Italian for beginners

Italian has a bunch of boobytraps to trick unsuspecting foreigners like myself into making massive twats out of themselves. For instance, a lot of words will come in twin pairs: one masculine version, often ending in -o, and one feminine version, often ending in -a. The words will be identical except for the final vowel and they’ll have a completely different meaning, which means that, at times, they can be difficult to keep apart. An innocent example: il foglio is a sheet of paper, whilst la foglia is a leaf.

This wouldn’t be much of a problem if Italian wasn’t rife with obscenities and seemingly common words that are secretly also euphemisms for genitals of either gender. For instance, when I was still staying in Genova a few years ago, I told a friend that I couldn’t leave the house because the tit over our kitchen was leaking and I had to keep emptying buckets to stop the kitchen from flooding. I had meant the roof, il tetto. Instead I’d said la tetta. Just two letters off, different story altogether.

That one was funny, at least. It becomes embarrassing when you’re talking to people outside your immediate circle of friends. Imagine, for example, my horror when I tried to explain to the father of a friend what the whole story was with the Dutch and their clogs, but I actually told him about the Dutch and their sluts. It seems far-fetched, but with la zoccola I was really only 1 letter off lo zoccolo, which is how you say clog in Italian.

And then of course there was that time that I accidentally came out as a lesbian. I was just talking about food with a friend, and I mentioned I really liked figs with parma ham, or so I thought. What I said was “you take una fica and you roll it up in prosciutto crudo and it’s delicious!” I’ll leave you to guess what part of the female body Italians call la fica.

Anyway, I really do love fiche FICHI, fichI dammit, with dry-cured ham, so let’s have a shot at that, shall we? Fichi col prosciutto crudo, or figs with dry-cured ham. It’s similar to melon with ham, but better.

figs ham fichi fiche figs ham fichi fiche

As an antipasto, or small starter, for two, use the following:

  • one fig per person
  • about 100 gr of dry-cured ham, I used San Daniele, but use whichever
  • some fresh rocket
  • some olive oil
  • some balsamic vinegar

Slice your figs in wedges. In the picture there’s four piece on each plate but I actually prefer to divide the figs up in sixths – better fig/ham ratio that way. Roll each wedge up in a slice of ham.

Take some small plates and put a handful of rocket on each. Drizzle with some good olive oil, the arrange the fig wedges on top. Now drizzle the whole bunch with some balsamic vinegar and you’re ready to go!

delicious figs just some vag with ham, nothing to see here fiche fichi fiche fichi this would be so NSFW if it were and actual fica just spreading them on a bed of rocket

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My exciting new life as a boring adult

Since last September I’ve been a serious adult with a job. I’m really enjoying it, I have to say. It’s nice to have money to spend that’s actually yours and not your parents’ or student loans’. It’s nice to tell people “I’m a teacher” rather than “I’m a student”, which in reality only ever meant “I’m on the dole and pissing about until I figure out what to do with my life”. (That last part is actually still true in my case, but it’s less evident now.) I’ve taken on a set of boring responsibilities, such as paying bills, cleaning the bathroom of my house more or less regularly, moaning about ‘those damned kids outside making a racket’. I spend more money on cheese than I do on nights out these days. It’s all new and strange, but kinda nice.

Now that I’m a responsible, adult individual, I’ve also taken up boring hobbies! I’m enjoying my new boring hobbies. One of them is gardening. Do I have a garden? No. But I have a balcony and I’ve filled this balcony with potted plants and flowers. The balcony used to be off limits, as it’s partly attached to Blenderman’s room, and he wanted it for himself, but I slowly but surely invaded it, and now it’s communal territory. The neighbours have noticed, too: the other day the upstairs lady complimented me from her own balcony on my green thumb. I was ecstatic.

I’ve got a few decorative plants (snapdragons and petunias, but no geraniums, rest assured!) which are nice. My favourite plants, though, are the edible ones. So far none of my tomatoes and peppers have produced anything usable, but the herbs are rocking my socks off. I’m especially thrilled about all of my basil, of which I’ve always suffered a shortage in the past for which I am making up now. I’ve got about 15 plants, all of which are still growing and producing their delicious flavoursome leaves for my delight.

basil

Check out all my basil! In the front some authentic import from Liguria, in the back a greenhouse that I DIYed out of a polystyrene box and another little bucket of basil on the ground to the left.

