Vesuvius. They are, and have been for centuries, living sustainably, which we in America think is a new concept.
Over the years I have visited the family on several occasions, but one of my favorite trips was when I learned to make the family recipe of Gnocchi and experienced the true ritual of dining in a traditional Italian family setting.
The clan had been anticipating my visit on that particular day in October, 2001 and was making plans about what the Sunday family feast would be. You see, when my family gets together, it is not simply around a table, but a group of tables that are pushed together to go through the kitchen, dining room, living room and out the front door. The
meal lasts for hours with a constant orchestra of screaming in Italian and flailing hands simply to make conversation. When I arrived, the first question posed to me was what I wanted to eat. I love Gnocchi and knew they would make it like nowhere else. I pleaded
for them to let me help. I had to get in on the “secret.”
Bubbly chatter emanated from us as we prepared and kneaded the dough, then formed and dropped hundreds of the little potato dumplings into an enormous pot over the gas fire my uncle had lit in the cantina. This only heightened my excitement for the coming meal. I feverishly scratched down lists of ingredients and processes as they created, from memory, those little potato pillows which I so adore. Then using eggplant, tomatoes, herbs, onions and other ingredients grown in their garden, they threw together a twist on traditional putenesca to spoon over the gnocchi. Delightful!
In the years since that visit, I have recreated this dish time and again, yet I will never quite enjoy it as much as I did that fall day in the Italian countryside with my cousins, aunts and uncles. To this day the dish still brings to mind the meaning of family.
Homemade Gnocchi with Puttanesca D’Amore
2lbs + 4oz floury potatoes, unpeeled
2 egg yolks
2 Tbls Parmesan, grated
1 to 1 1/2 cups AP flour
Prick the potatoes all over and bake for one hour at 350 degrees. Leave to cool for 15
min, then peel and mash or put through a ricer or food mill (do not use blender or food processor). Blend in yolks and cheese then gradually stir in flour ¼ cup at a time. Put on lightly floured surface and knead gently. Work in enough flour to make a soft dough that is damp but not sticky. Divide the dough into six pieces and make a rope from each piece about 1 inch thick. Cut the rope into one inch pieces. Take each piece and press your finger into it to form a concave shape, then roll the outside of it with a folk to make ridges. Fold the outer lips toward each other to make a hollow middle. Do the same with remaining dough. Set Aside.
12 roma tomatoes
6 Tbls olive oil
3 ounces pancetta, chopped
2 med eggplant, yellow if available, small diced
1 med yellow onion, small diced
1 Tbls garlic, chopped
1 1/2 tsp Salt
½ tsp black pepper to taste
1 cup white wine
¼ Cup brandy
½ Cup kalamata olives pitted and halved
2 Tbls capers
1 Tbls fresh oregano, chopped
1 Tbls fresh Italian parsley, chopped
1 whole bay leaf
1 Cup chicken stock
1 Tbls honey
¼ tsp chili flakes
6 large fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
½ Cup parmesan, shredded
Slice tomatoes in half lengthwise and place, skin down, on a large oven safe sauté pan
that has been coated with 3 Tbls olive oil. Bake in a 400 degree oven until roasted (About 25 minutes, you can combine with process in oven with your potatoes for the gnocchi to save time).Remove tomatoes from pan and reserve liquid. Let cool, then discard skin and chop tomatoes. In same pan add 3 Tbls olive oil and over a med high flame, sauté pancetta, onions, garlic, eggplant salt and pepper until vegetables are cooked through (about 8 minutes). Deglaze with wine and brandy and reduce for three to five minutes, add remaining ingredients including roasted tomatoes and their liquid. Simmer
over a med/low flame for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi in batches, about 20 at a time. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon, drain and put on a greased pan.
Divide gnocchi on 4 plates and spoon putenesca over them. Garnish with shredded
parmesan and basil chiffonade.