Joanna Sable and Suzie Durigon from @justcrumbs create potato gnocchi...just like Nonna makes
by Joanna Sable
“When I bring out this board and I put Tipo00 flour (an Italian hard flour for pasta, bread and gnocchi making) on it, my Nonna is in the room.”
So starts my day with Suzie Durigon, aka @justcrumbs, but more on that later.
A Great Ethnic Home Cooks visit never starts without wonderful treats and strong coffee, and for this I am always grateful. The nice thing about this is that it does my tummy stop rumbling, but we get to relax, the cook can unwind and realize this will be a painless day full of laughter and stories.
Laid out was a giant board, 3x4 inches with a lip on it. On the board was Tipo00 flour, farm fresh eggs in a bowl, a salt and pepper grinder, olive oil and ricotta.
Let’s talk about this board for a minute. I have seen this type of board before; it was at a Neapolitan home where massive amounts of polenta met a hearty meat sugo.
Picture this: a small squat Nonna lifts a pot of boiling polenta half as tall as herself. She heaves it up into the middle of the table where the board rests as we all sit around it. Polenta comes pouring out and we leap into action quickly spreading it to all corners. Next up, another massive pot, about half the size of the other probably weighing in at 30 pounds, this has home made sausage, hunks of pork and chicken wings in a rich sauce made from the gardens tomatoes. We make a divot along the perimeter of the polenta, like a well so the sauce and meat doesn’t spill over. Everyone now takes to carving out a “plate” for himself or herself, fresh Parmigiano is passed and we dig in.
I told Suzie this story and she said it was the same in Abruzzi where her family is from.
Suzie uses this board for big baking, when you need a lot of room to spread out. Gnocchi making is messy and also takes up space when not only mixing and rolling the gnocchi, but cutting and then ridging it.
Our plan is as always to re-create time-trusted Nonna recipes and then for Suzie to add her special twist. Suzie lives on a beautiful Tuscan-style farm and home with a lake that boasts ducks, swans and the occasional snapping turtle. She has a garden with raised beds and in to those beds came our inspiration for our final gnocchi. The potatoes are in the oven baking because this is the best way to dry them out, which creates a more controllable dough. We are also making ricotta gnocchi, which have a more light texture and taste.
2 large baking potatoes about 700 grams
1/4 cup parmigiano
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 cup Tipo00 flour, all-purpose is fine as well
1/2 tbsp salt and pepper
Bake potatoes until they are fork tender, cool to the touch and peel. On a floured surface, rice the potatoes. You can mash with the tines of a fork, but a ricer lets in air and makes it fluffy.
Make a well in the potatoes and add your eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Now start adding 3/4 of a cup of flour and begin to mix. The dough should be a little tacky to touch, but it should form to make a soft smooth ball so keep adding flour until this happens. Now let rest.
I will give you the ingredients for the Ricotta Gnocchi now because the method is the same for both.
1 container, 425 grams, of full fat fresh ricotta
1/2 cup parmigiano
1 1/2 cups Tipo00 flour or all-purpose
1 egg, beaten
1/2 tbsp salt and pepper
Make a well in the ricotta and add your egg, cheese, salt and pepper. Now start adding 1 cup of flour and begin to mix. The dough should be a little tacky to touch, but it should form to make a soft smooth ball so keep adding flour until this happens. Now let rest.
Cover dough with cling wrap and a dishtowel to prevent it from drying out and let it rest for 15 minutes to a few hours.
Divide the dough into manageable pieces; Suzie divided the dough into eighths.
Take each piece on a floured surface and roll into logs that measure between a 1/2 and 3/4 inch. There is no need to measure.
Cut the logs into 1/2- to 3/4-inch pieces using a sharp knife and cutting quickly so as not to mash the log.
Here are a few options: My nonna uses the base of a wicker basket and rolls the gnocchi against this to create her ridges, always using a thumb or middle finer, never the index because it is too small. Suzie had this gadget we both did not like as the gnocchi stuck to it and the ridges were not deep enough or use the tried and true method of the back of a fork. Place the gnocchi on a floured surface and covered until ready to use.
A little tip: gnocchi freezes well so make a big batch. Freeze them on the cookie sheet. Once frozen, place them into a freezer bag and store for up to one month.
