Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Staying Connected: Making Venison Gnocchi

Being Italian has always been a huge part of my life. Ask any of my friends and they’ll tell you that I’ll gladly go on and on (and on) about what life has been like growing up Italian—culturally overall, and then also from having spent most summers in my teens and early 20s there.

From making espresso in my college apartment to dragging friends or, mostly, John, to see one Italian singer or another, I’ve tried to maintain that connection to Italy and to being Italian-American as much as I can. It’s there in lots of different ways: how Luca watches Italian nursery rhymes on YouTube, how we still have extended family dinners with my grandmothers that last entire afternoons, how John made grappa in our old garage and our wedding favors were mini bottles of limoncello.

Some of it’s old and some of it’s new and all of it is our very own mish mash of pride and culture and probably something in between. 

My dad made a great point recently that he’s seen so many people around my age wanting to maintain that connection—the making wine and the baking bread, the clothing trends and the books to read.

And I have to agree, at least where the people in my life are concerned. So I thought it would be fun to start a series focused on ways to stay connected to the culture--for Italians but also for non-Italians who are just plain interested. I don’t know exactly how it’ll go or where it’ll take me—maybe to my Nonnas’ kitchens or to my cousin Miriam’s house, where, as an Italian expat, there are always discussions about the differences between here and there. It may be the things we assume are “Italian” that actual Italians wouldn’t even recognize or the traditions that are worth keeping no matter how long they've been out of fashion.

So here’s where I thought I’d start. With pasta. (Am I being a total stereotype yet?)


A couple weeks before Christmas, my siblings, cousins and I have a tradition where we watch Love Actually. It’s been six years running now (ever since the year we got engaged) and it’s my favorite part of the holiday season hands down.

This year, we decided to take some ground venison that Kelly’s dad sent from upstate and pair it with homemade gnocchi. I think we were all a bit surprised at how easy it was, but in truth, I'm realizing that making things from scratch usually winds up being alot easier than I think it is. 

Since the venison was ground, Miriam made a simple bolognese sauce. (I texted her to send me a link, and she said she knows it from memory, so...I'll get it on here eventually.) 

Here, the gnocchi recipe and some photos. 

Gnocchi di Patate
(serves 4)

2 pounds red potatoes 
2 ounces all-purpose flour
1 egg
1 handful of parmiggiano cheese
salt as needed
pinch of nutmeg

1. Wash the potatoes with the skin and put them in a pot and cover them with cold water. Cover the pot and let them cook for 30- 40 minutes from when the water starts boiling. (To make sure the potatoes are ready, poke them with a fork and lift. If they slide off easily it means they are cooked.)

2. Peel them while they are still warm and mash them with a potato ricer into a large bowl. Then, add the flour, the egg, the salt, the nutmeg and the parmiggiano cheese and mix everything together. 

3. Sprinkle some flour on to a large, flat surface and work the dough for a couple of minutes. Do not overwork the dough. It needs to be compact but soft. Sprinkle some flour on the dough. 

4. With a knife, cut the dough in a few large pieces and roll each piece into a long strip. From the strip of dough, cut small pieces, about the width of your finger. That's your gnocco! Continue cutting each strip of dough, until all the dough is cut into pieces. 

5. Once your dough is cut, roll each gnocco on either a floured gnocchi board or the prongs of a fork, making a light movement from top to bottom. This will make ridges on the gnocchi, which help the sauce to stick. Continue with all the gnocchi. 

5. Bring a large pot of water to boil and place the gnocchi in. As soon as they float, remove them and put them in to a bowl. Immediately add your sauce. Continue until all the gnocchi are cooked. Be sure not to cook too many gnocchi at the same time, since they might stick together. Plate them and…BUON APPETITO!

The recipe is adapted from Giallo Zafferano and was translated and rewritten by Miriam.

Crushing the cooked potatoes

Making the dough

Making the gnocchi--if you don't have a gnocchi board, the prongs of a fork work too! 

Concentrating on getting them right

The finished product! So so good. 

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