Pesto’s already on the blog, so today we’ll go for something else that involves an abundance of basil: basil and courgette salad. This one’s pretty simple, but as a side it’ll impress your buddies’ and your own palate, no worries.

courgette basil salad

As a side for 4, use the following:

  • four courgettes (or more if you’re using the delicious tiny ones)
  • a nice handful of fresh basil
  • one clove of garlic
  • some olive oil
  • a small amount of lemon juice
  • salt to taste

First, wash the courgettes. Slice them in half lengthways, then make slices of about half a cm thick, halve those and boil them in salted water for 6 – 8 minutes. Drain and briefly rinse with cold water.

Wash your basil and chop it up quite finely. Put it in the bowl with the courgettes, then add a good splash of olive oil, some lemon juice and some salt. Slice the clove of garlic in half and add the two parts, too. You can remove this one later, it only need to give off some flavour.

Leave the salad to cool for at least half an hour. Remove the garlic (or eat it, I guess, if you really want to) and serve with maybe some meat or fish or whatever!

courgette basil salad courgette basil salad courgette basil salad

courgette basil salad

…and here’s another bonus shot of my balcony!

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And the Lord spoketh, “go forth, and copulate with thouself, for my wrath is upon thee”

Isaiah 24:3 And the lord saith, “Let there be a deluge, and let my aqueous fury pour down unto Turin, and let it smite the Turinese, for they have roused my anger.

Isaiah 24:4 And the lord senteth down his liquid anger onto the people of Turin, and they cried, “Behold, this summer is surely a ruin, for we have kindled the wrath of the lord.”

Isaiah 24:5 And the Lord sent forth his legion of mosquitoes unto those who dwelt in Turin, for they had roused his anger, and the lord saith

Isaiah 24:6 “Let the people of Turin suffer my wrath, for they are sinners, and they have not obeyed my laws.” And it came to pass. And the Turinese were much aggravated.

Or, in the King James translation:

And the Lord saith: Fuck the people of Turin, because they are cunts. I shall do everything that is in my almighty power to ruin their summer and they can just sit in the rain, scratching their mosquito bites all summer, thinking about what they did. Because fuck them and their puny mortal lives, see if I give a shit lol kthxbye.”

And that, dear people, is why I feel incredibly scammed just now. I came all the way from fucking Glasgow to avoid exactly this type of bullshit, and here I am, moping around the house whilst it’s pouring it down outside pretty much All. Goddamn. Summer. I am not impressed. Even when the morning looks sunny, you just know that it’ll rain by day’s end. What’s sun worth if you’re only waiting for the inevitable rain? Even if you’re not going to wear it right away, you still have to carry your stupid jacket around all day, anyway.

However, life goes on and by now, we’re sort of used to it I guess. I’ve got a holiday to a sunnier country planned later this summer, so that thought keeps me going. In the meantime, I try to keep my spirits up with summery food. If I can’t get sunshine, I’ll try at least to get something bright and radiant in my belly. Like ginger and carrot soup. Because to me, ginger is a really energetic flavour, if that makes sense. If sunshine had a flavour I imagine it’d be somewhat like ginger. So if you’re stuck in the rain, like me, and you need something to perk you up, have a try at this. You’ll feel better afterwards.

carrot ginger soup

For two or three, you will need:

  • a kilo of carrots
  • 4 -5 cm of root ginger
  • half an onion
  • one clove of garlic
  • one small potato
  • a litre and a half of veg stock, if you happen to have any (if not, make some now!)
  • half a cup of yoghurt
  • one dried chilli
  • salt to taste
  • some parsley to serve (or if you prefer, coriander, which makes for a completely different soup but is equally delicious)

First, prepare your veg stock if you need to.

Chop up your onion, your dried chilli and crush your garlic. Put all of it in a pot together with a little bit of oil and fry on low heat. Then, peel all of your carrots and slice them into medium sized chunks. Peel your potato and make small chunks. Peel your ginger and cut it lengthways, making thin slices. Chuck those into the pot with the rest of the stuff, then add some vegetable stock – not all of it, but enough to cover most of the vegetables. Bring to the boil, lower the heat and just let it simmer for about half an hour or so. Check if your carrots are completely soft by trying to crush a piece with a fork. If it crushes OK, you can start making a soup out of this thing.

