The Legend of Gnocchi

Nonnas worldwide cried out in unison while I attempted to make gnocchi from scratch. The biggest disappoint probably  came from Anna Sartor whose recipe I tried to follow from the Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook.

fullsizeoutput_1de.jpeg

Don’t judge me Anna!

I know I revealed my hand early here, but when I started this blog I promised to tell the truth of my misfortune. I never ever claimed to even be a sous-chef let alone an expert cook, but I thought I could handle gnocchi. No one warned me. No wise elder came to me to say…

TakeThis

I hope Link knows how lucky he is

The good news is that after I failed to make gnocchi I did find that there is a tool that will make your life easier and even though it’s not Christmas yet, my wise elder of a mom has gifted me my master sword for Christmas so I can conquer the gnocchi monster and save Zelda.

That magical item by the way is called a potato ricer and trust me, you do not want to skimp on that. You’re going to need it.

The other stuff you’ll need is

  • 3 large potatoes (boiled with jackets on)
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup of spaghetti sauce
  • 2 tablespoons of grated cheese

Before we get into the nitty gritty, I need to defend my honor. This cookbook was written in a time where more people cooked on the regular and even my mother defended me and said that the ladies who wrote these recipes assumed people knew little details because at the time most people did know.

It’d be like if I told all of you how to boil pasta. Which, some people out there may not even know how to do that I realize. Which is partly why I make the joke to follow package instructions, but you never know what people know or don’t know.

The first step is to boil the potatoes before you peel them. This step is where I let myself down. There is no instruction of how long to boil and I  did not use my critical thinking skills which I’m famous for at my day job.

I forgot that potatoes take awhile to soften and used the ole put a vegetable in a pot of water, turn the stove setting to high, and once boiling remove.

That is not enough time for potatoes my friends.

So what do you do? You boil the potatoes for about 20 minutes or until they rise to the top of your pot. The chemistry of cooking is very important when making gnocchi so be sure to do the fork test to make sure 20 minutes was enough time.

If you don’t know what the fork test is, it’s just sticking a fork into the potato to make sure it’s tender, but don’t let the potato become mushy either.

Once the potato is done boiling, drain the water and allow them to cool and dry.

The next step is to peel the potatoes and them mash them in the potato ricer. As you do this it’s very important to keep an eye on how saturated the potatoes are. If they are too wet it can cause issues. Like I said earlier, chemistry is important when making gnocchi.

All of you already know I didn’t have the master sword when I made this, so what did I do? I peeled and diced the potatoes and then spent an hour trying to mash them with two wooden spatulas.

I do not recommend this method for making gnocchi, but I do recommend it as an alternative muscle building and toning exercise for your arms.

Hopefully you’re just breezing through with the potato ricer and are now ready to combine the flour with the potato. When these two ingredients are mixed, make a well for your egg and then beat the egg into the flour to eventually create your potato dough.

Use the kneading and rolling method to create a smooth voluminous dough ball.

We are now ready to pretend to be a kid again by making play-doh snakes. If you’ve never done that, all we are doing is taking a chunk of the dough and rolling it into a long, thin breadstick shape.

Once you have that shape, you then cut the dough into 1 inch pieces and make a little print on top with your fork.

By the way I didn’t get this far and was un-able to experience the joy of making potato snakes. My chemistry was bad and the potato was creating a glue like effect that made it near impossible to mix the dough. Nothing I tried could create the right consistency and I gave up.

This is why I’m harping on the whole chemistry thing. So please do pay attention if you want to succeed.

Once the gnocchi is created we can now boil. This is where you can use the whole put the stuff in the water, set to boil, and when it comes up to the top remove.

It looks like I did use some critical thinking, just not for the right item.

Once that happens, Anna then instructs you to serve like a casserole. This is not how I’ve eaten gnocchi but I could be misinterpreting her instructions. I’d just normally pour sauce on top and sprinkle some grated cheese. Which is what she says to do as well, but she also mentions layers which tells me this is being served more like lasagna.

I failed making the gnocchi so when I saw this casserole step I tried making my potato junk into a casserole. I did this by layering it up and then baking until the cheese on top melted a little. The end result is pictured below.

q0C8Q5o6RcWsfuu5eUORhA

The potato casserole experiment

It didn’t turn out bad, but it wasn’t good either.

My mother and my LA/cooking BFF have already expressed interest in making this with me. Neither have made gnocchi before, but are up for the challenge.  I’m surprised that my mother hasn’t. I think she left that task up to her older sister. Whoever becomes my champion will be featured in an update to this post. I will select retry and look forward to having some assistance. Stay tuned.

