La Colomba – Buona Pasqua a Tutti

It’s Easter morning, and our social media is filled with pictures that our Italian family and friends have posted of their Pasqua spread: the sweet and savory Easter breakfast that Stefano’s mother makes, the delicious Neapolitan ricotta and cooked grain cake called la pastiera, lasagne, lamb, and egg-based savory dishes like torta pasqualina which is often served as picnic food on Easter Monday.

This year, we’ve added to our repertoire of Easter baking with the classic colomba, which means dove in Italian.  This fragrant, yeasty cake is like the panettone and pandoro served at Christmas, but is baked in the form of a dove.  With candied orange peel inside and a sweet, almond-sugar glaze on top, la colomba is a delicate Easter dessert.

La colombaThere are varying versions of recipes for la colomba.  Some follow the traditional method of multiple kneading and risings over a 24 hour window.  Others have found ways to expedite the process.  After a bit of research, we settled on this version from the Italian website Misya.  It takes an entire day from morning til evening, but the down time over the course of four cycles of kneading and rising allows plenty of time to prepare the rest of your Easter offerings.

Paper dove-shaped baking molds are used to achieve the traditional shape of la colomba.  Plan ahead, as these can be a bit tricky to find.  This recipe is enough for a 1 kilogram mold, or two molds of 500 grams each.  We found ours at Fante’s Kitchen Wares Shop.

La Colomba

Ingredients
For the dough
500 g (4 cups) flour  *If you can find Italian 00 flour, use it.
100 ml water
20 g (approx. 7 tsp) active dry yeast
200 g (14 Tbsp) unsalted butter
170 g (3/4 cups) sugar
5 egg yolks
30 ml (approx. 2 Tbsp) whole milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
The zest of one lemon
The zest of one orange
A pinch of salt
50 g (1/3 cup) candied orange peel (to make your own, see here)

For the glaze
2 egg whites
50 g (1/3 cup) sugar
Pearl sugar or decorators’ sugar
Raw almonds

La ColombaDirections
Stage One
Dissolve the yeast in 100 ml warm water. Stir until it becomes a thick paste.  Add 150 g (1 and 1/2 cups) of the flour, and stir together until the flour is absorbed.  Use your hands to shape the dough into a smooth ball. Place the dough into a bowl of warm water, cover, and let rest for 30 minutes.  Upon return, the dough will double in size and be floating.

Stage Two
While the dough is bathing in water, prepare for the second stage.  In a large bowl, mix together the remaining 350 g (3 and 1/2 cups) of flour, the sugar, egg yolks, 100 g (7 Tbsp) of the butter, salt, vanilla, and the lemon and orange zest.  Slowly add up to 30 ml (2 Tbsp) milk to bring the mixture together.  Take the ball of dough out of the tub of water, shake the excess water off, and add it to the mixture.  Mix the doughs together.  Turn the new dough over onto a floured work surface, and knead it gently until smooth.  The dough will be a bit sticky.  Return to a bowl, cover and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.

Stage Three
Uncover the dough and add 50 g (3 and 1/2 Tbsp) soft butter.  Place the dough into a mixing bowl and mix on low speed with a dough attachment for 10 minutes.  Or, knead by hand.  Return the dough to the bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place for 4 hours.

Stage Four
Uncover the dough, which will have doubled in size.  Add the remaining 50 g (3 and 1/2 Tbsp) of soft butter and the candied orange peel.  Mix for 15 minutes on low speed with the dough attachment, or knead by hand. Turn the dough out into the dove mold(s), using your hands to spread it to the borders of the mold.  Leave the dough in a warm place to rise for 2 to 3 hours more, until it reaches the top edges of the mold.

Stage Five
Preheat the oven to 190o C (375oF). Prepare the glaze by beating the egg whites with the regular sugar until it becomes a frothy mixture. Brush the glaze abundantly over the surface of the dough. Arrange almonds over the entire surface area, and finish with a generous sprinkling of pearl sugar.  Bake at 190o C (375oF) for 10 minutes.  Then, turn the oven down to 100o C (350oF) and bake for 30 more minutes.

Let cool, and enjoy.

Posted in Desserts and Baked Goods, Holiday Recipes, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged | 2 Comments

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Blood Orange, Bufala and Pomegranate Salad

Everything you see, said Sophia Loren, I owe to spaghetti.