Have a little taste of the liquid. It’ll probably be pretty gingery already. That’s why we’re going to fish out the ginger now. Ginger doesn’t blend well and you’ll be stuck with little chunks which aren’t actually that good, so the ginger is kind of like a tea bag in this recipe – you let is soak out its flavours and then you remove it. After you’ve removed the ginger, stick a hand blender in the soup and buzz that motherfucker up. Keep going  until you’ve got a smooth liquid.

Now you need to add some yoghurt, because the soup will probably be quite sharp what with all the ginger. Add about half a cup, taste to see if you like it and add more if you want to. Serve your soup topped with a little bit of parsley or coriander.

carrot ginger soup carrot ginger soup carrot ginger soup carrot ginger soup

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“I was such a loser before my rise to dictatorship”

You know how you always think that the you of a few years back was such a loser? Like when you look at pictures of yourself from ten years ago, and you think “Oh God, did I actually wear that shit?” or “How did I not realise I looked like a massive twat with that hair?”. I always feel that this phenomenon is even worse when it applies to intellectual and creative endeavours. Try reading the papers you wrote in your first year of uni. Typical reactions will range from the relatively mild “That’s some creative reasoning there” to flat-out “How on earth did I get a degree?” We all grow, and whilst this is a good thing, it can be slightly embarrassing to look back to our former, worse versions.

The same thing happens to me when I check out my first blog posts. They were atrocious. No pictures, no proper layout, no hope. I can’t even believe people read it back then, but some people must have, because I did get some comments. It was mostly my closest friends and my mum in those days, I guess.

One day, my Canadian friend, who knows about these things because she’s a photographer and therefore visually more talented than me, told me that I needed more pictures, and mostly I needed bigger, nicer pictures. “This is a blog about food. People want to see that shit, or they will never cook it.” she told me. And of course she was right. So I started taking pictures of everything I published here. The whole project got a lot more time-consuming from that point onwards, but that’s OK.

Anyway, sometimes I’ll read back something from quite a while ago, because that’s how this whole thing started, as a sort of public, food-related Captain’s Log. And sometimes I’ll find shit that I don’t even agree with anymore. That’s OK, too, opinions can change. So here’s an opinion of mine that has changed:

Home-made stock is flippin’ awesome and everyone should always use it for risotto.

Back in the days I had a little rant about home-made stock – how could a recipe insist on something as preposterous as home-made stock, no-one even makes their own stock, gahh so pretentious. But now I live in Italy, and Blenderman, always Blenderman, has shown me the light. Because making chicken stock or beef stock, fair enough, that stuff takes time. But actually, making vegetable stock, which is the only kind of stock I use frequently anyway, is dead easy and it’s done in no time – you can start it as you start preparing your risotto and it’ll be done before you even need it. It won’t contain any of the dubious shite that you get in stock cubes (like e-numbers that no one really understands), because it’ll all be fresh, oh my god so fressshhh. So here, I take that shit back. Home-made stock is awesome.

Red wine gorgonzola/radicchio risotto, made with home-made stock to celebrate the awesomeness of home-made stock!

red wine gorgonzola radicchio risotto

For a couple of litres of stock use:

  • a largeish carrot
  • 1 largeish onion
  • a couple of stalks of celery
  • some fresh herbs of your own choice – I like to use sage and bay leaf
  • completely optional, you can add a clove of garlic
  • some salt
  • obviously, two litres of water

For the risotto, to feed about 5 people a nice starter, use:

  • 8 fistfuls of arborio rice
  • one smallish radicchio (or Italian chicory, as it’s apparently called in some parts of the world (although definitely not in Italy, that would be weird))
  • about 150 gr of gorgonzola
  • half a red onion
  • a generous glass of red wine
  • a small knob of butter
  • freshly grated parmesan, 3 tbsp plus extra to serve

So first of all, you peel your carrot and your onion, you chop them and the celery in large chunks and then you chuck them in a large pan with 2 litres of water, your herbs and half a fistful of salt. Put it on the fire, bring to the boil and let it simmer for as long as you like (but at least half an hour).

In the meantime, prepare your risotto. Slice up your onion in the smallest possible little bits. Use about half the radicchio now, half of it later. Chop one half up into bits varying in size from very small to medium. Put them in a deep frying pan, preferably with a heavy base, together with some olive oil, some butter (yes, both!) and the chopped onion. Stir until it’s nice and tender. Add the rice. Stir it around until the kernels are covered in a film of grease, then add the wine. Stir calmly and frequently, but not obsessively, until all or most of the wine has evaporated.

