Antonio’s Gnocchi – Calabrian Style

gnocchi in tomato sauce - Antonio's Gnocchi Calabrian Style
Antonio’s beautiful homemade gnocchi.

If you’ve come to regard gnocchi as stodgy or heavy, you aren’t alone. Many North Americans do, but they haven’t tried the light as a feather versions made in Calabria. Of course, Calabrians have a distinct advantage; their potatoes are delicious and have an almost sweet flavour. But any really good potatoes can be turned into these delicious pasta pillows. One trick is to score the surface of the gnocchi so they cook more quickly without becoming soggy.

Antonio in front of his stove - Gnocchi
Antonio D’Ippolito in front of his stove. He’s holding his favourite tinned tomatoes which add flavour to his sauce.

Our local Soverato friend Antonio D’Ippolito is a helpful travel agent and terrific tour organizer who likes to cook in his spare time. This is one of his specialties and the photos are of him preparing his own gnocchi.

Ingredients

  • 1.5 kg. russet potatoes, scrubbed
  • 1 ½  cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. coarse salt
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten

Method:

Boil the potatoes in enough cold water to cover them and simmer. Remove from heat when fork tender. Drain the potatoes, and when cool, peel them. Ideally, use a potato ricer but failing this, mash them very well, until there are no lumps.

mashed potatoes and egg
Mix mashed potatoes and egg

On a lightly floured surface, add the egg to the mashed potatoes and then add the flour and salt. Mix with your hands until moistened; the dough will be crumbly but will begin to clump. Gather the dough together and knead gently for about a minute until the flour is fully incorporated and the dough is soft, smooth, and a little sticky. Over-kneading will make the gnocchi tough. Move the dough to one side on the floured surface and cover with a clean kitchen towel.Spread parchment over two large rimmed baking sheets sprinkle lightly with flour.

Clean off and lightly re-flour your work surface. Tear off a piece of dough about the size of your fist and put the towel back to prevent the remaining dough from drying out. Roll it into a rope about 2 cm in diameter.

With a sharp knife cut the rope crosswise every 3 cm to make the gnocchi. Arrange them in a single layer on the baking sheets. Repeat until you run out of dough. Using a fine cheese grater, press gently on the surface of the gnocchi to score them. This is one of the secrets of really good gnocchi.

gnocchi
The gnocchi are scored on the surface.

Drop gnocchi in small batches in boiling salted water for just a minute – until they rise to the surface. Scoop out.

tomato sauce in pan
Tomato sauce ready to receive the gnocchi

Make your favourite tomato sauce and drop the gnocchi into it for a superb Italian supper. And don’t forget the grating of good Parmigiano for the top.

Acadian Rappie Pie

statue to Evangeline Acadian Rappie Pie

Longfellow’s Acadian heroine Evangeline stands in Port Royal.

The Acadians have kept French language and culture alive in Maritime Canada. And they took these to Louisiana where it still survives as Cajun. But somehow, Louisiana never inherited their real culinary gift –  Acadian rappie pie.

In 1605, Sieur de Mons and his cartographer, Samuel de Champlain, began the first settlement of Port Royal. This is the oldest settlement in North America apart from St. Augustine, Fla.

The beauty of the Bay of Fundy and its sheltered harbour had long been known to the Mi’kmaq people who had lived here for centuries. The French and Mi’kmaq began a long and enduring friendship in the land that became known as Acadie, possibly from the classical name, Arcadia – a place of lasting peace. And the French settlers here were Acadians. Continue reading

Christmas Cookie Canes

I started making Christmas cookie canes when my children were little. They were my alternative to pure sugar candy canes; we even hung them on the tree. There’s just one cup of icing sugar in 48 cookies! My kids loved them and they continue to be a favourite with my grandchildren.

They are undoubtedly fiddly to make, but well worth the effort. And when the children are a little older, they can help make them. They actually enjoy rolling the little pieces of dough into snakes, though they may need help twining them.

By the way, I make the dough in my Cuisinart food processor. When I add food colouring  to half the dough, I use the Cuisinart to blend the colour into the dough. It makes the whole job soooo much easier and faster. The time-consuming bit is dividing the red dough and the plain dough each into 48 small lumps. Note: start by dividing each colour ball into quarters and divide each quarter into 12 small balls and roll these before starting on the next quarter.  Working on one at a time prevents the remaining dough from drying out while you roll.

RECIPE

  • ½ cup butter
  • ½ cup shortening
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • red food colouring (use the paste kind, available at cake decorating stores, to get a really intense red colour)

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Mix the butter, shortening and sugar very well. Add the egg and flavouring and blend well. Finally, blend in flour and salt. Divide the dough in half and colour half with the red colour.

Divide each colour into four equal balls. Each ball should produce 12 teaspoon-sized pieces of dough.

Roll one red and one plain piece into snakes, then entwine the snakes to form a cookie cane with a curve. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet to bake for 9 minutes. DO NOT brown.  Cool on a rack. Enjoy!

Ginger Shortbread

Put delicate shortbread and zippy ginger together for a perfect holiday treat.

The sweet holiday season is upon us. Decadent chocolate, gooey caramel and super-sweet peppermint are all nice, but to my mind, nothing beats a well-made shortbread cookie. That rich, subtly sweet, melt-in-your-mouth flavour just can’t be topped by any iced sugar cookie or bar. Like most, I have shortbread recipes and will go to the wall to defend why they are the best. 

