Italian Potato Dumplings
A millions years ago, I studied cooking in Italy with a fantastic cook called Signora Savino. Her kitchen was extremely simple but she turned out an incredible range of delicacies, including hand rolled pasta you could read through. Her long, narrow work table had a built-in slot for her rolling pin, exactly as wide as the table, and she rolled each blob of pasta into a perfect rectangle before cutting it into shapes with various ancient-looking tools.
One of my favorite Savino dishes is gnocchi, a delectable Italian potato dumpling. Light, fluffy and adorably curly, gnocchi are also the perfect foil for many savory sauces. There are quite a few gnocchi recipes that use flour only, but I find the potato-based kind the most tender and flavorful. To get the texture right, it’s important to use baking potatoes, not waxy fingerlings or little boilers.
4 pounds Russet or any baking potatoes
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/3-1/2 cup unbleached white flour
Boil the potatoes whole and unpeeled in salted water until fork tender (about 30 minutes). Drain them, peel them, and mash gently with the salt until smooth. When room temperature, stir in the egg, then add flour 1-2 tablespoons at a time until a soft dough forms. Take pieces the size of a satsuma and roll them into sticks about as wide as your pointer finger. Chop the sticks into inch-long bits, then working on a lightly floured surface, give each one a tiny tug, pressing down while pulling forward with a flick of your finger, which makes them curl just a bit. Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil and drop in gnocchi a handful at a time. First they sink, then they bob up to the top, when you scoop them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a buttered dish in a warm oven. When all are cooked, serve them with sauce and grated cheese. Bliss! Serves 4.
Pronto Pasta Sauce
Easy and quickly made, this full bodied sauce tastes like it simmered all day. Rich with chopped olives, it’s bold enough to satisfy hearty eaters even when your main dish is meatless. Serve over gnocchi, ravioli, or penne, garnished with fresh parsley and grated Pecorino cheese. To give sauces extra depth and richness, add a spoonful of minced olives to sautéing onions, garlic, shallots or leeks.
Signora Savino also taught me that REAL olives–not the nasty black-dyed ones sold in cans–add immeasurable richness to a zillion dishes. For extra zing, garnish pasta dishes with whole, garlic-stuffed olives. Slice a few brine-cured nicoise olives into mushroom dishes for a delicious flavor boost. Sliver bold kalamatas lengthwise and toss with roasted Brussels sprouts and cranberries…ahhh!
Italian Rich Pasta Sauce
1 tablespoon fruity olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon fennel seed
6-8 pitted Kalamata or Italian olives, finely chopped
1 large onion, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
5 cups (2 cans) diced fire roasted tomatoes
1/2 cup dry red wine
4 cups tomato sauce
In a large pan, combine oil, garlic, and fennel seed and cook over medium high heat to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Add olives and cook for 2 minutes. Add onions and celery and cook until soft (5-7 minutes). Add diced tomatoes, red wine, and tomato sauce and simmer for 10 minutes. Serve over ravioli, gnocchi, or spaghetti, with grated cheese on the side. Serves 4-6.
Brilliant Squash Boats
This is an amazing dish for all its simplicity. The hot tangerine sections burst into bright sweetness, offsetting the tart cranberries, along with the lush Delicata squash, so tender, you can eat them skins and all. This makes a perfect counterpoint for savory dishes of almost any kind.
Sweet-Tart Winter Squash
2 Delicata squash
1 cup cranberries
1 cup fennel, finely chopped
1 large tangerine or 2 satsumas, sectioned
pinch smoked Malden sea salt (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cut each squash in half lengthwise, scoop out seeds. Place squash cut-side-up in a baking pan. Fill each squash cavity with 1/4 cup each of cranberries and fennel. Add tangerine or satsuma sections, sprinkle with salt and bake, uncovered at 350 degrees until soft (40-50 minutes). Serve hot. Serves four.