Thursday, November 09, 2006

Gnocchi di zucca e patate

Squash gnocchi. Please read the general section on gnocchi.

There are many ways to make squash gnocchi. These the one I know
1. squash/potatoes/egg/flour: roll and cut on the table
2. squash/egg/flour drop in water
3. ricotta/potatoes/squash/flour/egg for chicche della nonna, alla piacentina, also
to roll and cut on the table
4. with ricotta/squash/eggs/no or very little flour: to drop on a floured tray

In any case it is important to use a tasty and no watery squash.

I'll try a recipe at a time and add to my recipe list.

This is the first option: I cut and removed the seed from a kabocha squash, wrapped in foil and baked in the oven. I steamed some floury potatoes.
I used about 400 g of squash pulp and about 180 g of potatoes. Both passed in the ricer and let to cool a little on the table. I added one beaten egg (medium size), some nutmeg, salt and enough flour to make a soft but not sticky dough. Cut a piece of dough at a time, shape into a rod and cut with a sharp knife little gnocchi. If you like to leave a pattern on the gnocchi, press each one on the back of a cheese grater.
Tranfer the gnocchi on a flour dusted towel on a tray and bring the water to a boil. Add salt and dump in the gnocchi, as soon as they come to surface, drain using a perforated spoon. Dress with noisette butter and sage. Grated parmigiano or grana at the table.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Gnocchi is one of the most loved Italian dishes. Very often is mispronuced. First because the "gn" sound doesn't exist in many languages, then the "chi" which is guttural (=ki), then the double c. Italians do pronouce doubles. Here is a useful Guide to pronunciation.

The most common being potato gnocchi. Italians would fight over this simple recipe.
I will list all the points that I have heard during years of internet surfing.

1. Everybody agrees that the most important thing is the quality of the potatoes. Floury. If the potato is waxy the gnocchi will come out pourly.
2. Eggs, no eggs. If your potatoes are good you don't need eggs. But if you are unsure of the quality, better to add an egg to be safe. For recipe with added moist vegetables the egg is going to be in there (you could add spinach, nettles, radicchio, etc.)
3. No whipping tools of any kind that will make the potatoes gluey. Even a manual vegetable mill is not the most ideal. Better using a proper italian potato ricer. And to rice the potatoes when they are hot.
4. The potatoes need to be cooked unpeeled, starting from cold salty water. Better even to steam them. Do not overcook. Peel and rice immediately.
5. When to knead the dough. It is ideal to drop the riced potatoes on a wooden table board, so that it will absorb humidity in excess. Some people like to add flour and knead when the potatoes are still warm. Other people like to wait until they are cold, because they think it would otherwise take too much flour.
6. while you are cutting out the gnocchi keep the board dusted with flour and using a pastry scaper transfer on a flour dusted kitchen towel over a tray. Gnocchi don't keep well. They need to be cooked within a couple hours they have been made or they will get soggy. Every one in a while, go and shake the tray to make sure they are not sticking. In any case gnocchi can be frozen successfully on a baking tray.

Gnocchi are cooked in plenty of simmering salted water. When they come to surface they are done. Do not use a colander, rather a perforated spoon to collected them.

Most common and loved way of dressing is butter and sage. Butter brought to noisette stage with fresh sage. Parmigiano at the table.
Being my mom from Bergamo I often go with my grandfather recipe which asks for a lot of chopped parsley in the dough. In Bergamo people like to add some pancetta to the butter.
Gnocchi are very good also simply dressed with tomato sauce.

Besides the common potato gnocchi there are many other, often local, variations.

Ricotta gnocchi. In general very soft. Most popular are ricotta and chopped spinach. In Sardinia (where saffron is usually added), Toscana, Emilia and in some areas in the North these ricotta/spinach gnocchi are called "malfatti", they are usually of pretty big size. In Piemonte, it is used a ricotta called seraiss and their medium size spinach ricotta gnocchi are called rabaton. In Toscana they are called gnudi, which meands naked, like a naked raviolo.
In Bologna ricotta gnocchi are tiny and are made just with ricotta and flour, rolled on the table. In Piacenza, very tiny gnocchi, called chicche della nonna, are made with potato, ricotta, egg and flour...
Squash gnocchi. Again, different kinds, you could go for a potato/squash/egg/flour gnocco or prepare them in the tradition of Friuli. The squash used is usually not watery, it is cut, wrapped in foil and baked. Then to the pured squash, eggs and flour are added. It is dropped in simmering water and dressed with melted butter and chips of grated smoked ricotta friulana.
I remember also this recipe from Fausto Fraccalini web site on cucina mantovana. Fausto, many years ago, used to write on the Cucina Italiana Forum. According to his recipe, the squash is cooked and pureed. To the pure more water is added and when it comes to a boil enogh flour to form a ball is thrown in the pot. Basically it is about making a panade with the squash pure'.
For all the soft kind of gnocchi I really reccomand a pasty bag, it will facilitate the task a lot.
Chestnut gnocchi in the Appennino area, in between Liguria, Emilia and Toscana.
Semolino gnocchi. Roman style or in Trentino more german style, dropped and cooked in simmering stock.
Flour gnocchi. Same technic I was discussing for the squash gnocchi. Basically a panade. In this category could be comprise the "parisienne gnocchi", which, in fact, are a staple in the North.
Polenta gnocchi. Often left over polenta is used.
Bread gnocchi. In this category to me enter the Trentino gnocchi, Canederli, Knoedel. Or the gnocchi made with breadcrumbs and flour, for example Pisarei e Faso' from Piacenza.