Sophia Loren

Beata lei.  Lucky her.  The carbohydrate load of a heaping plate of pasta asciutta doesn’t do quite as much for the rest of our curves.  Every once in a while, especially as the spring arrives and we shed our layers of clothing and begin to think of summer, a salad is called for.This post really wasn’t supposed to be.  We were supposed to be writing right now about Tagliatelle al tartufo.  Except that yesterday evening, Rocky, our new 18-month-old adoptee Great Dane, ate all of Stefano’s hand-made tagliatelle as they lay spread out on the kitchen counter waiting to be tossed into a pot of boiling water.

Rocky1Thus, the salad post.  It’s actually a well-times recipe.  The late winter blood oranges are still around.  The salad’s bright colors and freshness invokes the spring months that are just around the corner.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Ingredients
Mixed greens
Red and green endive
Toasted bread
Blood oranges
Mozzarella di bufala
Pomegranate
Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

Directions
Cut slices of rustic bread into cubes.  Toast in the oven until one side is crispy and then turn them over and do the same to the other side.  Let cool.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoChop the endive and place it along with the mixed greens a large salad bowl, or on individual serving plates.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoInsalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoPeel and section the blood oranges, paying attention to eliminate as much as the pith as possible.  Add them to the greens.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

Toss the toasted bread on top.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoDeseed the pomegranate and sprinkle the seeds onto the salad.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranatoDrizzle olive oil, sprinkle salt and grind black pepper on top.  Toss, and enjoy.

Insalata alle arance rosse, bufala e melogranato

 

 

Posted in Recipes and Wine Pairings, Vegetables and Salads | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Dolci di Carnevale; le castagnole e le frappe

It’s Carnevale!  This period of indulgence and carousal is one of the most festive and loved of Italian holidays.

The start and end of Carnevale varies from nation to nation, but in Italy, the birthplace of Carnevale, festivities begin in early February and culminate during the week between Martedì grasso (Mardi Gras in French, Fat Tuesday in English) and the Christian holiday of Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of Lent.  Grasso, gras, Fat: all refer to the rich and plenteous foods eaten during those days leading up to Lent, when the gluttony and revelry of Carnevale must be replaced by penance and austerity.

In Italy, Carnevale is celebrated with parades, masquerade balls, entertainment, music, and parties.  Mischief and pranks are all part of the fun. As a child, Stefano remembers having great fun with sneezing powder, itching powder, and stink bombs, giving life to the saying A Carnevale Ogni Scherzo Vale.  Children dress up in costumes and make the rounds to parties and the homes of friends and relatives, collecting sweets at each stop.

Our nephew, dressed up for Carnevale

Our nephew, dressed up for Carnevale

Carnevale is not just for children, though.  Celebrations are held across Italy, the most famous held in the Tuscan sea-side town of Viareggio with its promenade of paper-mache floats known as the Passeggiata a mare; in Ivrea, home to the annual battaglia delle arance (Battle of the Oranges); and of course, Venezia, where over three million visitors per year wander the city’s waterways, many sporting elegant and mysterious leather, glass and porcelain masks.

Venezia - Carnevale 2012In households across Italy, people indulge in frappe, castagnole, and other homemade treats unique to Carnevale.  Made of a simple dough, fried to a golden color in hot oil, and sprinkled with powdered sugar, these fritters are the epitome of Carnevale.

Castagnole
Castagnola means “chestnut,” and  in fact, castagnole bear resemblance to chestnuts, before the shed their shell.  They are also similar to what in American culture are known as donut holes.  They are usually dusted with powdered sugar, or alternatively with regular sugar, or covered in a sugar glaze.

CastagnoleIngredients
200 g (2 and 1/2 cups) flour
16g (1 Tbs.)  Pane degli Angeli, or use baking powder instead
50 g (1/4 cup) sugar
pinch of salt
3 eggs
40g (1 and 1/2 Tbs.) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
zest of one lemon
Frying oil (peanut, canola, etc.)

Directions
Cream together the butter and sugar with an electric mixture.  Add the eggs one at a time, and mix well.  Stir in the lemon zest.  In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, Pane degli Angeli (or baking powder) and salt.  Slowly incorporate the dry ingredients into the butter/sugar/mixture.  Mix until the dough comes together into a soft, sticky ball.  If you need to add more flour, do so, but take care to not overdo.

