our cooking adventure in Italy

 It’s that time of year again! Things begin to get hectic–lists to be made, stuff to buy, special projects relating to Christmas–and everything needs to be done first. We did take time out for a movie last week. Maybe you missed LIFE OF PI (book Yann Martel) when it was published in 2001. It’s one of the most extraordinary and well written books I’ve ever read. The plot involves a cargo ship sinking on the Pacific and the sole survivors, a 16-year old Indian boy named Pi and a tiger called Richard Parker. It won the prestigious Booker Award in 2002. It was so intense I could not imagine how it could be made into a movie, but Director Ang Lee somehow pulled off a 3-dimensional miracle. Readers and reviewers offer different interpretations of its meaning. Some say if you’ve ever doubted the existence of God, it will make a believer of you. In a letter to the author, Barack Obama described the book as “an elegant proof of God, and the power of storytelling.” The last statement about storytelling I wholeheartedly agree with. Will it make you believe? Impossible to gauge, but I’m pretty sure it will make you want to. I hope you’ll see it. Today, in case some of you who celebrate Thanksgiving are a little tired of turkey leftovers, I’m sharing Italian Chef Andrea Consoli’s recipe for Gnocchi with Regú Bolognese Sauce, as well as a few pictures of the cooking class we took with him in Italy in October.

Our Italian friend in Las Vegas who travels to Italy regularly urged us to take a cooking class on one of our four days in Rome, just the two of us, after our organized tour was done. We decided on a class with Chef Andrea Consoli in an older, less touristy neighborhood in Rome that retains the look and feel and of a traditional small Italian town. The menu for our five-course lunch was selected according to season. The selections on the menu are what’s available seasonally, and only local produce is used.

The broccoli on the right isn’t the typical broccoli you find in U.S. supermarkets. It’s a special Italian broccoli called cavolo broccolo romanesco, which is a little confusing because it’s actually a member of the cauliflower family.  We used it in the 4th course as a side dish. (Since we’ve returned home Hubby has made the same dish several times and used regular broccoli, and it works just fine. We might try broccolini in the future too.)

I’ve never ever been able to keep my kitchen pots all nice and new looking, so I felt a little better about it after I saw these  kitchen pots and pans–cleanly scrubbed but not fancy–pots with heart and soul like the ones in my kitchen.

There were nine other people besides us, and at times the kitchen was a little cramped with all of us trying to have a hands on experience with each dish’s preparation. Yes, in case you’re wondering, the first thing we were instructed to do was wash our hands!

Here’s the chef himself demonstrating the proper way to fry the thin slices of eggplant  (skins intact) for a very different version of Eggplant Parmigiana than the one I usually make. And look at that grease-laden fry pan. It’s just as bad looking as mine, but it does the job every bit as well as a shiny one!

Pretty soon we’re all pretty busy, washing and rinsing, chopping, peeling, and boiling, looking up now and then to follow the Chef’s instructions. You know  of course of chefs in famous restaurants sometimes have reputations for being obnoxious and bossy. Chef Andrea was not. He was always professional, sometimes funny, but he never hesitated to point out our mistakes. Here I get my first chiding about leaving the meat alone and letting it brown instead of nervously stirring it about. He rightly pointed out we wanted to eat lunch not dinner. I don’t do that at home because there I don’t have a chef watching over me out of the corner of his eye, but I refrained from telling him that. I grinned at him instead!

The potatoes (yukon gold) are all squeezed and soft, ready to make into Gnocchi. A tip from Chef Andrea: use the potatoes you’ve had in the bin for awhile, the ones that have begun to sprout roots. Because they retain less moisture, they’ll make the best dough since the secret to good Gnocchi that holds its shape is to get as much moisture out as possible. Dump the flour on top of the potatoes and mix well as Hubby demonstrates using his hands.

When the flour and potatoes are well blended, divide the mixture into balls, then roll the dough into ropes about 3/4 of a inch thick using your fingertips.  Cut each rope into pieces about an inch long. You can cook as is, but if you want the traditional looking gnocchi, you can find a gnocchi press like this one in gourmet specialty shops; pressing the dough against the tines of a fork works too. Finally we all sit down to eat the fruit of our labors together. We all look happy  because this photo was taken AFTER  we’d finished all five courses.