Screen Shot 2018-12-23 at 2.16.32 PM

Gamers always retry

Advertisements

Polenta Alpina aka Polenta of the Alps

For those of you who have never heard of polenta, it’s a cornmeal based dish that is similar to grits.

As a child I used to call it Italian mashed potatoes even though no potatoes are involved. I hadn’t experienced grits yet so it seemed logical to associate them with mashed taters.

This logic is understandable if you knew the way my mother prepared it. She would serve alongside shredded chicken and marina sauce. The sauce was my Italian mashed potato gravy which funny enough is what some Italian-Americans would call their marinara.

This version is more of a Northern Italian style and doesn’t call for any type of gravy, in fact the author Mrs. Catherine Vincenti from my hometown’s Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook instructs us to get “a large bowl of leaf lettuce salad with oil and vinegar dressing, a glass of wine, fresh fruits and cookies, and finish with a strong cup of coffee.”

I like Mrs. Vincenti, so far she’s put the best little hint of flair at the end of her recipe.

What you’ll need

  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 6 cups of water
  • 2 teaspoons of salt
  • 2 1/2 cups of shredded brick cheese
  • 1/2 pound of butter

Cooking the cornmeal is similar to cooking rice and pasta in the sense that you want to put it in a pot of boiling salted water. Once you do that, stir the cornmeal constantly for about a half hour,

You’ll know it’s ready when the corn meal has thickened and is easily scrapped off the side of the pan.

Once this happens you are ready to bake your polenta. This process is similar to lasagna because you will be layering up your cheese and polenta. The first layer is the polenta, then the cheese. Continue to do this until you reach the top where the final layer will be polenta along with some pepper seasoning.

Before you place that polenta in the oven, we have one more topping to add and that topping is butter my friends.

Get your butter and a pan, melt it, and then pour it on top.

Now we are ready to bake and we will do so for a half hour at a temperature of 325-350.

At the end of the day, I prefer my mother’s version of polenta. My Italian people come more from the southern portion of Italy. That doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the northerners style. My genes just gravitate towards red gravy and slightly spicy dishes.

This is still a good recipe and I had a lot of fun making it with my LA bestie who had never had polenta before. She loved this recipe and I was glad she did, but I still want her to try my mama’s.

The cheese strangely gives the polenta a slight bitter flavor which I’m not used to. My experience with polenta has more of a slightly grainy and sweet flavor that gets a pop of taste when you add the marina in the mix. I’ll still give it an Italian like, despite my preferences.

ekqwteKKRh2U87c1JPfRvA

Cheesy polenta from those northerners

 

Italianlike

Italian like

Mozzarella Lasagna

I may have mentioned this before, but I don’t like ricotta cheese. It is not appeasing to me. To me it’s dry cottage cheese with little flavor. I’m not a fan and I don’t understand why people like it.

As a result, I haven’t been a big fan of lasagna either. I was pleased to see that this recipe from my hometown cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town is anti ricotta.

After a light bask in my pleased feelings, I started to wonder. Since this recipe is from an Italian lady, does that mean ricotta in lasagna is not authentic to Italian recipes? After some quick searching, it appears that adding ricotta was an American thing to do.

All this time, I felt odd for not being a fan of ricotta in my lasagna. Maybe my Italian side was trying to tell me something.

What you’ll need

  • 1 pound of ground beef
  • 1 cup of chopped onion
  • 1 minced garlic clove
  • 2 cans of tomato paste
  • 2 cans of water
  • Mozzarella cheese
  • Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper
  • 8 X 8 X 2-inch baking pan

The first step is boiling the lasagna by preparing 8 quarts of water, 1/4 cup of salt, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

Side note. I have never heard of boiling pasta with olive oil before, but I imagine with thicker pasta it will more likely absorb the oil and add to the taste.

Boil the pasta for 15 minutes and strain the water when done.

Next, heat a skillet with 3 tablespoons of olive oil and add the ground beef as well as the remaining ingredients. You will simmer this meat sauce for about 35 minutes. Add additional water as needed when it cooks down.

Once the pasta and sauce are ready, you can start layering it up by placing a layer of sauce on the bottom, followed by a layer of pasta, and then a 1/4 of a cup of Parmesan.

Continue this layering until all the pasta has been used and then top this with the sauce, followed by the Parmesan.