Now you can get your stock out! Use a cup or a ladle to spoon in a smallish quantity of stock with your risotto every time. Stir, leave for a minute, until it’s all dissolved, and then add the next ladleful. Keep doing this until your risotto is cooked, which will probably take a little over half an hour.

Just before the risotto is completely done and about to be served up, say, 10 minutes before that point, quickly slice up another quarter of radicchio into thin strips and add those to the risotto, along with a few nice large chunks of gorgonzola adding up to about 3/4 of your total of gorgonzola. Mix well.

Last two minutes of cooking time, add in the last gorgonzola and some grated parmesan.

Serve up: top with some more grated parmesan and some fresh, thinly sliced radicchio. Woah dude.

red wine gorgonzola radicchio risotto homemade stock red wine gorgonzola radicchio risotto red wine gorgonzola radicchio risotto red wine gorgonzola radicchio risotto red wine gorgonzola radicchio risotto

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The divination rites of San Giovanni

Sometimes the Catholics come up with some pretty good stuff. For instance, patron saints. San Giovanni is Turin’s patron saint, and yesterday was his holiday, which meant that the whole city got the day off and at night there was a bunch of fireworks. It also meant that all nubile girls could finally find out more about their future marriages. I don’t know about you guys, but I was certainly dying to have a little peak into my future, so on the night of the 23rd, the vigilia di San Giovanni (or Saint John’s Eve) I quickly popped an egg white into a bottle of water and I left it on the balcony overnight.

“What’s all this egg white business, Dittatrice?” Well, I never knew about this before, but apparently divination by egg white, also called oomancy (from Greek oion egg, and manteia prophecy), is a thing and has been a thing for quite some time. This particular version is said to work only on the night before San Giovanni, the 23rd of June, and it’s a actually a pretty complicated process, if I’ve understood correctly. You need a transparent bottle, labels removed and clean on the inside. Now you need to fill it with water from seven different sources (which in Italy shouldn’t be a problem, supermarkets here offer a ridiculously wide range of bottled water, which I guess counts as different sources). Next, you grab an egg from a white hen, you pop the albumen, or egg white, into the water, and you put your bottle on the window sill (with the window open, of course), where you leave it overnight. Next morning you get up at dawn, you check out the shapes your egg white has made in the water, and you interpret those shapes to know more about your future.

Now, seeing that I’m not a Catholic or a nutcase, I found all of this divination business very interesting but also very dubious, so I decided to do an experiment the scientific way: with a control group! I tried the egg-white-in-water experiment on a random night (19th of June), and then again on the designated oomancy night (23rd of June). Behold the results:

19th of June:

san giovanni egg white

At night, ready to do its divination tricks…

san giovanni egg white

…and in the morning.

23rd of June:

san giovanni egg white

This time in an actual bottle, rather than a pint glass…

san giovanni egg white

…and here on the morning of San Giovanni.

Interpretations: my egg white after the 19th of June looked somewhat like a really creepy castle, which might mean that that I’ll marry Vlad the Impaler, or possibly another random Rumanian. Alternatively, it could suggest that my marriage will be rich, but cold and heartless, in which case I’ll probably marry a banker.

However, the morning after the 24th I found something which kind of looked like a little tent with a campfire next to it (not so much from the angle the picture was taken from, but it was there, I swear), which would suggest something quite the opposite: I’ll marry a native American, or in a more general interpretation, my marriage will be poor, but warm. With my career choice I’m inclined to say the latter option is more likely (I’m a teacher at the moment), which implies that this method does in fact only work on Saint John’s Eve!

Unfortunately, no real conclusions can be drawn from my dodgy scientific practice: as you can see I’ve done it all wrong. First mistake: I put too much water in my pint glass/bottle. Apparently you’re only meant to put in a little, and now the egg white got lost in the immense vacuum of single sourced water. And there you have yet another grave error: I used tap water. I couldn’t be bothered finding seven different sources and I never buy bottle water because that’s just stupid. Final error: I didn’t check my egg whites until the sun had been up for at least a couple of hours. I’m not a morning person, what can I say.

Anyway, what with all this prodigal wasting of egg whites, of course I had an egg yolk left that couldn’t go to waste, because whilst egg whites are only good in combination with egg yolks (or as tuiles or meringues, I admit), egg yolks are the delicious gift of some God or other to mankind and we owe them due appreciation. Thankfully I have no problems in getting rid of a left-over yolk: we just use them for a delicious, slap-happy, butt-spanking carbonara! Barbarians, beware: there is only one way to make a good carbonara, and it doesn’t involve cream. You go make a nice dessert with that, it has no business near your pasta. Of course, you can choose to make your carbonara in any way you like, that’s cool, I respect your choices, but you’re wrong and I hate you. Your carbonara will be stupid and dirty. So, now that we’ve settled that matter like reasonable adults, let’s proceed to making this thing, shall we?

carbonara IMG_0898

For 2 hungry hungry hippos, use:

  • enough pasta, you can choose but it has to be long, so spaghetti or trenette or something – use your own judgement for quantities
  • one whole egg and one egg yolk
  • 100 gr of guanciale, which is pork cheek – if you live in a country where guanciale is difficult to come by, or if you’re a student and too skint to get some, use lardons, or even pancetta or bacon that you’ve cut into small pieces
  • some pecorino, about 2 tbsp, plus extra to serve
  • black pepper

*If you want to make this for more people, with each odd person add one egg yolk and with each even person add one egg – so for three people use 2 yolks one egg, for four people use two yolks two eggs, five people use three yolks two eggs et cetera. The other ingredients you can add in normal proportions: 3 people 150 gr guanciale, 4 people 200 gr guanciale et cetera.*

Boil your pasta in water with enough salt. In the meantime, pop your guanciale/bacon/lardons in a frying pan and fry them. No oil necessary, they’ll start leaking out their delicious animal fats in a minute.

Also in the meantime, put your eggs in a large bowl, add some black pepper, some pecorino and mix that bitch up. Leave it until you need it.

When the pasta’s done, strain it in a colander but don’t strain it too much: chuck it back quickly and let it make friends with the guanciale in the frying pan. Mix it well, then add it to the egg in the bowl where you beat the eggs previously. Do not put the egg in the frying pan because you will regret it. If you put the egg in the frying pan with the other ingredients, it’ll cook too much and it’ll become hard-ish. You want the heat of the pasta and guanciale to soak up the egg and make it attach itself to the pasta, but you don’t actually want to cook it any more than that. So you move your pasta, not your egg. Now that you’ve put all your ingredients in the bowl together, mix them well – try to make sure all pasta is covered in a nice layer of egg, whilst the guanciale is spread out evenly. Put it on plates and top it with some more cheese and optionally pepper.

carbonara carbonara carbonara carbonara carbonara carbonara

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What to do with a kilo of cherries when eating them raw is not a viable option

Here is an interesting fact about Turin: Turin is the only city in Italy that has a market in every single quartiere (or neighbourhood)! So I’ve been told, at least. I’m inclined to believe it, because there is in fact an astounding number of markets in this city, in all kinds of shapes and sizes, although of course I cannot vouch for the absence of markets in every single quartiere of other Italian cities. I love markets. They smell nice, and it’s nice to hear people shouting out the prices of their wares, something you’d never see in normal shops (or upon which you’d probably frown heavily if you were to see it in a normal shop).

I usually go to the market in Piazza Madama. It’s on the small side, but it’s near my house, and it normally has everything I need. Plus, I’ve made friends with the cheese people now – I need to maintain that contact. However, sometimes you need to branch out, and so last weekend I headed over to Porta Palazzo, the biggest, most famous, most notorious market in Turin. I’d wanted to go for a while, but never went, because it’s so huge and there’s so many different stalls, that I never knew how to decide which stalls to go to. It seems that most people who go to Porta Palazzo for their shopping suffer from this – most of them told me they either pick randomly every week, or that they tried to stick with one stall from day one in order to establish rapport and get discounts. Either way, the market is known for having possibly the widest range of prices and quality in the city, whilst lower prices don’t necessarily mean lower quality, and vice versa. I guess you have to know what you’re doing, and you should probably try and have a sneaky little squeeze of the tomatoes before you actually buy any.