Spelt salad made with green tomatoes, black olives, carrots, celery, arugula, dressed with olive oil, salt and zest of lemon.

The chef thoughtfully prepared a marinara sauce to serve Hubby’s meatless gnocchi. That’s actually his entree. The rest of us (carnivores) had the bolognese made with ground beef.

Here’s that very different (but delicious) eggplant parmigiana. Unfortunately we all ate the Italian broccoli before I remembered the camera.

That’s dessert, a traditional tira misù made with real mascarpone that puts to shame the one Olive Garden–here in the U.S.–serves.

Now for the Gnocchi recipe. As Chef Andreas would say:  ENJOY!

Ingredients for the dough (serving 4 people):
– 500gr / 1/2 lb Potatoes (the one that fits this recipe are old potatoes and not fresh and watery ones……remember that the more water is contained in the potatoes, the more flour you need to add and the heavier the potato dumplings will be!)
– 250gr / 2 Oz all purpose flour
– pinch of saltIngredients for the sauce (serving 4 people):
– 1 lb of grounded mixed meat (70% beef and 30% pork)
– 5 tablespoons of E.V. olive oil
– 1 tablespoon of salt
– one carrot, one stalk of celery, one onion
– 1 cup of dry white wine (Frascati is preferred)
– 1 lb of whole peeled tomatoes (like San Marzano quality)
– fresh herbs like rosemary, bay leaves, and sage
– 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino cheese (or Parmesan cheese, as you prefer)Instructions:
To make the gnocchi you have to cook potatoes in a large pot of salted boiling water until tender, for about 20-25 minutes. Drain and slip off the skin, then mash until smooth. Gradually stir in salt and enough of the flour (I usually use ¼ of the quantity of potatoes) to obtain a smooth dough that is just a little sticky. Now you can take a piece of dough and roll it on a lightly floured work surface into a rope about 1 inch (2.5 cm) long. Repeat with all the dough and you can give the gnocchi the shape you prefer. Usually to give the gnocchi their special grooves, twist around the tines of a fork.
In the meantime, in a large frying pan over low heat, stir in the “soffritto” made from carrots, celery and onion with E.V. olive oil and cook until it starts to brown. Then you can add minced beef mixing with minced pork and let it cook for about 10 minutes. When it’s browned, turn on the heat over medium-high and stir in some dry white wine and cook it until it’ll evaporate (please never use any sweet wine, it’s disgusting!). Now you can add your chopped tomatoes (boil them first and get rid of the skin) and cook it for about 1 hour and 30 minutes, up to 2 hours (depending on how much sauce you’re cooking).
To cook the gnocchi, put a large pot of boiling water over high heat. When the water is boiling, toss in few tablespoons of salt with the gnocchi. Stir to keep the gnocchi from sticking, and when they’ll rise to the surface scoop them out with a slotted spoon.
Saute your gnocchi with the ragù sauce, and drizzle with Parmesan cheese to coat your dish. Serve hot. It’s gonna be delicious!!!Wine Pairing: Marmorelle, it’s Frascati Superiore DOC – it’s a pure Frascati grapes from the Winery Principe Pallavicini ed. 2009 (Colonna – Rome – Lazio).

4 thoughts on “our cooking adventure in Italy

  1. Looks like it was a good time. Enjoyed reading and I may try the gnocchi recipe. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Slurrp ! I am preserving a screen shot of this blog piece. When I am retired and left with no reason to avoid helping my wife in the kitchen, I will surely try my hand at it. 🙂

  3. Yum! Quite a nice change from all the heavy, traditional foods I’ve been stuffing into my face this holiday season. Alice, you look as if you know what you’re doing at the stove. OK, so the meat gets a chance to relax and fry in one spot for three seconds longer than it should. Have another sip of wine, Chef Andrea. Alice is retired. Snookie, I can tell you are a born baker.

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