Sprinke flour onto a large cutting board or other smooth work surface.  Take a small section of dough and use your hands to roll it into a long cylindrical tube about 2 cm (just under an inch) thick.  Cut small nibs of dough and use your hands to roll them into small balls.  Repeat with the rest of the dough.  castagnole Heat the oil in a deep pan.  Test that it is hot enough by tossing a small piece of scrap dough into it.  The oil should sizzle and small bubbles should form around the edges of the dough.

Place as many balls of dough as fit into the hot oil.  They will float to the top, so once the underside is golden brown, use a utensil to turn them over.  When both sides are cooked, remove them with a slotted spoon and place them to cool onto paper towels.

castagnoleOnce all of the castagnole are cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate and using a metal strainer to achieve an even coating, dust with powdered sugar.  They are best enjoyed warm, but castagnole will keep for a day or two in an airtight container.

Frappe
Frappe are light, thin strips of deep-fried dough.  Sometimes the dough is tied in a knot before frying, in which case they are called chiacchere.  In all cases, the fritters are enjoyed sprinkled with powdered sugar.

frappeIngredients
250 g (2 and 3/4 cups) flour
3 g (3/4 tsp.)  Pane degli Angeli, or use baking powder instead
35 g (1/8 cup, heaping) sugar
a pinch of salt
2 eggs
15 g (1 and 1/2 Tbs.) butter
1 tsp. vanilla
12 ml (1 Tbs.) Grappa or other liquor such as brandy or rum
Frying oil (peanut, canola, etc.)

Directions
Mix together the flour, Pane degli Angeli (or baking powder, if you are using that instead), sugar and salt.  Cube the butter and add it to the dry ingredients, along with the two eggs and vanilla.  Mix by hand, or with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, until the dough becomes smooth and elastic.  The dough will be dry and will require approximately 10 minutes of kneading to come together.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest in a cool place or in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

If you have a pasta machine, you can use it to press the dough into thin strips.  If not, you can roll the dough out.  If you are using a pasta machine, cut off a small section of the dough, flatten it out between your hands, and pass it though the widest opening possible.  Then, close the gap a notch or two, and pass the dough through again.  Repeat this process until you have passed the dough through the machine’s smallest opening.

frappeIf you roll the dough out with a rolling pin, do so with a section of dough at a time, rolling until the dough is just a few millimeters (just under 1/6th inch) thick.  The thinner the dough, the lighter and flakier the frappe will be.

If you have one, use a fluted pastry wheel to cut the pressed dough into uniform strips.  They can be of any length and width you like.  We made ours about 2.5 cm (1 inch) wide by 15 cm (6 inches) long.

Heat the oil in a deep pan.  Test that it is hot enough by tossing a small piece of scrap dough into it.  The oil should sizzle and small bubbles should form around the edges of the dough.

Place the strips of dough into the hot oil.  You can fry several at once, depending on the capacity of your pot.  Be ready to turn them over as soon as one side becomes brown, and remove them from the oil once the second side is done.  They cook very fast!  Remove from oil and place onto paper towels to cool.

Once all of the frappe are cooked, arrange them onto a serving plate and using a metal strainer to achieve an even coating, dust with powdered sugar.

We hope you enjoy castagnole and frappe as much as Luca does!

Posted in Recipes and Wine Pairings, When You Visit Italy | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Carciofi alla romana

Few vegetables are as revered in Roman cuisine as the artichoke.  Late February marks the start of the artichoke season in Rome, and the lovely thistle vegetable makes its appearance in fruit and vegetable markets and on menus across the city.  The variety of artichoke found around Rome and throughout the region of Lazio is called the Romanesco, notable for it’s green and purple hues.  It is more tender than the artichokes we’ve been able to find here in the States, but we make due.

In Rome, artichokes are prepared in one of two ways: alla giudia, or Jewish-style; and alla romana, Roman-style.  In carciofi alla giudia, the artichoke is deep fried to a savory crispness.  Too cumbersome to do at home, carciofi alla giudia are on the menu of every Roman trattoria, especially those found in the historical Jewish ghetto neighborhood.