So as I said, the market’s enormous, and because it was roasting hot I couldn’t really be bothered to check out all of it, which meant that I just had a quick browse in one corner of the market and I only shopped around a little bit, getting some fruit at one stall, some tomatoes at another and some other stuff elsewhere, after which I headed back because my backpack was pretty heavy already and I still had to make my way home in the heat and humidity of a pre-rain afternoon in Northern Italy.

Here’s the problem though: it was so hot at the market, and I was so thirsty and sweaty, that I felt this overwhelming urge to eat lots of fruit and nothing else. You know how hot weather suddenly makes you want to eat healthy stuff, and especially juicy, watery healthy stuff that quenches your thirst while you eat? Well, that night it started raining, and the rain continued for a few days, which meant that suddenly, fruit had lost about 50% of its attraction. The flat peaches I’d bought were gone in about a day, because flat peaches are amazing and I’d eat those under any circumstances. The cherries, however, were a slightly different story. Cherries are a load of hassle to eat, what with the stones and all, and if you can’t spit those out carelessly aiming at a tree, body of water or unsuspecting companion, I actually can’t really be bothered with them. Unfortunately I had clearly bought them at a stall where price and quality were in perfect harmony: both on the low side. Binning is of course strictly forbidden, so swift action was called for. We don’t have a cherry stoner, so cherry pie or jam were out of the question. In fact, I only know one dish that doesn’t require stoning the cherries: clafoutis!

Clafoutis is genius because it is easy as fuck and it enables you to get rid of all of your rapidly deteriorating cherries. Leaving the stones in is meant to give the dish an extra cherryish flavour, but mostly it contributes to the general ‘French rustique’ feeling that will impress all of your friends. Somehow, crudely made piles of tasty are often more impressive than refined and intricate works of art. Clafoutis is one of those piles of tasty. You can serve it hot or cold, with or without ice cream, for dessert or with your afternoon tea. Pronounce the name as if you actually speak French (unaspirated t, omit the final s, stress on the last syllable) and God, will people think you are awesome. Trust me, I tried.

clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises

For one sizeable oven dish full of delicious clafoutis, use:

  • 750 gr of cherries, stones in but sticks removed, washed and sort of dried
  • 100 gr of flour
  • 1 sachet (or 2 tsp) of baking powder
  • 125 gr of icing sugar
  • pinch of salt
  • one vanilla pod
  • 4 eggs
  • 30 ml of single cream (or you can use milk, up to you)
  • 30 gr melted butter, plus extra for greasing

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Grease your oven dish or cake tin with enough butter, and chuck in the cherries.

Mix the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, pinch of salt) in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, add in the cream. Slice your vanilla pod open lengthways and scrape out the delicious vanilla flavour that’s on the inside. Melt your butter au bain marie and add it to the mixture. Beat until there are no more little clusters of vanilla but all of it has dispersed through the liquid. Now mix the dry and wet ingredients, swiftly beat them together and pour them all over the cherries. Make sure it’s all mixed properly, you have a more or less equal level of cherries and clafoutis batter everywhere, then pop it into the oven. Leave it there for anywhere between 45 minutes and an hour (depending as always on cake tin size and such).

As said before, serve it warm or cold, with or without ice cream, with or without icing sugar on top.

clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises clafoutis aux cerises

Posted in Baking, Desserts, Food, Sweets and desserts | Tagged , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Interesting finds at the local antique market

When you go to any random town in Italy, there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon a random antiques market at some point. At these antique markets, much like at all antique markets in the world, you will find many things that are in fact not antique at all, but of fairly recent production. You will also find things that, although age-wise they might be deemed ‘antique’, aren’t in fact antiques because apparently those are two quite different things. You will also find some disturbing shit, but never mind that.

A while ago I was in Vercelli with some buddies, and who’d have thought it, we came across an antique market there! For some reason it is simply impossible not to have a browse whenever you find one, so we went and had a little look. We even made some impulsive and unnecessary purchases. Some funky teaspoons for “a friend who collects them”. Some old Donald Duck comics, ‘to read on the train back home’. And then there was the gnocchi board.

My friend saw it first. I saw it only about half a second later, but that half second was enough for him to start moving towards it. You know that moment where you see something happening, like in slow motion, and you know there is no stopping it, all the processes have been set in motion, you’re slowly but surely headed towards disaster? That’s what happened there.

