new ingredient of the fresh basil), we can use the base for other quick and tasty meals. Here is one that we love. It’s really a stove top version of chicken parmesan. Be sure to have some nice ciabatta to sop up the sauce and perhaps serve with a simple green salad. This time, we served with a roasted broccoli.

Process:

  1. Lightly flour chicken fillets
  2. sauté in warmed olive oil
  3. turn after about 6 minutes or lightly browned
  4. salt and pepper the fillets
  5. spoon over the sauce and let simmer for 6 more minutes
  6. add slices of fresh mozzarella
  7. sprinkle oregano
  8. it is ready to serve, but feel free to turn off and reheat when ready to serve

IMG_7388

 

Enjoy!

IMG_7393

La Bella Figura

 

IMG_5192Italians can spot American tourists a mile away. . . we are the ones in the Khaki shorts and sneakers. Nowadays we might be the ones walking around in our pajamas, or at best, sweat pants! American fashion is relaxed, casual, and one might venture to say, we’ve become lazy in our attention to detail when dressing to go out.

I learned this the hard way. . . the way I’ve learned a lot about Italian culture. . . from my suocera (my mother-in-law). Just before Marco and I leave the house to head into the center of town, she looks us over, frowns, wrinkles her nose, and says, “you’re going into town like that!?”  And then she says, “che brutta figura!” (what a bad impression!). Italians love to appear in public dressed to impress! Even a trip to the grocery store becomes an occasion to dress.

This morning, we asked Marco’s mother about la bella figura and she shared a story that we’ve heard before. Enzo was working in the vegetable garden in the back yard. Then, he had to go to buy the bread for lunch but his clothes were dirty. Instead of changing into some clean clothes for the short walk to the bread store, he went out in his dirty clothes. Of course, this story includes the phrase “che brutta figura” peppered throughout!

At the times of the day when everyone heads out for the walk along the corso, it is clear to see that people put on their best for the promenade. Depending on ones age, la moda, the fashion, is followed. The older women are in their “Sunday best”, a blouse, skirt, dress shoes. The younger generation are in their most fashionable pair of Italian designer jeans.

The bella figura also carries over to one’s actions. People are polite and courteous to their neighbors and they carry themselves in public in a way that speaks well! One presents a nice face in public, without rudeness, vulgar language, or harm to others. How you dress and behave in public is a reflection on yourself and, perhaps even, your family!

We receive many fine review of our place, Due Colonne of Cremona, that we rent to tourists (click here to view). One of the themes in the reviews is about the warmth and beauty of the Italian people, especially when out on the evening strolls. People gather in small groups, chatting and catching up with each other. Children run through the piazza, chasing pigeons, and young lovers walk hand in hand. The “ciaos” are heard as friends and family greet one another, dressed in their finest, ready to enjoy the beautiful connections.

 

 

Adelina’s tomato sauce

IMG_6036

I’ve talked about the “Slow Food” movement in other posts. Basically, it’s a simple idea that food is best cooked from scratch, enjoyed with others, and that this contributes to good health. It had its origins in 1986 as a reaction to the first McDonald’s opening up near the Spanish steps in Rome. It also promotes local eating and sustainable foods. It follows, then, that “Slow Food” opposes the fast food industry, mass production of goods, and globalization.

While I am not a card-carrying Slow Food member, I do agree with the premise. I love being able to eat foods produced locally. Marco and I enjoy home cooking with fresh ingredients and now eat very little foods produced in a factory. And, while I benefit from the diverse foods that ship to my local store from all over the world, I do understand that buying locally is ideal.

Many of our friends comment on our day-to-day cooking and marvel at how we cook almost everything we eat from scratch, while maintaining busy work and school routines. Most of the times, this is easy. There are many meals that we cook that take anywhere from 20 minutes to a half of an hour. Some of our week night meals are simple comfort meals that very easy to make, but that could be bought off the shelf (See the blog on Cotoletta by clicking here). In the store, this could come from a large factory along with too much salt and other additives and preservatives. . . chicken tenders. It might be called chicken fingers in a fast food chain. But, at home, we make it from scratch in minutes and and it’s tasty to eat and called a cutlet.

I can’t believe that I’ve gone this long without sharing Adelina’s recipe for tomato sauce! This is something that does take an hour to make, but I make a large pot of it on the weekend, freeze it so that we can simply defrost, and enjoy. We serve it as is with penne, add a little heavy cream for a different taste and texture, or use it as a base for the vodka sauce (click here). We also use it in other recipes like pollo pizzaiola.

The sauce is simple (and without any additives or preservatives):

  1. sauté 12 shallots in olive oil in a large pot (olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan well)
  2. purée 4 cans of San Marzano whole peeled tomatoes (28 oz.) in the food processor – – I use ones that already have salt added, otherwise, you may want to add salt):

IMG_6735

3. Add a tablespoon of sugar and 4 leaves of fresh basil and let it build for 1 hour:

IMG_6063

Enjoy!