An easier recipe to prepare at home is carciofi alla romana.  In this recipe, the artichokes are cleaned, stuffed with a mixture of garlic, parsley, mint and breadcrumbs, and then braised in olive oil and water until tender.  Intended as a side dish, these roman-style artichokes steal the show every time.

Ingredients
4 globe artichokes
1 clove garlic
2 Tablespoons of flat leaf Italian parsley, chopped
2 Tablespoons of mint, chopped
1 lemon
50 g (1/4 cup) Bread crumbs
1 dl (1/2 cup) olive oil, plus a few tablespoons extra.
Salt

Carciofi alla romanaCarciofi alla romanaDirections
Clean the artichokes by removing the tough, outer leaves until you get to the tender part of the artichoke, notable by the soft yellow coloring at the base of each leaf.

Carciofi alla romanaSlice off the top 1/3 of the artichoke.

Carciofi alla romanaOpen up the artichoke and remove the choke, or the fuzzy white part.  Chop off the longest part of the stem, leaving about 5 cm (2 inches) of it.  Use a paring knife to clean the remaining stem by stripping away its outer layers.

Squeeze the juice of one lemon into a bowl of cold water (the lemon keeps the artichokes from turning brown), and let the artichokes bathe.

carciofi alla giudia In the meanwhile, chop the garlic, mint and parsley.  Mix the garlic and herbs together with the breadcrumbs and a pinch of salt.  Add just enough olive oil to form a paste.

Remove the artichokes from the water.  Using a small spoon, stuff the breadcrumb mixture into the center of each artichoke.

carciofi alla romanaSalt the outside of the artichokes.  Place each artichoke head down into a saucepan. Pour the olive oil over them, and let them cook for a few minutes over medium heat.  Add water until the artichoke bulbs are half-submerged.

Cover, and cook over medium heat for approximately 30 minutes.   Check them for tenderness by piercing them with a fork.  Allow them to cook a little longer if necessary.

carciofi alla romanaServe your carciofi alla romana with a little of the cooking liquid spooned over them.  A local wine, like Tenuta Pietra Porzia Regillo Frascati Superiore, pairs well with this regional artichoke dish without overpowering its nuanced flavors.

Carciofi alla romana

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Caldarroste

Ridiculously cold temperatures, such as those that are descending upon Minneapolis in the coming days, call for foods that warm your bones and your soul.

It’s so cold that you can toss a glass of water outdoors and it will freeze before reaching the ground.

It is so cold that there is ice on the inside of some of our windows.

It is so cold that the governor ordered all public schools closed for the safety of the children.

Here’s what weather.com predicts for tonight:

Temperatures 1.5.14

The big bold number is the actual temperature, and the “feels like” number represents the windchill factor.  The poor Befana; she is going to freeze her wart-covered nose off tonight.

We, on the other hand, have stocked up on groceries, made a giant pot of minestrone, started the (gas) fireplace, and have no plans to leave the house for the next 36 hours or so.  After dinner, we’ll sit down in the living room and enjoy some piping hot caldarroste, roasted chestnuts, with a bottle of red wine.

Prized across the Mediterranean basin, caldarroste are cold-weather street food at its best.  During winter months, caldarroste stands line the major shopping streets of Italian cities, luring residents and tourists alike with the warm, toasty aroma of the roasting chestnuts.  For a few Euros, you can walk away with a piece of butcher paper fashioned into cone-shaped container of chestnuts to keep you warm as you finish your outdoor stroll.

It’s simple to make roasted chestnuts, which we also call castagne, at home, too.  In Italy, Stefano grew up going to the woods of Monte Scalambra to gather chestnuts with his family.  They would peel away the prickly, outside layer, which had split open by the time the chestnut had fallen to the ground, and toss the nut into a basket.  Ten or twenty kilos later, they would load up their harvest and drive back to Rome.  Traditionally, chestnuts are roasted over an open fire in a large pan with holes in the bottom of it.  However, they can also be roasted in the oven.

Cara remembers eating castagne at Stefano’s mother and father’s house in the winter months in Rome.  Much more skilled at peeling chestnuts, not to mention checking for the occasional unsavory larva, Stefano’s father, Andrea, used to peel one for her, and then one for himself, ensuring that she got her fair share.