More to come as soon as I recall more kinds.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Spaghetti con le cozze alla tarantina


Taranto is my town. It is a seaport on the Ionian Sea. It a very ancient city dating back to the 8th century B.C.
The city has been famous since Roman times for the miticulture, mussels farming but also oyster farming. The particular taste of the mussels in Taranto is due to the farming in the Mar Piccolo, which, in fact, represents a bay. Spring water infiltrations in the sea produce a sweet tasting, delicate mussels. They are small size but very full, meat is tender, not rubbery. Sometimes I don't understand why people is so scared of eating this little gem. It is true that you can get diseases from mussels but so you could for vegetables that have been irrigated with unclean water. Mussels have strong anticorps and they usually are let to rest in deputation tanks (vasche di stabulazione) for a variable time, which make pretty safe their consumption. Maybe don't be extreme like tarantini (people from taranto), where mussels are eaten raw but don't worry too much.
In my town, at the fishmonger, you will find mussels already open (raw) and kept in their liquor. That's the right way to cook spaghetti con le cozze. If you start with raw mussels rather than cooked one the final taste will improve a lot.
If you don't feel comfortable at opening each mussels with the knife, a good way that I alrealy tasted is steam no more than 10 mussels at the time. As soon as they open slightly take them out, they need to open barely to slide the tip of the knife in. They will be still raw. If a mussel doesn't open, it doesn't necessarely mean that the mussel is bad, on the contrary we believe that if it is more resistent at opening it is in a strong and in very good shape. Rather throw away mussels that are already open. Abroad they usually come very clean, in Taranto you have to do the hard job and clean them yourself. Make sure to scrub any foreing object from the shell, also what might look like a rock for you, use a knife to scape it off. And if there is the byssus attached you need to pull it toward you (keeping the pointed side of the mussel facing you). If I knew how to load a video on this blog I'd show how to open a mussel by hand. Don't soak mussels, is not necessary. I dump them in the sink, take three at a time, I vigorously rub them between my hands under the running cold water, by doing that apart from cleaning you'll manage to find already opened mussels. If a mussel is no good, be sure that you'll find out, they smell really nasty. Once I open and collect all the mussels, I pour their water into a separate bowl and filter it with a towel and I rinse very gently the mussels under water.

For spaghetti alle cozze is not complicated. Extra virgin olive oil in a large pan with garlic slivers (one clove is enough for our taste) and fresh hot pepper, when it's hot add the mussels with a little with of their filtered water. Meanwhile the spaghetti are already cooking. Drain the spaghetti really al dente in the pan with mussels and finish cooking adding more mussels water and pasta cooking water if necessary. Sprinkle chopped parsley and a lot of black pepper.

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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Brodo alla Celestina


Brodo alla Celestina, as Consommé Celestine of the French cooking, has a baked and diced pancake in it.
The stock with polpettine and cardoons reminds me of a Pugliese soup, the pancake baked in the oven is a common addiction to stock in Emilia Romagna and it is called zuppa imperiale.
For this recipe I have to thank Donatella Talone from Abruzzo.

She told me that the stock is a composed one with hen and veal.
Cardoons are cleaned from fibrous parts, blanched (adding a slurry of lemon juice and flour to the boiling water). Some very small polpette ( of ground beef and veal, grated parmigiano and nutmeg) are prepared and boiled, I prefer to saute' in oil and so I did. And the pancake -that Donatella called pizzetta-is baked in the oven then cut into cubes. She gave to me a huge quantity of 10 eggs, 10 tablespoons grated parmigiano, 5 tablespoons flour, salt and chopped parsley and the very tip of a knife of baking powder. I think one egg is enough for 2 people.
Warm up the stock, add the preboiled cardoons, the polpettine, the pizzetta cubes and cook about 1/2 hour more, until nicely reduced. Serve with grated cheese.

P.S.: for the stock and for polpettine I used beef only.

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