Welcome to my Gnocchi Making Party

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Last Saturday, when my daughter was visiting from Portland where she’s going to grad school, she asked me if we could make some gnocchi!  “Um, sure”, I replied, a bit hesitantly.  You see, my mom is the gnocchi queen and I’ve always been a bit scared to tackle the job myself without her help and expertise.  Memories of the one other time I made them without her help, and the disaster that ensued, kept haunting me.  That time they had turned into mushy doughy logs that fell apart while boiling.  Yuck! Certainly not how my mom made them!  But how could I resist my lovely daughter’s humble request to make these delicious soft pillows (which, I’m sure, were her memories of Nonna’s delicious gnocchi!)?

Armed with my mom’s verbal instructions, I held my breath (not literally) and began the process.  I boiled 4 large russet potatoes until they were nice and soft.  Working with only 2 at a time, since my mom instructed me that the gnocchi dough needs to be worked while the potato is still calda (hot) and which was stressing me out to work in fretta (swiftly), I left the other two in the hot water for the next go round of gnocchi dough making.  I placed some flour on my counter before peeling the potatoes and putting them through a ricer.

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I then made a well in the riced potatoes and added about a cup of flour, an egg, a touch of oil, and some salt.

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I then began working it all into a dough ball.  I kept adding flour a little at a time and working it all until it formed a nice doughy ball (not too sticky).  I then pinched off a bit and rolled it into a log about 1 inch thick.   Always working quickly (that’s the key, I guess), I quickly cut little pieces that were about 3/4 to an inch thick.

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My daughter took a fork and rolled the dough pieces on the tines to create some ridges (this helps to hold the sauce better).  We placed the finished gnocchi on a floured platter and put them in the refrigerator to cook later.  We continued this process until all the dough was used up.  I then proceeded to do the exact same thing with the 2 other potatoes that I had left in the hot water (and they were still hot – luckily!)

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Side note:   If you decide to freeze the gnocchi, instead of eating them in a few hours, place the platter in the freezer until the gnocchi have frozen completely and then you can put them into a ziplock bag to use whenever you want.

After cleaning up the big mess (and believe me, it was quite a disaster), we were ready to cook them.  Gnocchi have to be cooked in small quantities otherwise you will end up with a giant potato clump at the bottom of your boiling water.  So, boil some water in a pot, add some salt, and place no more than 10 gnocchi into the boiling water at a time.  Give them a little stir and wait for them to rise to the surface.  Once they have risen, scoop them out with a perforated ladle or spoon.  Place them in a bowl and add your favorite sauce (and grated cheese, if desired).  Cover the bowl with aluminum foil to keep them warm while you proceed with another batch of 10 gnocchi in the boiling water.  Keep doing this until you have cooked all the desired gnocchi.  Once you have finished and your bowl is full, stir the gnocchi gently to coat them all with the sauce and cheese.  Ta da – all done and ready to eat!

This time, my gnocchi were beautiful and fluffy – they looked perfect and they were delicious!  I used 3 different sauces – tomato, pesto and alfredo and called them  “Gnocchi Tre Colori” – red, green, and white – just like the Italian flag!  My daughter’s boyfriend wanted to make sure she took good notes because she will have to make them for him once she gets back to Portland!  And the most rewarding stamp of approval came from my mom, when I brought her some left overs thE day after, and she said they were PERFETTI!!

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Book Review and Giveaway: The Supreme Macaroni Company

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I am honored in having been chosen by Laura Fabiani from Italy Book Tours to review the newest book by the bestselling author, Adriana Trigiani – The Supreme Macaroni Company.

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Adriana has a way of writing that is both natural and funny at the same time, and she keeps you glued to her stories.

This story revolves around Valentine, an Italian-American young woman who creates beautiful shoes – how very Italian of her :)  The shoe company has been in her family since her grandparents brought the craft over from Italy when they immigrated.  She has big dreams for her shoe company and she brings to it lots of love and creativity.  Of course, she also falls head over heels (haha) for a beautiful Italian man and the book tells their love story.  They jet set between the East Coast and beautiful Italy and the description of their home in Santa Margarita Ligure makes you feel like you are there, breathing in the warm sea air and revelling in the dazzling blue of the Mediterranean Sea.  Aaahh…it reminds me of my time in the Cinque Terre and makes me smile every time I think of it.