Gnocchi are just like fresh pasta. They are happiest in heavily salted water and they are done when they float to the surface. Also, like pasta, gnocchi likes any and all sauces. Suzie made a rich, delicious 7-Hour Meat Sauce for the potato ones as they stand up well in a heavy sauce.
Suzie’s 7-Hour Meat Sauce
- 1 lb of stewing beef, veal or pork
- 1 l pureed tomatoes, try and buy Italian Passata if possible
- 1 large onion, halved
- 2 cloves garlic, smashed
- 1/2 cup good olive oil
- 1 cup white wine
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 sprig fresh basil
Place the meat in a dry pot and cook until it is brown on all sides. It will stick and this is what you want because you are creating flavour. Remove the meat to a plate, add the olive oil and onion and cook until the onion is soft. Remove the onion and add the garlic and oregano, cook for one minute and add back to the pot the meat. Now I love the onion so I would add it back in, but Suzie’s Nonna did not so it’s your choice. Cover the meat with the wine and passata, add the basil, salt and pepper to taste and simmer forever with the lid on to keep in the moisture. If at any time the sauce seems to be drying up, you can always add broth, wine or more passata.
As we always do, I asked Suzie to come up with a fun, modern version of the traditional gnocchi and together we played. We made Raddichio Ricotta Gnocchi in a Bleu Cheese, sage and Raddichio Sauce
- 1 recipe of Ricotta Gnocchi
- 1 cup finely chopped raddichio
- 1/2 cup finely chopped white onion
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- Salt and pepper to taste
Gently fry the radicchio and onion, salt and pepper in a saute pan until very soft and tender. Let cool and then kneed into the gnocchi dough. Process accordingly
- 500 ml 35 per cent cream
- 200 g bleu cheese, I like Gorgonzola but use Cambolozla if you like a milder version remove the rind and cut into one-inch cubes
- 1/4 cup grated parmigiano
- 1 cup finely shredded raddichio
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Freshly washed and dried sage leaves with 1 tbsp salted butter
In a saucepan add cream and heat gently, add the cubes of cheese stirring with a wooden spoon until melted. Once melted add parmigiano, salt and pepper and let simmer until reduced by a quarter and slightly thickened. Set aside.
In a small frying pan melt butter until bubbling; add sage leaves and fry until crisp. Set aside.
Boil gnocchi. Once it’s cooked, add it to the pan of sauce and simmer for a few minutes, tossing until the gnocchi and sauce are harmonious. Place in a warm serving dish, garnish with raw radicchio and sage leaves.
As we are cooking, we are chatting. Suzie starts to tell me how she fell in love with cooking. Suzie dreamt of being a doctor until she heard people died. Yes, we all know we die, but that is different from being close and treating people. Once that dream was out of the way, her true dream emerged. Suzie was wrapped in a home of great cooks and gardeners; Suzie watched her Nonna roll dough, while her other nonna had a history in butchery braise meat and her mother was a master of both. Suzie herself fell in love with dough, sweet and savoury.
Suzie went to Ryerson for a hospitality degree and then landed a prestigious job with The 4 Seasons chain in sales. Suzie found chefs to talk to and kitchens to visit. When kids came, both Suzie and her husband decided Suzie would lead the home team and become an at-home parent. Because Suzie was never one to sit still, she began to bake for a neighbourhood golf course making butter tarts. They were so successful they were being ordered in the hundreds. This was not the plan so Suzie quit and began teaching home cooks and has been for more than 15 years. Her classes are always booked because her love and passion shines bright. She now has an incredible blog with some of the most tantalizing photos you have ever seem so do look up www.justcrumbs.ca
Gnocchi are a ton of fun to make and you can’t really mess up. It is fun to do with kids, friends, whoever you can round up. Suzie and I had a ton of fun and toward the end we wanted to play just a bit more and instead of rolling the dough into logs we rolled it out into a sheet and cut it into big squares and boiled. They, too, were delicious. These days spent with people who embrace their cultures and heritage, but also like to leave their own mark are a treasure I will always keep close to my heart.
Sunny or rainy, hot or cold there is always a great time to get into the kitchen, share stories, cook and learn.
First Published: Inside Toronto, November 17, 2015