Dreaming of Italy

Just call me the multitasking queen, as I currently wear 4 different hats: fitness program manager, personal trainer, wedding planner extraordinaire, and blogger.

I am back to my 2BlueEggs after a hiatus, though.  Hello. Hey pals. Hi.

I missed this.

I hope  you are ready for a complete Italy  gnocchi immersion. The girls(Mom, sis and myself) spent several weeks traveling across the country exactly 2 years ago. We ate our way through Rome, Cinque Terre, Capri and Anacapri, Tuscany, Florence, Venice, and the Amalfi Coast.  In true DePue -style, we rented a small cramped Euro-style car that was stick shift only, and swapped most tours for local guides and staying with locals. By the way, driving in Italy is a whole other post.

One word: Xanax.

But the food! Pasta, pizza, fresh bread topped with a thick slice of mozarrella, prosciutto and spinach, gelato, panna cotta, prawns and fish, and wine. We ate our way through  the beautiful countryside.However, this post is not about all that wonderful-ness. This  is dedicated to  a cute little village and a pasta cooking class.

 

In Riomaggiore, a small town part of the 5 cities on the coast of Italy called Cinque Terre, there is a famous walkway for lovers (and non-lovers) called Via dell’Amore. This is where myself, my sister, mother , and 6 other Americans traveling the world met to learn to make homemade Italian pasta.

Via dell’ Amore. Lover’s Walk

If you look closely you can see the walkway , which connects all 5 towns.  Until recently, the whole area was completely cut off from the rest of the world. There was no easy way to get here, until a train was built to connect the towns to the rest of Italy. I must say, one of my most memorable experiences was riding a rickety, hot train through a tunnel for what seemed like forever, and suddenly the whole train lit up from the shimmer of azure blue water. The  train station is literally on the cliff-side. Absolutely breathtaking and unexpected!

Here in Riomaggiore we rented an apartment with a view of the ocean. We were roughing it, meaning I was carrying a 50-lb suitcase  with no wheels across the town and up 4 or 5 staircases. All part of the charm!

TIP: Renting an apartment will enable you to truly experience how Italians live. They run fairly cheap and you can do laundry , too! Also, bring a suitcase with wheels and pack lightly.

As soon as we walked into the apartment, I threw open the kitchen cabinets to inspect. What? You don’t do that when you travel?

I noted they use a French Press for coffee, and Nutella is a pantry staple. Smart folks.

Soon after we arrived, we headed down to a neighboring village to take a cooking class from a local chef.

I had no idea really what we would be making, and was excited when I heard the chef mention gnocchi!There are a multitude of ways to make gnocchi. Look on the internet and you will surely find a million recipes for pasta.

But…

Can I let you in on a little secret? Those are probably not the recipes Italian chefs use or old Italian grandmothers use.

 

My view on gnocchi and my methods changed drastically after spending 7 hours with this Italian chef. I think it’s time I share his secrets for gnocchi. I guarantee this has zero relation to that hard stuff you can buy in a package. It melts away in your mouth. I learned more in those 7 hours than I have ever learned from a cookbook or browsing online. I took detailed notes of everything ,and 2 years later finally sat down to re-write and share them. And trying to read my chicken scratch through the olive oil stains and flour marks…?.heh It’s been a blast.

 

While shaping the dough with us,  Chef Claudio  animatedly told stories of his childhood in Italy, and introduced us to his beautiful Brazilian girlfriend who was a macrobiotic chef and led tours to Morocco for fun. I want her job!

 

Though the class was meant to be only 3 hours, we stayed in the cozy, closed-down restaurant for nearly 7 hours drinking wine, eating, and actually making everything we ate. It was an unforgettable experience, considering many who attend  cooking classes in Italy are often taught by American chefs in Italy or forced to sit the entire time. This was a laid-back , hands-on experience, and to top it off, the chef sent us to a cliff-side bar for drinks while he boiled the pasta. When we returned, he had set the table with everything we had prepared.

TIP: Take a cooking class with a local chef!

While in this class, I felt a true sense of not only the pride they have in their food, but in the freshness of Italian food and the simplicity in each dish.

