Sunday, October 26, 2008
Cooking Class? On Gnocci.. an adventure
One of my favorite Italian foods is gnocchi, which I often order instead of pasta. Gnocchi is typically made from potatoes, which are essentially mashed, mixed with flour and rolled into little balls. These are cooked, just as pasta is, in boiling water.
I decided to make dinner for my Italian friends, in thanks for all the time and patience they invest, as I attempt to learn the language. I had found a recipe for squash gnocchi in the Sunset magazine I brought along from home, for the long flight overseas. It seemed simple enough.
Initially, my plans were to make an American meal, so that the Italians could see how we occasionally eat at home. Chili con carne always comes to mind. However, I was having trouble finding powdered chili as I know it, and the same goes for kidney beans. This coupled by the fact that Santina’s expressed fear of my cooking (or was it American food… I am not sure which)… led me to believe, that exploring Italian food (albeit, with an American twist) would be my best bet. I did communicate, that my cooking gnocchi would be an experiment, and that Santini and Bruno would be likened to the royal court tasters, who would let me know if the food would pass Italian standards or not. It is a little nerve-wracking to make an Italian dish for an Italian. I know Santina understood me, as I could make out her conversation to a friend who stopped by our table. It included the words sperimento (experiment), la regina (queen), and morto (I die). The pressure was on.
My gnocchi recipe did not call for potatoes at all. Rather, it used squash. So, off I went to find squash and the rest of the ingredients. I came home with la zucca granda (a large pumpkin). It was a huge challenge to cut it up. Either their pumpkins are really, really hard, or my knife was very, very, dull. Eventually I got it into smaller pieces, and cooking.
The ingredient list for my dish included squash, flour, salt, pepper, and nutmeg. One mixed all these ingredients together, then rolled out 3/4” logs of dough, and cut these into little 1/2” pieces. Simple, just like making cookies.
The guests arrived, wine-in-hand. I had everything organized. We were to have gnocchi with butter and freshly grated Parmesan cheese, cooked spinach, salad, and bread. I had been officially requested to keep the dinner light, as lunch is often the main meal here, for those who work in the business world, (as is the case with Andrea). Andreas is Santina’s and Bruno’s son who works for a bank.
I asked Santina to help me with the cooking of the gnocchi. I have only made gnocchi once before, and it was a total flop, as I overcooked the little potato dumplings, and we ended up having potato mush. So, together, she and I placed the gnocchi in the boiling water. The general idea is to let the gnocchi cook until they rise, then wait about 30 seconds more. Then, using a slotted spoon, you fish them out and commence to dine. This we did. I had melted butter ready and the fresh cheese. We sat to eat.
Everyone pretended the gnocchi were great… but I knew better. Of course, the wine helped. I found my gnocchi to be very heavy.. the Italian word is pesante. Now, I know my guests were being gracious. But we all ate dinner, and enjoyed each other’s company. It was the first time the Italian’s had ever had zucco gnocchi, and probably the last.
If I make the dish again, I will add more seasoning, and an egg. A little latent research into other le ricette (recipes), indicated that eggs are often used. This would help a little I think with lightening up the load.
Two gnocchi attempts.. two failures. I will get it eventually.
By the way, my gnocci would be considered the Il Primi Piatto (first dish). After that, one generally has la salata, (salad), il pane (bread) and then Il Secondo Piatto (the main meat dish). If you are still hungry, you can have I Dolci (sweets) for dessert. For our dessert? We had Coffee Crisp chocolate bars… a Canadian touch, thanks to my niece Tara who sent over a pack of my favorite chocolate bars. Thanks Tara.
Oh yes… there was no Morto! (I die!) The court testers made it through the evening.