Friday, July 23, 2010

Gnocchi, Potato

Gnocchi (nyaw-kee)-delicate little pillows cooked briefly in salted water and sauced, served as a first course in place of pasta, risotto, or soup. Oddly enough, however, I never saw Adriana make the traditional potato gnocchi, as it turned out that no one in her family cared for them. (except me)
What she did instead was a culinary feat of painstaking labour. She made the dough in much the same way as one would make potato gnocchi, but then rolled bits of it into long ropes about the thickness of your index finger, and then cut each rope into lengths of app. 2 to 4 inches. Each length was then twisted into an interesting shape. She would make rings, twists, crescents, whatever occured to her, and each shape was placed on a lightly-floured teatowel to air-dry a bit.
Then, when it was almost time to call everyone to the table, she would set to work frying these in shallow oil (not olive oil--I use Canola) until they were golden and crispy on the outside. Not your traditional gnocchi, not served with sauce but as a side dish for cutlets for example, or chicken or fish. We all loved them, and my own children did as well once I mastered the technique back home in BC.
I know it sounds daunting, but it's kind of fun, especially if the kids help.
So--once again, no specific amounts. You'll get the hang of it.
Boil 4 or 5 potatoes in their jackets. Cool them. Take the skins off. Mash them in a big bowl.
Grated Parmesan or Montasio cheese, plenty of it--probably at least 1 cup. This, and the baking powder, is what differentiates these from potato gnocchi that will get boiled instead of fried.
Two egg yolks or one whole egg and one yolk.
Mix this well, then add a teaspoon of baking powder, then white flour enough to make a pliable dough..not too stiff.
Knead it just a bit on a floured surface.
Now prepare a floured teatowel or sheet of waxed paper to receive the little gnocchi.
When it's almost time to eat, prepare a paper-towel lined plate on which to place the fried gnocchi to blot the excess oil. Fry them in batches.
Arrange on a serving platter and garnish platter with lemon wedges.
Now sit down and rest. Chances are your kids won't eat anything else.

Watermelon Salad!

Not in Adriana's kitchen! She would, I think, have been appalled at the idea of Anguria (Watermelon) Salad, at least until she tasted it, and then, I think, she would have been converted. But we'll never know, and we do enjoy this relatively new addition to our repertoire of summer side dishes. It's very simple to do, colourful and refreshing.
In the hot Friulian summers we'd often buy the biggest local watermelon we could find from a grower out in the countryside, take it home, and place it under the pump outside the kitchen door so that it would be cold when we were ready to eat it after "cena" (supper). This pump ran day and night, forever as far as I know, with water from an artesian well deep underground. Every cortile, even every house, had one. The water ran into a sort of rectangular cement tub which was used to wash all the garden produce, do the laundry, and keep bottles of limonata, orangeata, and beer cool. Adriana was shocked, however, when I washed my (then) long hair under the freezing water, and told me it would surely make me sick. It didn't.

Watermelon Salad
As usual, the amounts and proportions are up to you.
Cube some watermelon and put it into a pretty bowl or on a small platter.
Add some cubed Feta cheese.
Add some Basil. You can do a chiffonade (roll up the leaves and slice) or tear some whole leaves, reserving a few intact for garnish.
Sprinkle with fresh lemon juice to taste. (a fair amount)
Decorate (sparingly) with fresh Basil leaves.
That's it! Now isn't that delicious! And pretty! And easy!

So when we were ready to eat the watermelon, someone was sent to retrieve it from the pump, and Nonna (Adriana) set to work cutting it up into wedges. This was no small task as there were often as many as 14 of us gathered around the table. And we knew that we were not to discard the rinds, as Nonna cut them into pieces and put them into a pail as a special treat to be taken out to her beloved pig.