Pillowy gnocchi,  bright green pesto,  a pinch of parmigiano regianno , and  drizzled in a fragrant olive oil.

 Fresh chard and goat’s milk ricotta stuffed into ravioli and finished with a simple browned butter sauce and fried sage.

Freshly-baked bread.

And wine. Amazing white wine.

What more could you possibly want?

Gnocchi (pronounced ny-ucky)is traditionally a poor man’s food in Italy, because it can be made from just flour and potatoes. Some chefs get fancy with it and add cheese and spices, but Claudio taught us how to cook it in the traditional way. There is definitely a technique to making it, and it takes practice, so don’t be surprised if you have trouble rolling it into the shape you need. In the traditional way, eggs are excluded, which makes rolling the dough tricky. However, in the realm of pasta -making, gnocchi is an excellent  place to begin because it requires no special equipment.

Gnocchi Tips from Claudio:

Work with very hot potatoes(here in the U.S., I have only ever been taught to let them cool first).

Sprinkle flour lightly.

Do not work the dough or squeeze it or put pressure on it. You want it to be light as a feather.

Let the gnocchi rest for 30 minutes to an hour at room temperature before  you cook it.

Prick slightly with a fork to create surface area for the sauce to stick onto.

In the pesto, use nuts sparingly because you want the basil to shine.

Drop one piece in boiling water to test it before you roll out  and cook the whole batch.

 

Gnocchi Recipe, step by step  (adapted from Claudio’s recipe)

Start by boiling around 2 lbs of Yukon Gold potatoes until fork tender all the way through. Do not waterlog them. They should be just cooked. Yes, you must use gold potatoes. The starch content matters here because there are no eggs.

Drain the hot potatoes and then wearing gloves or a towel , peel them.

While the potato is still hot, press it through a ricer (or mash in a bowl until smooth) .The smaller the pieces, the better. The ricer works perfectly for this and is very inexpensive.Yes, your hands will be burning. As Claudio put it “Suck it up”.

Spread all the potato pieces over your work station, which can be either a large wooden board, granite counter, or parchment paper.

Sift about 1 and 1/4 C  of whole wheat pastry flour and 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt  over the potatoes, and start to scrape it all together into a big loose ball. Knead for only a minute or less, just enough to mound it together.

Carefully begin to pinch off  fist-sized portions and  roll into a barrel shape, not pressing down but rolling gently. It should not be super wet, but more on the dry side. Add more flour sparingly to the outside to prevent sticking.

Once it is an approximately 4- 6 inch wide by 3  inch tall oblong barrel(does not have to be exact), slice it into a few pieces and roll each piece into a long, skinny rope, again, taking care not to smash down. Add flour if too sticky but use sparingly.

Once you have it in ropes approx 1 inch diameter, chop into 1 inch by 1 inch pieces. Indent each with a fork on the front by pushing it against  your finger on the back.

Sift all pieces with flour and then shake it up with the flour in a bowl until completely dusted. Shake off excess flour.

Let rest 30 minutes to an hour.

Meanwhile, make your pesto .

 

I make homemade pesto at least once a week. It is healthy, fast, and cheap when you grow your own basil. Shame on you if you have no basil plant. It should be required that every person have a basil plant…Basil requires very little attention or love, only water and sun.

Pesto is traditionally made from pine nuts, basil, parmigiano  reggiano, garlic, and olive oil. No pine nuts? Use walnuts! No basil? Use spinach! No parmesan? Use another hard cheese! No olive oil? That’s too bad because you do need olive oil.

Start by whirling  3-4 cloves garlic in the the food processor, then adding 1/4 C pine nuts, a 1/2 C parmesan  cheese, and finally  3-4 Cups of fresh basil. Slowly drizzle in at least a 1/2 C of  good extra-virgin olive oil and add salt and pepper to taste. Set pesto aside.

Boil a pot of water and let it come to a full rolling boil.

Drop 1 gnoccho(yes, a gnoccho isn’t that cute?)  into the water to test. When it floats to the top, take it off immediately and taste. If it falls apart, add more flour to your dough.

If it did not fall apart, then drop a batch of gnocchi into the boiling water( maybe 10 pieces). When pieces  float to the top, take them off immediately.

