Gnocchi floating to the top waiting for the sauce!
It’s impossible to choose my favorite thing about the year I spent studying in Rome… but Giovedi, Gnocchi was definitely high on the list.
Every Thursday (Giovedi), all the trattoria, rosticcerie and ristorante in Rome feature gnocchi. This amazing dish of potato dumplings bathed in tomatoes, garlic and olive oil has to be one of the world’s ultimate comfort foods.
My mother’s family was from Sicily, and gnocchi was not a part of their food vocabulary. My father’s parents, Pia and Ruggiero, however, were from the Abruzzo, the mountains east of Rome, home to some of Italy’s finest cooks. My great Aunt Giulia Colangeli was my grandfather’s sister, and the reigning queen of gnocchi in our family. Since it was something Mommy didn’t learn to make growing up, Aunt Giulia would come to our house to make them with her.
Mommy had a huge wooden pasta board my Grandpa had made her, that nearly covered the kitchen table. This always appeared when Aunt Giulia arrived. In the meantime, a large pot of water boiled on the stove with potatoes, while in another, the ragu simmered, waiting for the opportunity to marry the gnocchi.
Flour and eggs were added to the peeled and grated potatoes on the board, and the dough started to take shape. Long ropes were formed, and small bits were cut off. At this point, we all got into the act, rolling each gnoccho on the board with our finger to make a rolled shell shape. This made them lighter, and gave the sauce a place to hide. Then, they were set aside to dry.
Soon, Daddy would come home from the office, carrying bags of fresh crusty bread from his favorite bakery in the Bronx. The heel of the bread was already gone. It was Daddy’s impromptu and well-deserved snack on the drive home up the Bronx River Parkway.
After he kissed all his girls, he poured some Cinzano over ice, and broke off another piece of bread to “test the sauce”. Soon our little gnocchi found their way into the boiling pot of water, being scooped up as they floated lightly to the top, perfectly cooked. The sauce was ready and it wasn’t long before we were enjoying one of our favorite family dinners.
To this day, I always choose gnocchi when offered in an Italian restaurant. It’s never as good as Aunt Giulia’s, but it always brings me back to those wonderful days of my childhood in my mother’s kitchen.