La Lama Mountain Ovens
The best of the recipes, techniques, and methods practiced by our large extended Italian-American family - with emphasis on the legacy handed down to us by the original immigrants.
This is a cookbook-in-process project. If you try any of these recipes please let us know how they turn out, whether or not you had any difficulties, and any clarifying improvements you might recommend to make them foolproof. We will of course acknowledge genuine "test-kitchen" assistance.
Family Secrets #12
By CeCe Dove, La Lama Mountain Ovens
culture has a dumpling somewhere in its cuisine. The
basic dumpling is nothing more than starch (flour,
potatoes, semolina, etc.) and water in the correct
proportions and cooked in any liquid from water to broth.
Most dumplings are used as an adjunct to the main dish,
as in the great American chicken and dumplings. In Italy,
gnocchi (the Italian dumpling) are generally served
alone, replacing the pasta course. As part of a large or
more formal meal, you would follow this course with a
meat and vegetable plate, but in our home both when we
were growing up and yet today, they are so beloved that
they are always the star attraction, the main course of
While gnocchi have been enjoyed in Italy at least since the Middle Ages, they take many different regional forms. Authentic gnocchi may be made from potatoes, semolina, ricotta, and may even be made green with spinach added to the dough. It just depends what part of Italy you are from.
Picture: 1918. Clockwise from top left:
Filomena (Min) Buzzelli (1900-1996)
Renato (Ray) Buzzelli (1904-1980)
Ediberta (Bertha) Buzzelli (1903-1972)
Norma Buzzelli (1906-1975)
Mary Alice Buzzelli (1913-1987)
|We grew up with potato gnocchi, although I
do remember all the women in the family experimenting
with ricotta replacing the potatoes at some point. My
father never acquired a taste for this variation and
neither did I. Some members of the family continue to use
this variation claiming it makes a lighter dumpling; but
if properly made, my experience is that potato gnocchi
should and can be light and fluffy.
The beauty of this dish is that it is extremely versatile, taking happily to many variations of sauce. It is also fairly quick to put together and cooks in minutes. Make the gnocchi hours before dinner, have your salad chilling until time to dress it, and do a make ahead dessert like poached pears and you have not only a delicious dinner made without opening a single can, but time to enjoy a glass of wine with your family and friends before dinner.
When I say that these are quick to make, I will qualify that slightly. They are fast once you've had a little practice with them and if you take to heart a few tricks that I'm about to offer. First to consider is the potato. Do not use red or white skin potatoes or any of the fancy new varieties like Yukon Golds or purples. Use plain old russets. Traditional recipes call for boiling the potatoes in their skins until tender, but I get much better results baking them until thoroughly tender. Baking instead of boiling results in a drier, fluffier potato needing less flour to hold together and making a light gnocchi. When each of us made our very first batch alone with no helpful hints and a bare bones recipe, you usually ended up with the distinct feeling that you had a load of lead sinkers in the pit of your stomach! But don't be deterred. With the following recipe and these pointers your first batch should be as light as air.
The next consideration is equipment. Please use a ricer on the potatoes, not a masher and not the food processor or blender or mixer. The ricer achieves the correct consistency to keep the final product light. Lacking a ricer, a food mill will make an acceptable substitute. However a ricer is a relatively inexpensive piece of kitchen gadgetry and one will last a lifetime.
Finally, consider the saucing possibilities. Growing up we always had them with a traditional tomato sauce (see Family Secret #10). They were wonderful that way; but this dish lends itself to endless possibilities. A few include pesto, especially nice in the summer when our gardens and markets are full of fresh basil, or a Gorgonzola cream sauce which is rich and warming in the winter, or a simple butter and fresh sage combination topped with a handful of grated Parmesan. Some of these sauce recipes will be featured in upcoming Family Secrets.
Serves four generously
Bake the potatoes until thoroughly cooked and tender. Allow to cool slightly until you can handle them. Peel and put through a ricer while still slightly warm. Blend with 3/4 cup of the flour, setting aside remainder of flour. Add slightly beaten egg and yolk and salt. Mix gently with a wooden spoon or your hands to form a soft dough. Flour a wooden board lightly with some of remaining flour. Place the dough on it and knead lightly and quickly, keeping the dough soft. Do not over knead. Add only enough of the remaining flour to keep the dough from sticking.
Roll into sticks about 1 inch thick and 10 to 12 inches long. With a very sharp knife cut into 3/4 inch pieces. Keeping your board and your hands lightly floured during this process will make it easier. While the next step sounds complicated it simply takes a lot of words to explain, and after you do it a couple of times you will accomplish it in a matter of five minutes. The object is to dent each gnocchi slightly so the sauce will have a place to stick. You can accomplish this two different ways. The old way is to use your thumb to very lightly roll each piece toward you exerting a slight pressure to indent it. I believe the easier way is to use the back of the tines of a fork. Hold the fork with the back of the tines facing upward. Roll each piece lightly down it, indenting them lightly with four-or-so tine ridges. Once you get the feeling for this, it goes very quickly. Remember to keep your hands, the fork, and the board all lightly floured.
Place the finished gnocchi on a clean floured kitchen towel or floured waxed paper until ready to cook.
Using a six quart pot, fill 3/4 full, salt lightly and bring to a full boil. Drop in the gnocchi about 2 dozen at a time and bring back to a slow boil. Once they float to the surface (a matter of 2 or 3 minutes) cook for an additional 10 or 15 seconds, then lift out with a skimmer or slotted spoon and transfer to a serving platter. Season with a bit of your sauce. Repeat the process until all are cooked. Finish saucing and serve immediately.
Altitude Adjustment: Because water boils at a lower temperature at high altitudes, you must take care to use plenty of water and bring it to a full hard boil before dropping in the gnocchi, and then getting it back to a boil as quickly as possible. Over 5,000 ft will add a minute or two to the final cooking.