Valentine is part of a crazy Italian family, complete with loud explosive arguments coupled with the love and warmth of a close family.  Everyone is part of everyone else’s business and there is no hiding!  But when push comes to shove, they are there for each other in all regards!   There’s even a crazy aunt who is opinionated, stubborn, and down right rude (isn’t there always one in every family?)

On the whole, this book is very good – I read almost all of it during a plane ride back from Italy and it kept me entertained (at least, I wasn’t falling asleep every few seconds – that came on the second leg of the trip when I’d already finished the book!) But in comparison to her other book, The Shoemaker’s Wife (you can read my review here), I think I liked that one better.  Adriana has a great way to bring everyday life to the forefront, but in a couple of instances, it was a bit too much normal life ( for instance, when she was going on and on about a typical evening at home eating dinner and conversing – I felt like I was eavesdropping on a normal family conversation – there was nothing exciting going on, just the mundane chatter of everyday life).  I think I know why she was describing this very normal evening because of subsequent events that were about to occur, but even still, it was a little boring.  The other criticism I have is that I think the title of the book (being the name of company she built) is disconnected.  It doesn’t seem to fit…again, it’s my opinion, but I think something a bit more creative could have been chosen.  Despite these few stabs of criticism, I did enjoy the book and would recommend it for an easy and entertaining read!

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If you would like a chance to have your very own copy of this book, autographed by Adriana herself, here are a few ways to win it: leave a comment below, become a follower of my blog, or share this review on your blog or Facebook page!  I will randomly choose a winner on August 25th and the publisher will send out the book to the lucky recipient (once I get all the pertinent info through a private email)!

Buona Fortuna!

 

 

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Adriana Trigiani is an award-winning playwright, television writer, and documentary filmmaker. Her books include the New York Times bestseller The Shoemaker’s Wife; the Big Stone Gap series; Very Valentine; Brava, Valentine; Lucia, Lucia; and the bestselling memoir Don’t Sing at the Table, as well as the young adult novels Viola in Reel Life and Viola in the Spotlight. She wrote the screenplay for Big Stone Gap, which she also directed. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter.

Connect with Adriana here: adrianatrigiani.com
Twitter: @adrianatrigiani
Facebook: facebook.com/adrianatrigiani

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The Small Joys of Summer

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While strolling through the local farmer’s market this past weekend, I came across a bag of these beautiful zucchini flowers.

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Immediately, I was transported back to my summers in Italy as a little girl when my grandmother used to make these for me from the few little zucchini plants she had in her tiny garden.  They were such a treat then – and I was hoping they’d be just as good when I made them!  I was not disappointed!  Making them is so simple, once you realize what the heck you need to do with these delicate flowers!

First and foremost – these flowers are very delicate and should be used as quickly after picking as possible (definitely no more than a day or two).  First I very gently rinsed them off in some cold water and put them on a towel to pat dry.  Then I cut off the stem and removed the pistol inside.  I opened them up flat…and now they were ready to become the treats I remembered so dearly.

I took the petals and coated them with some beaten egg that had been seasoned with salt and pepper.  (I added a bit of Prosecco to the beaten egg – some people add beer or mineral water!)  Then I dipped them in some flour and placed them immediately into some hot olive oil in the frying pan.  I cooked each side until they were golden brown.  I laid them in a dish covered with a paper towel to absorb the oil and patted the tops with another paper towel.  Once I was pleased that the excess oil was off of them, I placed them in a serving dish and sprinkled them lightly with some salt.  That’s when I devoured them!  They were SO good :)

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Cantina Coppo and the Underground Cathedrals of Wine

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UNESCO has been busy in Piemonte, recognizing this historic wine producing region which preserves the tradional methods of growing and producing grapes and wine. Evidence of wine production has been found here that dates back to the Etruscans!  Everyone we met while in Piemonte was pretty excited about this new distinction – they are hoping that it will bring more tourists to the area – thereby making them more profitable. Despite the fact that I wish for them lots of good fortune, it’s nice to still have a place to visit in Italy that is beautiful but not yet overrun by tourists. The roads are small – and driving them, without having to worry about too many cars, was relaxing. We could take in the scenery without the hassles of watching for passing cars whizzing by. We could easily find parking wherever we went and therefore allowed us to explore so much more. We could eat in any restaurant we chose and got to chat with the restaurant staff in a more intimate manner. We were even given a ride back to our agriturismo by a waiter one night after dinner when we didn’t feel like walking back UPHILL to it!