We enjoyed our castagne with a bottle of Tenuta San Guido Guidalberto, a little brother to the powerful Sassicaia wine.  A blend of Cabernet Savignon and Merlot, this wine can be enjoyed in its early stage.

Caldarroste

Directions

Soak your chestnuts in water for 2-3 hours before preparing them.

Preheat the oven to 205°C/400°F.

Drain the chestnuts.  Using a sharp knife, make a horizontal cut through the outer shell, slicing from one side to another of the rounded side of the chestnut.  Cover a baking tray with parchment paper, and arrange the chestnuts on top.  Roast in the oven until the chestnuts swell and open up, and the meat of the nut is golden brown and slightly charred.

Remove from the oven and let cool slightly.  Peel the outer shell off with your fingers, and enjoy with a glass of red wine.

Posted in Appetizers, Desserts and Baked Goods, Holiday Recipes, Recipes and Wine Pairings, When You Visit Italy | Tagged , , | 4 Comments

Il torrone

We added a new item to our repertoire of Italian holiday treats and baked good this year.  No, it’s not panettone.  We’re just not sure that we can do justice to that tall, leavened Milanese Christmas cake in our home kitchen.

This year, in addition to panpepato, salame al cioccolato and tozzetti, we made torrone, the classic ivory colored, honey flavored, nut filled bar of nougat that graces the Christmas candy and cookie trays of every Italian household this time of year.

Torrone

They say that torrone was first brought to Italy and the Mediterranean by Arab traders, but there are two versions of how it acquired it’s name.  Some maintain that torrone derives from the Latin torrere, which means to toast, in reference to the toasted nuts the candy contains.  Others cite the 1441 marriage of Bianca Maria Visconti, daughter of the Duke of Milan, to Francesco Sforza in the city of Cremona, Italy.  For that wedding, the city’s pastry chefs created a tower-like “torrone” to resemble Cremona’s bell tower.

In any case, today il torrone is synonymous to Christmas all across Italy.  It’s rarely made at home anymore, but artisanal torrone is still found in pastry shops and at holiday markets.  Torrone is also produced industrially by Italian companies like  Sperlari and Vergani,  both located in Cremona, home of the Festa di Torrone.  This year, the annual celebration of torrone drew 230,000 people to the town, where they purchased over 80 tons of torrone to bring home to their Christmas tables.

Festa-del-torrone

There are two varieties of torrone, morbido (soft) and friabile (hard).  We’re of two minds at the Due Spaghetti household; Stefano prefers crisp, hard-candy torrone, while Cara likes the soft type (who wants to loose a tooth, especially right at Christmas!).  The difference has to do with the amount of egg white you use and the temperature you to which you bring the sugar/water solution.  The recipe below is for torrone morbido.  We adapted it from a torrone recipe on one of our favorite Italian language bloggers, Anice & Cannella, who had in in her own right adapted it from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana.  That’s how recipes travel, right?

An few important notes before we begin:

  • Torrone requires edible wafer paper to keep the candy from sticking to everything it touches.  Wafer paper is not the same as sugar paper, which will not work for torrone.  Wafer paper can be found through online vendors, or at specialty cake-decorating stores.  For those of you following us locally, Lynn’s Cake and Candy Supplies in Fridley, MN carries it.
  • A candy thermometer is necessary.
  • A kitchen scale is useful, as it is the most precise way to measure ingredients.
  • You will need a double boiler (bain-marie) or two saucepans, one slightly larger than the other, which can improvise as one.

Ingredients
Nuts for Roasting
1 kg (2.2 lbs, about 7 cups) raw unsalted almonds
150 g (5 oz, just over 1 cup)  hazelnuts
150 g (5 oz, just over 1 cup) shelled pistachios*
*either raw unsalted or roasted, salted pistachios will work fine.

For the Sugar Syrup
100 g (3.5 oz or 5/12 cup) water
300 g (10.5 oz or 1 and 1/3 cup) sugar

For the Meringue
120 g (4 oz, or about 3 eggs’ worth) egg whites
300 g (10.5 oz or just over 3/4 cup) honey

Other
Zest of 3 oranges
1 tablespoon vanilla
2 sheets of wafer paper

Directions

Preheat your oven to 120° C, 250° F.  Line two baking trays with parchment paper, spread the nuts onto them, and toast for 15 minutes.  Allow the toasted nuts to cool.

il torrone

Measure the egg whites and honey, and set aside so that they are ready when you need them.  Prepare an electric hand-mixer so that it too is ready.