Regardless, any recipe worthy of the shortbread name will include the same fundamental ingredients: real butter, sugar and flour. The variations thereafter are as numerous “as sand on the seashore”.

It will come as no surprise that shortbread traces its roots back to the peasant class of Scotland. Shortbread’s predecessor was bannock (biscuit bread), made by baking leftover bread dough on a very low heat until it hardened into what we might call a cracker today.  Over time, the yeast was replaced with butter and the flour with oats, creating a rich, crumbly biscuit.

The earliest shortbread was flavoured with caraway seeds and it is said Mary Queen of Scots was a fan. In fact, she is credited with boosting shortbread’s popularity by making it acceptable for the rich to eat this with tea. Over time the wealthy replaced oats – the grain of the common people – with flour and sugar – only used by the upper classes because of their cost. And the shortbread we know today was born.

Our family’s favourite shortbread comes from a recipe provided by a cooking instructor and friend, Jan Knox. Jan is no longer with us, but her recipes has been delighting my family for 30 years!

Ginger Shortbread

A favourite with our friends and family. I use a food processor for easy preparation but the ginger must be incorporated by hand. I don’t add the ginger powder but do if you like it really gingery. BTW, I’m generous with the crystallized ginger measurement!

Ginger shortbread
  • 1 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 cup icing sugar
  • 2 ½ cups flour
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tbsp. chopped preserved ginger

Blend the butter until smooth and work in the sugar, then flour, ground ginger and salt. Once you have a ball of dough, work in the ginger with your fingers. Compact into a long roll in waxed paper and refrigerate for at least two hours.

Ginger shortbread cookies in oven

Preheat oven to 325 F. Cut into ¼ inch slices. Bake on an ungreased baking sheet for 8-10 minutes. Be careful not to overcook; the edges should just be starting to turn golden.

The Perfect Cup of Tea

pouring tea into a china cup - The Perfect cup of tea I unashamedly admit to being a tea granny. I start my day with a pot of tea and drink two cups. Do I make the perfect cup of tea? I think, after all these years, I have the formula down pretty much pat. But I have been foxed by awful water (I always take tea with me on my travels but sometimes the local water is unpleasant). And I have taken to carrying a china mug with me (see below for why).

To make the perfect cup of tea, always start with a clean pot that has never been used for coffee or any other strong beverage. (This is my biggest beef with airline tea – it’s invariably in a pot previously used for coffee).

Being of British background, I would add that a china or thin-edged cup is essential. I will swear that tea tastes better in a china cup! Never buy tea from a take-out spot that puts it in a foam cup.

Silver tea pots aside, I prefer my tea made in a simple ceramic or china tea pot. Many purists will debate this, but I find that metal surfaces leach their own flavour into the tea. After all, tea contains tannic acid.

I’m not a snob. I drink bagged tea but I’m careful to choose good quality teas. I have used tea balls for loose tea but here again, you run the risk of a metallic taste if the quality of the metal is poor. I often use a Teefilter bag (paper) when using loose tea as it’s easier to lift the whole thing out and prevent the tea from stewing. Note that bagged tea is usually composed of broken leaves so they require a lot less time to brew than whole leaves.

How to make the perfect cup of tea

  1. Boil fresh cold water.
  2. Add a little of the boiled water to the pot. Swirl to warm the pot, empty, then add tea and more boiling water. Note, in a chat with Sam Twining of Twining’s Tea, he affirmed this as a good way to do it because by the time you swirl the water and empty the pot, the hot water in the kettle is just off the boil, ideal for tea making.
  3. How long you steep the tea is up to you but if you know the variety of tea, you can get guidance on what’s optimum. Many fine restaurants in Britain now use a small coffee press (never before used for coffee!!!) for serving tea. The guest can watch the water darken, the tea leaves unfurl; then press down and pour the brewed tea.
  4. Tea should be served with milk or lemon (not cream or non-dairy creamer). Sugar is optional.
  5. There are two schools as to whether milk should be added before or after the tea is poured into the cup. It may not be as genteel, but I favour the latter since it lets me control exactly how strong I want my cup to be.

Did you know you can cook with tea? Check here.

A quick Menu of Basic Tea Types:

All tea comes from the same plant – Camelia sinensis – but their country of origin and their handling makes a big difference.

White teas: These are picked from the first spring buds and may even have some down on the leaves. They are kept out of sunlight to prevent them from becoming green. These are slightly fermented and usually have a delicate flavour and aroma. They also have a very high level of polyphenols.

Pu-Erh: These teas from China age beautifully and not uncommonly may be as much as 50 years old! Chinese researchers believe this deliciously earthy tea lowers cholesterol.

Keemun: A black Chinese tea with a fruity flavour; a key part of an English Breakfast tea blend.

Macha: Japanese green tea powder made from gyokuro leaves which have been steamed and dried.

Sencha: Japanese green leaf tea with a robust, grassy flavour and mild aroma.

Lapsang Souchong: An acquired taste, this smoky flavoured tea is withered over pine or cedar fires, pan-fried, rolled and oxidized before being fully dried in bamboo baskets over burning pine.

Oolong: The leaves are wilted, bruised and dried. Oolongs lie between green and black teas in that they are partly fermented. The flavour is not as grassy as green tea and a great oolong will have many nuances of flavour.

Darjeeling: A highly prized tea from India with a floral aroma and somewhat astringent, tannic characteristics, and a spiciness often referred to by tea connoisseurs as muscatel.