Bake this at 350 for 30 minutes. Once those minutes are up remove from oven and top with strips of mozzarella. Cover this with foil as soon as it covered in cheese and then set it aside for 20 minutes.

The final result is quite satisfying.

I’m always shocked how good simple recipes can be. It’s such a pleasant surprise. These days, everything is being made with bells and whistles. Sometimes that turns out well, but it’s so common place now that I forget simple can be good.

That being said, I do think it would be fun to layer this up with even more types of cheese, but if you want to keep it simple, it will turn out well.

IMG_0163

Rice and Peas or as Italians say, Risi e Bisi

Risi e Bisi makes me think of AC/DC. I think I’ll add Risi/Bisi to my list of band names that will most likely never come into actual fruition. You kind of need musical ability to be in a band after all. I have some. I played the saxophone in school and all, but my guitar skills are abysmal. I could be a lead singer maybe. That might be my ticket to my band name dream into reality.

I’ll keep this band name dream alive and never do anything to actually reach it so my dreams won’t be crushed brutally like Bernie Sanders. This is the world we live in.

One dream you can reach is this dish, which is from Cecilia Antonini and Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook.

Cecilia is another woman from my town that I have no information on sadly. I did find it interesting that she uses leeks for this recipe. I had assumed leeks were a French thing. I ended up talking to my mother about it and she said, “Oh yeah, Italians like leeks too. It just fell to the wayside as a known Italian ingredient in America.”

Then she went on a rant about Trump and basically how he’s going to make things not so great again. My mother’s father was first generation American and that part of the family  went through a lot of discrimination because they were Italian.

When you grow up hearing about discrimination of your family in the past, it tends to make you sensitive to those who face it in the present.

Sadly, a lot of people forget that most immigrants were scrutinized and hated even if they came from Europe and were white.

I don’t want to get into politics, though. It hardly ever leads to a healthy discussion. Everyone wants their side to be right and the other to be dumb and wrong.

I declare peas for peace, starting now.

What you’ll need

  • 1/2 cup of minced leek or onion
  • 1/4 cup of minced parsley
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 cup of rice
  • 1 qt. boiling water
  • 1 qt. buttered peas, cooked and drained
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup of grated Parmesan cheese

The first step is to prepare your qt of boiling water. Next, saute the leeks or onion. I used a leek. Saute them with the parsley until it is golden brown. Add the rice after that and stir until it also browns, evenly. Now you add the boiling water, one cup at a time. Stir this mixture until the water is absorbed and the rice is at an al dente state.

The final steps are to add the buttered peas along with the salt and pepper. Stir this with the rice and serve with grated cheese and melted butter.

This dish was interesting, but I didn’t like it that much. It wasn’t bad, just so-so. From what I remember of eating it, the leeks and peas were the strongest in taste. I didn’t really put butter on it, which I think might have turned this dish from ok to good.

Despite my blasé feelings, I would like to try this again, because I think it would make an excellent side dish for a fish or chicken dish. I could see it being an interesting base for risotto as well.

Till next time I suppose.

 

They say Tortalacchi, You say Tortellini, I say Italian Sombreros

My latest recipe comes from my hometown’s cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town and is from an Italian lady named Antonia Tomei.

I sent out a facebook blast last time I wrote about these recipes, but the only person who responded was one girl and all she did was like my post and share it. I appreciated that, but I was hoping someone would have something to say because I enjoy history and getting to know tidbits about people.

I didn’t ask anyone this time around.

I thought about asking my mother again, but I feel like she doesn’t know most of these ladies either. I think her friend’s mother has a recipe in here and I will be asking my mom about her for sure. So don’t fret!

I know nothing about Mrs. Tomei and I had never heard of tortalacchi before. I know all about tortallini, but what is tortalacchi? I found some info from the Italian chain Maggiano’s though. If you are too lazy to read it, one factoid I’ll tell you is that Tortalacchi is a Roman dish.

Half of my Italian heritage is from a town about an hour and a half south of Rome. So I pretty much consider my Italian heritage half Roman and half Sicilian.

It shocked me that this being a Roman dish, was one I hadn’t heard of. Then I realized that tortalacchi is just a giant version of tortellini.  Tortellini soup was my chicken soup when I was sick as a kid.

I’m sure none of you guys care, but it made me feel better about my Italian heritage to figure this out.

Let’s move on to the recipe.

