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.
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.
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!