My friend only had to take a couple of leisurely strides towards the table with the gnocchi board before he was close enough to pick it up. “Ah look, this is so handy, I wonder how much it costs!” he said. The lady who was selling told us it was only two euros, a bargain. I tried to discourage him from the purchase: “I wouldn’t buy that if I were you…”. But my devious grin gave me away. “I’m on to you!” he squealed triumphantly, “you want it for yourself, don’t you?!”. I could only admit guilt and hang my head in shame.

But later that afternoon something fortunate happened. See, one of the other people in our company bought me an ice cream, and in a contest to prove which of the two was the most chivalrous, I was given the gnocchi board on the spot. Just like that. I was touched and delighted. People can be so lovely sometimes.

Now, maybe you’ve been reading this story, and you’re just thinking “That’s all fine, Dittatrice, but what on earth is a gnocchi board?” I’ll show you. It’s one of these bad boys:

gnocchi board gnocchi boardThey make for fantastic spanking paddles, undoubtedly, but in general you use them for making the characteristic stripy pattern on your gnocchi, which enables the delicious sauce that you serve your gnocchi with to attach itself in much greater quantities!

There’s already a gnocchi recipe on this blog, so we’re going above and beyond today. Gnocchi agli spinacci, or spinach gnocchi, with red wine and tomato sauce.

gnocchi board gnocchi board

On a side note, have you always wondered how to pronounce gnocchi? Have you always been calling them k-no-chee? Well stop right there, good citizen, for henceforth you shall know them by the name of Nyoh-kee. It looks more Thai that way but believe me, it’s more Italian.

So, for a massive pile of gnocchi that you will probably regret making afterwards unless you’ve got at least 4 people over for dinner, use:

  • half a kilo of potatoes
  • 10 cubes of frozen spinach, which will probably amount to about 150 gr
  • at least 200 gr flour, but probably a bit more, and then some extra for dusting
  • a good pinch of salt

For the sauce:

  • fresh or tinned tomatoes, whichever you prefer, close to a pound of them
  • a generous half glass of red wine
  • some fresh basil
  • an onion
  • a small dried chili
  • salt and sugar, to taste
  • some grated parmesan, if you happen to fancy it and if you are not a vegan

Start by making the gnocchi as this is somewhat a time-consuming task (although not as time-consuming as it used to be before I had my gnocchi board!).

Take your spinach out of the freezer so it starts defrosting. You’ll need it later. Boil your potatoes in the skin until they are done, which will take about 20-30 minutes, depending on size. You can test if they are done by sticking a fork inside them, all the way to the middle, and seeing if it falls off easily. If yes: done! If no: keep ‘em boiling.

Once they’re done, rinse them with cold water, pick them up with a fork to avoid scalding your hands (or leave them to cool for a while, but that means this becomes even more time-consuming) and peel off all of the skin. Pop them in a bowl and mash them up with a potato masher.

In the meantime you’ve defrosted your spinach. Good. Put it in a sieve and squeeze out as much liquid as you can. Then chop it up as finely as you can. Use a hand blender or scissors if you prefer, but you want it to be very fine. Add it to the mashed potatoes. Now add the flour, too. Knead the mixture with your hands until it’s a smooth ball. If it’s too sticky, add flour. You’ll need quite a bit, probably, because of the added liquid from the spinach. Don’t bee afraid to add some more if you feel the dough could use it.

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Now divide the dough into several smaller, more easily rollable quantities, and roll those out into gnocchi snakes, like so.

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Cut off appropriate, gnocchi-sized chunks and cover hem with some more flour, maybe. You’ll thank me later when your gnocchi aren’t sticking together like a sticky ball of death. Now you can start using your exciting new gnocchi board, or, if you don’t have a gnocchi board, a stupid old fork.

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Now it’s time to make your sauce. Chop up your onion and basil, gently fry  in some olive oil. Add the tomatoes, chopped up into small chunks. Leave to fry for a couple of minutes, then add the wine! Wait until it’s evaporated more or less, taste, add sugar and salt if you need to, and leave to simmer on low heat.

Boil your gnocchi. Once they start floating, they’re done, so stand by with a skimmer or something similar and fish them out as soon as they appear at the surface. Now chuck them in with your sauce, mix well and if you fancy it, serve with some grated parmesan or some extra basil.

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Posted in Food, Italian, Potatoes, Travel, Vegan, Vegetarian | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment