Pretty much everyone has a version of Sunday Dinner, but the Italians have raised it to an art-form. Last Sunday we were just getting our bearings, here. Today, we decided to be artists.
We also decided since it seems to be the custom around here to eat one meal for several hours that we would do the same.
Phoebe has stated many a time that she doesn’t like gnocchi – they’re belly bombs and just not something she cares for. Victor took that as a challenge, since he makes a pretty good ricotta gnocchi.
He made gnocchi…
- 1 lb ricotta cheese
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 teaspoons pepper
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
- Stir together the ricotta cheese, eggs, Parmesan Cheese, salt, pepper, and garlic powder in a large bowl until evenly combined. Mix in 1 cup of flour. Add additional flour if needed to form a soft dough.
- Divide the dough into 3 or 4 pieces, and roll into 1/2-inch-thick ropes on a floured surface. Cut each rope into 1-inch pieces, and place on a lightly floured baking sheet. Place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- While sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Boil the gnocchi until they float to the surface, 1 to 2 minutes, then drain.
- Place gnocchi into a serving bowl, and spoon sauce over top.
As you can see, it’s hand-on work. Dive in.
Once you get the swing of it, it’s not that difficult. Really.
Gnocchi needs a sauce. Victor started off with some of the most delicious fresh tomatoes around – along with wine from our winery tour the other day. Local products. Gotta love it. Even the garlic was fresh out of the dirt. Awesomeness.
Ground beef for meatballs, fresh Italian sausage – not hot, not sweet. Just delicious.
They cooked up really nice…
And then there was the plate of gnocchi…
Light as a feather. Victor made a believer out of Phoebe. They had everything going for them – flavor, texture, and the unbearable lightness of being. Okay. They weren’t unbearable. But they really were light.
But I just described the main course. We started off with a lot more.
Like roasted eggplant.
This was simplicity. Thinly-sliced and drizzled with olive oil, it was baked and then sliced and topped with tomato sauce.
Next came artichokes out of our garden.
That lovely creature – and its brothers – became stuffed artichokes…
And since I had picked up a fennel bulb the other day, I decided to make fennel and lentils. Another really simple dish I’ve made often over the years.
It’s great as a side dish or as a room temperature salad. Great flavors that work with almost anything.
Lentils and Fennel
- 1 cup lentils – brown, lentils du puy, or black beluga lentils
- 4 cups water
- pinch salt
- 1 fennel bulb
- olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1 carrot, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
- splash red wine
- 3 tbsp Italian parsley
- 1 tbsp red-wine vinegar
- S&P to taste
Cook lentils in salted water until cooked through but not mushy – 15 to 20 minutes depending upon type.
While lentils cook, cut fennel bulb into 1/4-inch dice. Cook onion, carrot, fennel bulb, fennel seeds, and garlic until vegetables are tender, about 10 minutes. Add a splash of red wine and cook down.
Drain cooked lentils and stir into vegetables with enough cooking water to moisten and heat through. Stir in parsley, S&P to taste, and vinegar.
They totally rocked. And with all this good stuff, we needed bread.
I’ve been loving the breads I’ve had, but I knew at some point I’d have to bake a loaf of Pane Siciliano. I’ve baked many a loaf of it from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker, but I actually bought a loaf the other day and knew I had to try my hand at it in the Mother Country.
It came out fantastic!
This was especially fun because I didn’t have any measuring cups and the only liquid measure was in milliliters. I really wish the US had gone metric back when the rest of the world did, but… American politics are what they are…
I followed the recipe pretty close – I think. I did it all by hand and feel. I didn’t have malt syrup so I threw in a teaspoon of sugar. I also used fresh yeast – it was in the ‘fridge – which is really what got me thinking about making it in the first place. And semolina flour. The all-purpose was Italian “0” flour.
Makes 2 loaves
- 2 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp malt syrup
- 1 cup water, room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups durum flour or semolina for pasta
- 1 cup plus 1 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 to 3 tsp salt
- 1/3 cup sesame seeds
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water in a large mixing bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the oil, malt, and 1 cup of water. Mix the flours and salt and whisk in 1 cup at a time into the yeast mixture. Beat vigorously with a wooden spoon until smooth. Knead on a floured surface 8 to 10 minutes, occasionally slamming the dough down vigorously to develop the gluten.
Stir the yeast into the 1 1/4 cups warm water in a large mixer bowl; let stand until creamy, about 10 minutes. Stir in the oil and malt with the paddle; then add the flours and salt and mix until smooth. Change to the dough hook and knead on medium speed until; the dough is firm, compact, and elastic with lots of body, 4 to 5 minutes. Finish kneading by hand on a lightly floured surface.
First rise. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours. The dough should be springy and blistered, but still soft and velvety.
Shaping and second rise. Punch the dough down, knead it briefly, and let it rest for 5 minutes. Flatten it with your forearm into a square. Rollit into a long, narrow rope, about 20 to 22 inches long. The dough should be so elastic that it could almost be swung and stretched like a jump rope. Cut the dough in half and shape each into a loaf. (The book shows 3 classic shapes and illustrations; Mafalda, Occhi di Santa Lucia, and the baked Corona. I made the Santa Lucia.)
Place the loaves on floured parchment paper, peels sprinkled with corn meal, or oiled baking sheets. Brush the entire surface of each loaf with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds; pat the seeds very gently into the dough. Cover with plastic wrap, and then a kitchen towel, and let rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Baking. Thirty minutes before baking heat the oven with baking stones to 425°. Sprinkle the stones with cornmeal just before sliding the loaves onto them. Bake 10 minutes, spraying 3 times with water. Reduce the heat to 400° and bake 25 to 30 minutes longer. Cool on racks.
I put the formed loaves out on the back dining table -yes, we have an outdoor dining area for 10 or 12 separate from the other two dining areas in the villa – and headed off to the pool. An hour later, they were totally risen – I thought maybe a bit too much. They went into the oven on a sheet pan – we’re slumming it without a bread stone – and came out perfect. Light as a feather.
It was seriously some of the best tasting bread I have ever made. I’d love to take full credit, but it really was the ingredients. Both of the flours were totally superior to just about anything I can get stateside. The feel was there from the moment I opened the bags. It was the ingredients.
So… it was a long meal with lots of wine and lots of chatter.
And then we ate gelato.