Place the sugar into a medium-sized saucepan.  Add the water without stirring, position the candy thermometer in the liquid, and place the saucepan on a burner over low heat.  Allow the sugar syrup to heat to 140° C, 285° F, still not stirring.

il torronePrepare the double boiler.  Add the egg whites and honey.  Place over medium  heat, and whip with the electric mixer until the mixture pulls away from the sides and forms a stiff meringue.  This will take approximately 30-35 minutes.  As you are whipping the egg whites, monitor the temperature of the sugar syrup.  It should reach temperature about about the same time that the egg whites firm up.  Don’t rush the sugar water by turning up the heat, and don’t let it rise above 140° C, 285° F.  Pull it off of the heat if you need to.

il torroneWhen each are ready, pour the sugar syrup to the meringue.  Add the vanilla, orange zest and roasted nuts, and mix together well with a wooden spoon to form a nougat.

il torrone

Cover a baking tray with wax paper or parchment paper, and place one sheet of wafer onto it.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the nougat onto the center of the wafer paper.  Spread the nougat evenly over the wafer paper, not quite reaching the edges.  Using your hands, pack the nougat together to create a smooth surface on the top and edges.  Clean and dry your hands.  Place the second sheet of wafer paper on top and carefully press down, taking care not to tear it.

Freeze the sheet of torrone for 30 minutes or longer so that it can more easily be cut into bars.  Using a very sharp, serrated knife, first cut away the edges all along the perimeter to create 4 smooth edges, and then cut into bars as long as wide as you desire.  We cut our sheet in half lengthwise, and then turned each half and again cut lengthwise into 5 cm.(2 inch) wide bars.

Keep your torrone refrigerated (we keep them in sealed freezer bags) until you are ready to serve.  Cut each bar into bite-sized pieces and enjoy.

Buon Natale!

il torrone

Posted in Desserts and Baked Goods, Holiday Recipes, Recipes and Wine Pairings | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Gnocchi al sugo di fagiano

We are, undisputedly, children of the ’80s.  3 decades ago, here in the States Cara wore leg warmers, jelly bracelets and Swatch watches, while a continent away in Rome Stefano sported Levi 501 jeans, Doc Martins, and a pried Charro button-down shirts with pearl buttons.  On opposite sides of the Pacific, we both listed to Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, and practiced the moonwalk across the living room floor with our younger siblings.

Stefano 80sIgnoring the fact that the 80s have made a fashion comeback and today’s teenagers are styling in big, round-rimmed glasses and high-tops, we recently joined the 40+ crowd at a Depeche Mode concert and spent more money than is reasonable to see Minneapolis native Prince live, in a small hometown venue.  It’s no surprise, then, that the 80s station is the official satellite radio station in Cara and Stefano’s Fiat 500.

Family in Fiat copyLuckily, Luca is still too young to complain about having to listen to mom’s music, so he and Cara were rocking out to Falco’s Rock Me Amadeus on the way to school last week.  Hilariously though, Luca was convinced that, instead of Amadeus, the lyrics were actually “hot potatoes.”

Try it: listen to the song, and insert “hot potatoes” whenever they say Amadeus.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…hot POTATOES.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…hot POTATOES.  Hot potatoes, hot POTATOES…oh oh, hot potatoes!

It was fitting, since hot potatoes have been a topic of discussion around our household recently.  We’ve been making gnocchi, for which the cooking method and temperature of potatoes is key.

Gnocchi al sugo di faggiano

Some argue that it is best to bake the potatoes, in order to keep the moisture level low.  We boil the potatoes whole, skin on, and then place them into a warm oven to dry out any water they may have absorbed.  If the potatoes are too wet, you will need to add extra flour to keep them from being too sticky, but the extra flour will overpower the delicate texture and flavor of the potato gnocchi.  Keeping them in the oven has the added benefit of keeping the potatoes hot, and as Giorgio Locatelli, restauranteur and author of one of our favorite English language Italian cookbooks, Made in Italy, maintains, if the potatoes become cold, your gnocchi will turn out gummy and chewy.