What you’ll need for the filling

  • 1 can of spinach, 15 oz
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups of grated cheese
  • 2 cups of cracker crumbs
  • 1 pt. milk

For the dough:

  • 4 cups of flour
  • 4 eggs

Your first step is to make the filling and to do so you will beat two eggs in a sauce pan and then add a little bit of cheese and crackers. Let me give you a tip about the crackers. I recommend putting them in a plastic ziplock bag and then go to town on them. This can be achieved by punching it, throwing it around your home, or even sitting on it. The possibilities are endless and it can be a cathartic experience.

When these items are mixed, you will gradually add in the milk until it starts to thicken up like cottage cheese. I forgot to mention that you’ll want the stove to be under a low setting while doing this. The next step is to add the spinach and more cheese and crackers until the filling is is thick enough to not water down your dough.

Speaking of the dough, that will be the next step! For the dough, you beat four eggs and then gradually add the flour and some water. Dough moistness has to be in the middle somewhere which is why you need to be careful about the water. It can’t be too dry or too wet. In other words, you want it to be a little damp.

Once the dough is mixed, roll it out until it is thick as a dime and then cut into 2 1/2 inch strips. Place filling one inch apart on the strip and then take a bare strip and place it on top. Cut those into squares and then fold two ends together to make a hat.

IMG_1693

I took some liberty on the whole “hat” thing

Once you’ve made all of your Italian sombreros, you will allow them to dry for two hours. The cookbook says to also place them on a wooden board. I’m not sure if that is necessary, but I wouldn’t question an old Italian lady. They are kind of scary and might hex you.

When the two hours are up, you treat your homemade tortalacchis like any other pasta by boiling them in boiling water.  Hopefully you know the drill on that.

Now you have some options as far as serving your sombreros. You can do what I did and pour those puppies with some marinara sauce or you can butter them up with melted butter and parm.

I love red sauces but this would be good with a butter sauce as well. So it’s really up to your personal preference. You could also get fancy and make a butternut sauce of some sort.

My experience was good except I had a whole lot of leftover filling. I ended up eating it as a spinach dip and it wasn’t too bad. If you do that though, you might as well add the dreaded artichokes to it and/or the appropriate cheese for such dip.

I did not add anything to it, but it was still good. Cream cheese and mozzarella probably would have made it better.

As far as the cooking process goes, this recipe was somewhat difficult and grueling. The filling is easy, it’s making the tortalacchi that can be time consuming and tiring.

Despite this, it is a rewarding experience and I recommend trying it for fun.

IMG_1695.JPG

Tortalacchi!

Spaghetti with Anchovy Sauce

I decided to try anchovies again. I must be insane.

This wonderful anchovy recipe is from Louisa Sasso and my town’s cookbook, aka Little Italy Festival Town Cookbook. Every year during Labor Day weekend my town has a festival. As I type, my old hometown classmates, friends, and family are celebrating our town’s heritage.

What this means for me is that Clinton, Indiana is trending on my Facebook. This is all fine and great, but unfortunately I just saw a picture from one of my friends that was upsetting to me.

Let me explain that my town’s festival has been going downhill for at least a decade. Before I was born, there were more Italian themed booths and stands that sold Italian food, but over the years, 75% of the festival has become fried festival food central. We still have a few great Italian food stands though. You can even play salami and cheese roulette!

Anyway, a new addition to the festival is a stand where you can buy flags. I mean that’s ok and all, but the flag this stand decided to showcase was a Confederate flag. Last time I checked, Italian immigrants were not a part of the Civil War and Indiana was a Union state. Apparently I must be having issues with my state of reality.

Now I have heard that for some people, the Confederate flag represents pride of southern culture or being down to earth country people. Ok, lets say you truly aren’t a racist bigot and just like the flag. Let me enlighten you that the Nazi swastika symbol has an origin that is actually peaceful and loving. It originates from India and means good fortune in Sanskrit. Knowing this, doesn’t change the fact that in our current culture, that symbol evokes feelings of terror and sadness.

The Confederate flag and The Civil War is peanuts comparatively but it’s still a symbol of sadness and terror for some people. Like, I don’t know, Black people come to mind. Of course, we all know they are just all angry, uptight, thugs, though. So, who cares how we affect them right?

I know this will piss off some people from my town, but seriously, why would you want to associate with something that isn’t really a part of your culture anyway?

I want to elaborate more on this subject and talk about these two guys in my high school who were dumber than a box of rocks and drove pickup trucks with Confederate flags on them. I will later, but I realize that this entry is already going far off course as it is.