Continue to cook in small batches in the boiling water.

Store in the fridge tossed in olive oil for up to 2 days. Serve immediately atop the fresh pesto.

freshly-made gnocchi(served with green beans by Chef Claudio)

 

I have eaten this whole-wheat version every day for lunch, and discovered it is delicious cold too!

 

P.S. Fitness Update:I have hit every workout target in the workout challenge so far. See the prior post for details on the challenge. Six days a week, eight to nine  workouts total per week, and I actually need LESS sleep! YEAH!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasta Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Good ole pasta salad. Here in the South you will find it at every church function and funeral. Trust me, I grew up  in the funeral business and attended enough church functions to realize you will always find pasta salad  tucked right in next to the white dinner rolls, barbecue,  mac n’ cheese,and Bible verse handouts.

Though it often comes from a box on which the directions  say ” add  mayonnaise or add vegetable oil”  , there is also the vinegar-based variety and the Miracle Whip variety. Yummy, quick, and cheap, what’s not to love??

(Pause here for  a brief interlude of Jaws Theme Song)

EXCEPT  the white , nutrition-void pasta  ,  the gobs of fatty mayonnaise or vegetable oil,and  the  list of incomprehensible ingredients?!I won’t list them here because   I certainly do not to want to scare you away from my new blog today. I only list ingredients to people I  know have no choice but to listen: a.k.a my fiance, who I have officially scared into never eating a piece of bologna again.

 

I digress.

You need a healthy pasta salad recipe up your sleeve. Everyone does!

This recipe has fresh ingredients, hidden whole grains,with the added flavor explosion of a  homemade Basil Vinaigrette. Did I mention acorn-fed bratwurst?I bought this   garlic  bratwurst at the Forsyth Farmer’s Market. My dog, Harley, was  hoping to snag a crumb.

Acorn-fed bratwurst is equivalent to grass-fed beef in that these piggies are not fed genetically modified grain, and the animal is eating   what it loves and was meant  to eat. Cows love grass. Pigs  loves acorns and seeds, which is what they forage for in the wild.

Give it a try! The bratwurst, not the foraging of course.

Serve this over fresh greens such as chopped romaine ,so you consume less pasta, but  feel satiated. It’s a secret I have been using for a while with pasta.

 

 

Pasta Salad with Basil Vinaigrette

Serves 4
Prep time 45 minutes
Cook time 20 minutes
Total time 1 hours, 5 minutes
Allergy Wheat
This light, healthy, and farmer's-market-fresh pasta salad is a perfect summertime meal.

Ingredients

Salad

  • 1 medium-sized cucumber
  • cup cherry tomatoes
  • red bell pepper
  • 1/3 C fresh green onions
  • 16oz rotini Pasta (50% whole grain )

Salad (Optional)

  • 1lb fresh bratwurst
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce

Vinaigrette

  • 2/3 C olive oil
  • 1 C fresh basil leaves (chopped)
  • fresh juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 small garlic cloves (minced)
  • 1/4 C red wine vinegar
  • 1 heaped tablespoon dijon mustard
  • salt and cracked pepper (to taste)

Note

Serve this meal at room temperature or chill for a few hours before serving. You could leave out the fresh bratwurst for a vegetarian-friendly option and replace it with rinsed chickpeas.

Directions

Step 1
Make Basil Vinaigrette. In a food processor, combine garlic, basil, mustard,vinegar, and lemon juice. Pulse until the basil is chopped. Add the oil slowly and season with salt and pepper to taste
Salad
Step 2
Meanwhile, brown the bratwurst on all sides on high heat. Then, cook the Bratwurst on the stove in a covered skillet with a half inch inch of water on medium-high heat until the water evaporates and the sausage is cooked through. Set aside to cool.
Step 3
Chop the Bratwurst into bite-sized pieces.
Step 4
Toss the pasta, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, green onions, and salt and pepper to taste in a large bowl with the pasta.
Step 5
Toss pasta salad with 3/4 of the vinaigrette.
Step 6
Add the bratwurst and toss.
Step 7
Serve the pasta salad over greens with remaining vinaigrette drizzled over the greens.