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 prized Charro button-down shirt 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.

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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.

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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.

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Fagiano con i funghi

We’re not hunters.  We don’t begrudge those who are.  We simply did not grow up hunting, and it really doesn’t fit into the urban lifestyle we live now.  Nonetheless, we’re quick to accept when a friend of acquaintance offers to share his hunt with us.

Stefano’s parents were among the many who left the countryside after WWII and came to the city, populating neighborhoods on the outskirts of the Rome and rebuilding lives in the big city.  Back in the small towns of Olevano Romano and Rocca Santo Stefano, though, life remained quite unchanged.  Stefano’s compare (a regional term that means ‘godfather’ and that loosely refers to close friends of one’s parents) and other friends and family members were regular hunters, and on occasion they would stop by with gifts of fowl and game.  Pheasant, fagiano in Italian, was an especially special treat.

Our pheasant came from Stefano’s boss, Guido, whose annual hunting trip to the plains of South Dakota yields 50 or 60 birds, a few of which he graciously gives to us.

This recipe was Stefano’s invention. He cut the pheasant into small pieces and cooked it over gas, allowing the juices of the mushrooms and cherry tomatoes give the lean meat both moisture and flavor.  It is a flavorful late fall dish, which we enjoyed with a glass of Valpolicella Ripasso from Villa Monteleone, a lovely winery we visited on our trip back to Italy this past summer.  This wine has enough body, heartiness and acidity to pair with this simple but flavorful dish.

 Ingredients
3 pheasants, cleaned
3 packages of baby bella mushrooms (8 oz. or 225 grams per package).
2 containers of cherry tomatoes (1 pt. or approx. 350 grams per package)
1 sprig of fresh rosemary
2 cloves of garlic
1 chicken bouillon cube
Olive oil
Dry red wine
Salt
Worchestershire sauce
Crushed red pepper

Directions
Chop the pheasant into small pieces, removing pieces of bone when you can.

Roughly chop the garlic and sauté it along with the crushed red pepper in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large fry pan over medium heat.  Add the pheasant to the pan and brown it on all sides.  Add the rosemary seeds, the bouillon cube about one glass of red wine, and a dash of Worchestershire sauce.  Salt to taste.  Let simmer uncovered until the wine cooks off.

In the meantime, chop the mushrooms, cutting the larger ones into quarters, the medium sized ones in half, and leaving small ones whole.  Halve about 2/3 of the cherry tomatoes, and leave the other 1/3 whole.

When the wine has evaporated, add the mushrooms and tomatoes to the pan, covering the pheasant.  Cover, and let it cook for 25-30 minutes until the juices from the mushrooms and tomatoes cook off.

Enjoy with a glass of full-bodied red wine, preferably with a fire in the hearth.