Unlike fashion trends, gnocchi are timeless.  In Rome back in the 80s, gnocchi-making was a special treat for Stefano, his brother Marco and his sister Debora.  After rolling out the dough and cutting it into small pieces, their mamma solicited the siblings’ help by asking them to push their index finger into each gnocco, thus creating the gnocchi’s characteristic indent.  Stefano, Marco and Debora raced each other to poke their finger into the soft cushions of potato dough, and later when it was time to eat the gnocchi they did so with gusto, drawing satisfaction from having participated in their production.

Before we begin, a word on pronunciation.  The “gn” sound in gnocchi can be difficult for anglophones to pronounce.  It is most similar to the [ɲ] sound in canyon, or the Spanish ñ in señor.  Let’s try it:  gnocchi.  For a more in-depth study of the pronunciation of the “gn” sound in Italian, check out Lucrezia’s YouTube audio/video lesson.

Ingredients
For the gnocchi
1.1 kilos (2.5 lbs) potatoes.*
2 eggs
250 grams (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour, use more or less as needed
Pinch of salt
*Use a high starch potato such as Russett, and choose potatoes that are uniform in size so they cook evenly.

For the sugo al fagiano (pheasant sauce)
The meat of one or two pheasants, cleaned, deboned and cut into pieces
Mirepoix (minced carrots, celery and onion
Dash of red pepper flakes
One large can (1 kg or 12 oz) of whole red tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

Directions
Wash your potatoes and leave them whole with the skin on.  Place them in a pot and cover them with cold water.  Place a lid on the pot and bring to a boil over high heat.  Turn the heat down and allow the potatoes to simmer for 45 minutes to one hour, until soft.  While the potatoes are boiling, preheat your oven to 110 °C/225°F.

When cooked, drain the potatoes, arrange them onto a baking sheet, and place into warm oven.  One potato at a time, remove from oven, peel it, and pass it through a food mill or a sieve.  If you have neither kitchen tool, you can mash the potato with a potato masher.

Gnocchi

You can place your potatoes into a large bowl, or directly onto a clean work surface.  Make a well in the middle of the potatoes, and add about 3/4 of the flour, the eggs, and a pinch of salt.

GnocchiGnocchi

Mix gently by hand just until the dough comes together, adding more flour only if you need to to keep it from being too sticky.  The dough will be very soft.

Gnocchi

Dust a clean work surface with flour.  Cut the dough into uniformed sized discs, and with your hands dusted with flour, roll it out into a long, cylindrical shape about the width of a cigar.  Using a sharp knife, cut the strip of dough into gnocchi sized to your preference.  Our gnocchi were about 2 cm (3/4 inch) long.

Gnocchiuniform GnocchiGnocchiGnocchi

If you have a gnocchi paddle, roll each gnocco onto it to create the characteristic ridges, or create the same effect gently a fork over each piece of dough, causing it to curl around itself.  Alternatively, you can use the finger-poke method that Stefano and his siblings used, and that our two boys now have fun with.

Gnocchi

Transfer the gnocchi onto a baking sheet dusted with flour, and repeat the above process with the rest of the dough.  Shake the gnocchi around on the baking tray from time to time and add more flour to keep them from sticking.

Gnocchi

Cook your gnocchi right away, or freeze them for future use.  If you choose to freeze them, place the entire baking tray of gnocchi in the freezer.  Once frozen, transfer the gnocchi into freezer bags.  Spread them back onto a baking tray or other smooth surface to thaw before cooking them.

We served our gnocchi with sugo al fagiano, a homemade red sauce with pheasant meat.  Sauté a mince of carrots, celery, onion and a dash of red pepper flakes in olive oil.  Add the pheasant meat, cleaned, deboned and cut into small pieces.  Brown the meat, then add a splash of dry white wine and allow it to cook off.  Add whole canned tomatoes, passing them through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds.  Simmer for an hour to an hour and a half, stirring occasionally, until the sauce was dense and a deep red color and the pheasant meat is tender.

Sugo al faggianoSugo al faggiano

To cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to a boil.  Toss in a handful of sea salt, and add the gnocchi.  The gnocchi are done when they rise to the surface of the water, which only takes a minute or so.  Lift them carefully out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon and into a serving bowl, dress with sauce, and serve hot with a dusting of Parmigiano Reggiano.

Gnocchi al sugo di faggianoGnocchi al sugo di faggiano

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