Monday, January 7, 2013

Nonna's Homemade Gnocchi

You know the beauty of cooking and meals is that is brings generations and families together.  Generations separated by decades, families brought together by small twists of fate.  The broken road will lead you to your destiny and faith with lead you true happiness.

Years ago my life's path took a small turn I was not prepared for but it introduced me to some of the most amazing people.  One of those was my college friend and roommate, Courtney, and her delightful family.  All rambunctious, thoughtful, loving and kind, the Dismukes were like an extension of my own family even if just for a little while.

I had the great pleasure of meeting Courtney's Italian paternal grandmother, Nonna.  Born in the northern Italy, Irene was married to a US soldier during WWII which was brought this non-English speaking Italian to Nashville, TN.  After the birth of her 4 boys and a divorce to the husband that brought her to the states, Irene moved to Atlanta where she took a job with SAKS 5th Avenue where her true love of style and fashion blossomed.

Always wearing the latest trends and showing off her uncompromising style, she was truly a woman ahead of her times.  As described by one of her granddaughters, she was adventurous, spunky, loved to travel, and loved life.

Imagine a woman with the style of Coco Chanel, a tongue so sharp it demanded respect, the grace of an era long ago and a heart so filled with love it seems to be seeping out her pours.  She was a small, feisty Italian woman when I knew her with a lifetime of stories and memories that seemed to carry her into every room. It was almost as if everything had its past that only she knew and a secret she would keep.

It was as if she was the heart and center of her family. Everyone seemed to revolve around her without even realizing it.  She would look into your eyes and with a strong Italian accent throw out a sentence that would leave you in awe of all she had seen or in stitches from her quick wit and constant sense of humor.

It is from her roots in her native Italy from which this recipe originates, a favorite of her sons and now a favorite of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and it is with a great sense of humility, pride and love that I try to make her gnocchi.  

Nonna's Homemade Gnocchi

Gnocchi:
5 Idaho potatoes
2 eggs
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano
3 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt

Sauce:
1 1/2 cup frozen peas
olive oil
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 shallot, minced
1/4 lb. prosciutto cubed
2 cups sliced baby bellas
kosher salt
1 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons Parmigiano
Bake potatoes until fork tender.

While potatoes are still hot peel and pass them through a food mill or ricer onto a sheet tray.
Keep potatoes as light and fluffy as possible.  
Refrigerate until cold.  Transfer to clean working surface.  
Beat together eggs and cheese and pour over potatoes.  
Season with salt.  Cover generously with flour.  Remember that you can always add more flour so add a little at a time as you don't want to make it touch by adding too much flour.  I am not sure I even used how much the recipe calls for so add gradually until the desired consistency is reached.  Remember you will also be using more later.
Crumble mixture between your fingers.  Begin to knead the dough until it is a dry homogeneous mixture.  The dough should feel slightly moist but not tacky.  Add more flour as needed.  Form dough into a large log.  
Cut slices of the log and begin to roll into long ropes (snake-like) that are about 1 inch in thickness.  
Cut the ropes into 1/2 inch lengths.  
Cover generously with flour.  Place in a single layer on sheet tray dusted with flour.  
Do not pile  Use immediately or freeze.
Coat a large pan over medium heat with olive oil.  Fry the prosciutto until crispy and remove from pan.  Add crushed garlic, shallots and crushed red pepper.  
When the garlic becomes brown, add the butter and mushrooms and saute for 3 to 4 minutes. 
Add peas and stir to combine.  
Next add chicken stock and white wine.   While the stock is reducing, add the gnocchi (in batches) to a large pot of boiling water.  
Boil until they get really puffy (about 1 minute after float to the top).  
If removed too soon, they can be heavy.  Carefully remove the gnocchi from the water and add them to the sauce.  Stir to combine.  Top with Parmigiano.
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