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The DOWNHILL walk we took to the restaurant.

These small interactions with the locals are what we remember about our trips and which make it all the more special.

UNESCO has recognized a unique site in Canelli called the Underground Cathedrals of Wine. These caves, which reach deep into the hillsides, have been in use for hundreds of years and therefore have some historic significance to the wine making tradition. We wanted to visit one of the wineries whose cellars make up these Underground Cathedrals of Wine and were fortunate to arrange a private tour at Cantina Coppo. The same family has been producing these wines since 1892 – it’s great that every new generation  has the interest to continue the family business. Our tour guide, Luigi, was one of the youngest members of the family. He studied business law so that he could bring a new element to the family business. The passion he has for his family’s wine making tradition is infectious. He talked about the wines they produce with lots of love, as well as having great knowledge of the wine making process. They produce some red wines like Barbera and Gavi, some whites like Chardonnay, and the sweet Moscato…but their prized wines are what they call The Metodo Classico (or sparkling wines) produced in the same method as champagne.

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These wines are crisp and refreshing. Coppo’s sparkling wine would be perfect as an aperitif, with a beautiful al fresco summer lunch, or as a dessert wine. It is so versatile and delicious that we didn’t even mind lugging 6 bottles home in our suitcases!

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Luigi took us into the giant caves in which they age their wines.  He explained to us that the caves are always at a constant temperature of 15 degrees centigrade – no matter how hot or cold it gets outside!  The walls of the caves can become very wet with the rains, and they can even flood, but the water doesn’t hurt anything.

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The caves were built over 100 years ago with brick and the original brickwork is still there!  He showed us one cave room where the family keeps their own private stash of wine – he said that on special occasions, one of them is sent down to pick out a special bottle :)  Dust covered many of these old bottles, just adding to the charm of this very special place.

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If you visit the Asti region of Piemonte, make sure to make a stop in Canelli to visit the Underground Cathedrals of Wine.  Our cantina was Cantina Coppo at Via Alba 68, Canelli (AT) and they charged 15 euros/pp for a tour.  The other more well known winery is Contratto at Via Giovanni Battista Giuliani 56, Canelli (AT) and we were told they charge 25 euros/pp for a tour.  Both, I’m sure, would be an excellent way to see this new UNESCO World Heritage site.

Everyday Celebrations – A Guest Post

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I am pleased to introduce you to this new Italian cookbook as well as the author, Maria Loggia!  Enjoy….e Buon Apettito!

Maria Loggia’s kitchen door is always open. Her home and garden are a gathering place for friends and family, who come to share her easygoing enthusiasm and generosity – and her inspired Italian cuisine. In this, her second book, Loggia celebrates the seasons with 16 sumptuous menus – from a spontaneous al fresco garden party to a slow-simmered midwinter feast and a traditional Sunday family lunch.

Everyday Celebrations with Maria Loggia is on a spotlight tour from July 14 to 18.

Author & Chef: Maria Loggia

Category: Non-fiction

Genre: Cooking, Food & Wine, 176 pages

Publisher: Cardinal Publishing

Published: Oct 1, 2012

Amazon.ca * Cardinal Publishing * Amazon.com

 

Try One of the Recipes!

 

Petto di Pollo Farcito con Uva e Noci

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Grapes and Walnuts

 

 

Ingredienti

For filling:

1 tbsp (15 ml) unsalted butter

2 tbsp (30 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

2 shallots, finely chopped

¾ cup (180 ml) walnuts, coarsely chopped

½ cup (125 ml) red seedless grapes, quartered

2 tbsp (30 ml) finely chopped fresh chives

2 tbsp (30 ml) bread crumbs

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

7 oz (200 g) soft goat cheese, cut in 6 slices

 

For chicken:

6 tbsp (90 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

6 bone-in chicken breasts, skin on

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

3 tbsp (45 ml) unsalted butter, softened

1 orange, cut into wedges

3 sprigs fresh rosemary, each cut in half

5 bay leaves

To serve:

Freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange

Preparazione

Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).

To prepare filling: Heat butter and oil in a large skillet and sauté shallots until soft, 1 to 2 minutes, and remove from heat. Stir in walnuts, grapes, chives and bread crumbs. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool slightly. Leave goat cheese aside for now.

To prepare chicken: Oil a 14-inch (35 cm) round earthenware tiella or roasting pan with 2 tbsp (30 ml) of the olive oil and set aside. On a baking sheet, season chicken breasts with salt and pepper. Make a lengthwise slit in each chicken breast, being careful not to cut all the way through. (This will form the pocket for the stuffing.) Rub remaining 4 tbsp (60 ml) olive oil into the chicken (including in the pockets). Divide stuffing equally among chicken breasts, stuffing it into the slit in each breast, and top with a slice of goat cheese. Pull the chicken skin over the filling and secure with toothpicks. Smear butter over the skin and season again to taste with salt and pepper.

Gently transfer chicken to prepared tiella. Scatter orange wedges, rosemary and bay leaves around chicken. Roast 35 to 40 minutes, or until juices run clear when the thickest part of the breast is pierced. Then broil 2 to 3 minutes, or until skin is crisp and golden. Drizzle with orange juice and serve warm with pan juices.

Serves 6

Tips from Maria:

Consigli di cucina (kitchen tips)

The chicken breasts can be assembled the day before, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated. When ready to serve, bring chicken to room temperature and cook as instructed. Doing it this way allows the flavours time to meld together beautifully.

Che cos’è? (what is it?)

I’m convinced food tastes better when cooked in a shallow, glazed earthenware dish known in Italian as a tiella. I find earthenware dishes distribute heat slowly and evenly as the food cooks. Aromas and flavours are intensified and casseroles never stick or dry out.

To season a tiella: Before using your tiella the first time, immerse the dish in cold water to soak overnight. The next day, empty the tiella and wipe it dry. Rub the inside with olive oil and place in a preheated 300°F (150°C) oven for 1½ hours. Remove seasoned tiella from oven and place on a wooden board or thick tablecloth to cool. (If placed on a surface like granite or a cold stovetop, it will crack.) To clean a tiella, soak it in warm, soapy water, then scrub with a soft sponge.

 

Meet the Author

 

Maria Loggia is one of Montreal’s best-loved Italian cooking teachers. Her Tavola Mia cooking school in the village of Hudson is a warm, inviting place to learn about Italian cuisine. She also appears regularly on television, is featured in newspapers and magazines, and leads culinary tours in Italy.

Maria finds inspiration in her Italian heritage and draws on family recipes that go back generations. She founded Tavola Mia, her at-home cooking school in 1999. Through her study of Italy’s regional cuisines, which has included numerous sojourns back to her native country, she has acquired great expertise in the art of Italian cooking. Her passion, humor and dedication to excellence have made her an inspiring teacher. Using fresh local ingredients, Tavola Mia celebrates the seasons in authentic, irrepressible Italian style.

 

An Interview with Maria Loggia

 

Maria Loggia from Pierre Blais on Vimeo.

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Barolo and Beyond

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Making our way through all the grapes; meandering our way up as many hilltops as we can; seeing castle ruin after castle ruin – this area has it all! Piemonte is truly an amazing place. There is so much history here – we’ve discovered ancient Roman ruins in Pollenzo which subsequent civilizations built new homes over and  countless Medieval fortresses and towns scattered throughout the area.

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And throughout it all – wine! The Piemontese are very proud and knowledgeable about their grapes and the various types of wine they produce. It seems like everyone is in the wine making business! And perhaps the wine fortifies them with the strength to walk up all the hills!! In every town we visited, I felt like I was always walking uphill!

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Beginning the Piemontese Adventure

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I’ve been waiting to experience this corner of Piemonte for a long time – and, so far, it is not disappointing! We just arrived today into this spectacular region after spending some wonderful time on the French Riviera and Provence! Our home base for visiting this area is the Cascina Barac – a beautiful agriturismo near Alba – completely immersed in vineyards!

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For tonight’s dinner, we took a 1 km walk through the vineyards. We found out later that wild boar and fox like to hang out in the vineyards….it’s a good thing we didn’t have any walking companions!

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