I could afford some time to rant, because this was a quick and easy recipe. What you’ll need to make it is, spaghetti, 1 small can of anchovies, 1/3 cup of olive oil, and 1/3 cup of Italian bread crumbs.

The first step, (besides boil water to cook your spaghetti in) is to heat the olive oil in a saute pan. Add the anchovies next and simmer for 2-3 minutes on low heat. Then you add the bread crumbs and stir vigorously and thoroughly.

The final step is to wait for your past to be ready so you can mix it with the sauce.

This wasn’t half bad and super easy to make. The bread crumbs cover up the anchovy taste, which if you’ve been paying attention to my other posts is good news for me. For my leftovers, I doctored it up by melting Swiss and Gouda cheese on top which turned it into a spaghetti mac and cheese dish.

I know what you’re thinking right now too, and yes, it was real Gouda.

IMG_1379

Not as saucy as it claimed, but good.

Mashed Potato Gnocchi

This is another recipe from my hometown cookbook, Little Italy Festival Town. In the book this is called Instant Gnocchi, because it’s a variation of a gnocchi recipe made with instant mashed potatoes and was written by a woman named Virginia Harris.

I spoke with my mother to see if she had any stories behind the woman who wrote this recipe and she actually did which excited me. Virginia Harris, whose maiden name was Devan, grew up near my mother. I mean it is a small town, so that’s not shocking or anything, but my mother and I grew up on our family land which is on the outskirts of town. Basically Virginia was not a townie kid. My mother told me that when she was growing up there was some animosity between the townies and the kids who lived in the country. Before my mother’s generation the animosity of Clinton, Indiana was against the Italians and the townies. Now we have a whole festival dedicated to our Italian ancestry. So take that Clinton townies!

Besides being the country kid gang of Clinton, the other thing my mother and Virginia had in common was a love for horses. My mother and her sisters adore horses. They had some of their own growing up, but Virginia had a Palomino horse. I like horses but I do not share an adoration for them like my mother. I do know how to ride and I took a class in college even, but my mother and my aunts have a particular love that I can not match up to. This is my long-winded way of saying that I was not aware that a Palomino horse is a big deal in horse world.

The reason it’s a big deal is because Palomino horses are like golden horse gods. They are movie star beautiful. In fact they were commonly used in the 50s and 60s for movies. Don’t take my word for it though. Check this out.

This horse is so god-like, it floats in the air.

Naturally my mother and her sisters thought Virginia was the cats pajamas. Her cool status among my mother was elevated even higher because she would take her god horse to shows which is something she always wanted to do, but was not allowed because of the tyranny of her parents.

That’s a joke, by the way, in case anyone takes me seriously.

What this all boils down to is that Virginia was a cool lady who came up with a clever way to make gnocchi’s from scratch. So how do we make these wonderful gnocchi’s? I’ll tell you.

You will need, 1 envelope of instant mashed potatoes, 3 beaten eggs, 5 cups of flour, 1/4 cup of milk, 2/3 cup of water, and 1 teaspoon of salt.

The first step is to make your instant mashed potatoes. Just follow the package instructions and you are good to go. Then add the eggs to your mashed potatoes. Once the eggs have meshed with the potatoes you add the remaining ingredients and mix. After mixing, there is kneading. Knead with passion and then roll your dough out until it is about as thick as a finger. Cut the dough into bite sized squares and indent with a fork.

I totally forgot to indent mine with a fork. Actually I got real frustrated when I made this because I didn’t have enough all-purpose flour and substituted with some Bisquick which resulted in my dough being very sticky. I ended up just cutting random shapes and plopping them into boiling water. They still tasted fine, but they were not pretty. Virginia is probably disappointed in me. I’m sorry Virginia. If I had know how cool you were I would have made a better effort.

As you might have guessed, once you cut your dough up, (hopefully better than I did) you will drop that gnocchi into boiling water. You will know the gnocchi is cooked and ready when it rises to the top. When this happens remove your gnocchi with a slotted utensil until each one has been cooked.

To serve, just place on a plate and pour some marinara sauce on top with your choice of grated cheese. I like mine with cheese and crushed red pepper, but do with it what you will.

Despite my frustration with the dough, my gnocchi did turn out well. I had a huge mess to clean up though. So I do recommend covering your kitchen with saran wrap like Dexter Morgan would before a kill.

Other than that, this is easy to make and a great alternative to the traditional way of making potato gnocchi.

IMG_1208

Naked gnocchi

IMG_1207

Presentable gnocchi