Sunday, March 30, 2014

Saturday, March 29 -- Making Gnocchi at the Italian Cultural Institute (Gnocchi di patate)

It's Saturday, March 29 and the last day of a 10 week session of Italian classes at the IIC, the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in West Los Angeles. Today, our class Italiarama had a cooking class. It turned into a real feast of wonderful food. 

Michele, our maestro, agreed to teach us how to make his mother's gnocchi di patate. I think it's been two years since Michele last taught this recipe. He always varies each set of 10 lessons so they are unique, because so many of us are repeat students. We are all so ready and enthusiastic for this gnocchi experience. 

This morning at 7.30, I began making focaccia. It is of course not 100% authentic, but it's as close as I've been able to recreate the focaccia I love from Liguria and Tuscana. It's thinner, crispier and plainer than what Americans call focaccia

I arrived early this morning for school. I found Michele in the kitchen area, seated at the glass table. He was just ending a private lesson. When I showed him the focaccia, right away, he said it's focaccia like they make in Firenze. He knows my heart has never left Firenze!

His Italian approval made me so happy and it sent Michele off on a tangent. This week during a class (on the second floor), he heard music, one of his favorite songs. Someone downstairs was rehearsing for an upcoming event.  He wanted us to hear that music. On his laptop, he started this Youtube clip 'Parlami di Firenze' for us to watch while he collected his cooking class materials from his car. 

Parlami di Firenze (Italian Lyrics below)

This is a perfect example of why I keep repeating this class, Italiarama. Michele has an amazing talent of sharing parts of his culture that go beyond just learning vocabulary, phrases and grammar rules of the language. 

Our class began arriving, each student bringing with a bag containing some type of Italian food.

Michele shows us the potatoes he riced last night.  Grazie Michele!  He was up until midnight preparing the potatoes.  The whole russet potatoes need to be boiled in water with a pinch of salt. 
Do not overboil the potatoes so they become water logged. 
Then, when the potatoes test tender with a fork, drain and peel them. Immediately rice them, while they are still warm.  He cautions that these potatoes he made, have probably dried out over night and we will need to use less flour than the recipe calls for.

The recipe is facile, easy!  1 kilo of russet potatoes and 300 g of 00 flour.  We used Italian 00 farina (flour) which I had purchased at Bay Cities Deli in Santa Monica.  We did not use all the flour, just as Michele predicted.

I noticed Michele was using a squeezing force to mix the potatoes and flour.  He was not kneading, as one would knead bread dough.

These gnocchi were the best I have ever eaten!  The texture was just a bit firmer than mashed potato.  They were not hard nor gummy.

Buon appetito! (Enjoy your meal!)

These treasures were hand-made by Janna.  They are Galani, a Venetian carnival dessert.  Wow!  Authentic, beautiful and delicious.  Grazie Janna.  As soon as I saw these, I knew the amount of work which had gone into making them.

Two yummy torte which had been purchased at Le Pain Quotidien.  

Like Cinderella, we needed to be OUT of the Istituto at 2 pm sharp!  We worked quickly doing a thorough clean-up.

Alessandro took several cooking classes here with me.  He was amazed and impressed with American teamwork, which seems to be ingrained in us from childhood.

Everyone pitches in without being assigned any particular job and the kitchen looks better than we found it. 


1 kilo russet potatoes
300 g flour  (try to use 00 Italian flour)

Pecorino, finely grated

Pomi boxed Italian chopped tomatoes
Pomi boxed Italian tomato sauce
2 T Olive oil
2 garlic cloves, smashed
Dash of hot red pepper flakes
A handful of fresh basil 
Salt to taste 

Boil the unpeeled potatoes with a pinch of salt.  When the potatoes test fork tender, remove them from the water and peel them.  Rice the potatoes while they are still warm.

Mix the potatoes with 2/3s of the flour, adding more if needed.  Some of the flour will be used to dust the bread board.  Do not over mix or add too much flour.  If your gnocchi are too firm, you added too much flour.

Cut pieces of the dough and roll into thin strips.  Cut into pieces.  Roll each piece over fork tongs or if you are lucky to have one, a small wooden tool which was designed for this purpose.  

Set gnocchi aside on floured trays.  (at this point gnocchi can be frozen)

When a large pot of water has come to a boil, lightly salt the water.  Add gnocchi to the water.

Gnocchi will float when they are done.  Pull them out as they rise to the surface and place them on a plate or pan containing a bit of sauce, to which finely grated fresh pecorino has been added.

Tomato Sauce:

Saute the garlic in olive oil.  Remove the cloves, when they begin to brown.
Add hot pepper flakes
Add boxed tomato
Add whole basil leaves

Simmer sauce while the gnocchi are cooking in the water.  

Note:  Gnocchi can be served with other sauces.  Another variation is Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, which adds fresh mozzarella to the tomato sauce, just at serving.

Notre Dame de Paris 

Music: Riccardo Cocciante
Italian Lyrics: Pasquale Panella

Act II

Parlami di Firenze



Parlami di Firenze
E della Rinascenza
Novità di Bramante
E di Stilnovo e Dante


Si racconta a Firenze
Che la terra è rotonda
E che c'è un continente
Alla fine del mondo


Navi vanno laggiù e cercano nel vento
Il nuovo orientamento della rotta alle Indie 

FROLLO C'è Lutero che inventa un Nuovo Testamento
E noi siamo all'alba di un mondo che si scinde


Si dice che Gutemberg
Cambia il modo di capire


Con le presse a Norimberga
Sta stampando l'avvenire


Sulla carta poesie
Tesi, satire, eresie


L'aria nuova farà
Nuovo chi la vivrà


Ogni piccola cosa ucciderà le grandi
Il libro ucciderà altari e cattedrali


La stampa imprimerà la morte sulla pietraLa Bibbia sulla Chiesa e l'uomo sopra Dio

E questo uccide quello


Navi vanno laggiù e cercano nel vento
Il nuovo orientamento della rotta alle Indie C'è Lutero che inventa un Nuovo Testamento E noi siamo all'alba di un mondo che si scinde L'aria nuova farà
Più nuovo chi vivrà

Watch the full two hour musical here: