Let me first explain how excited I get about food. SO. EXCITED. My apartment-mates and I cook dinner together nearly every night. One particular housemate is a cooking genius (shout-out to Cynthia Baker!), and we always try to use different ingredients and creative recipes. At school in Ithaca, I live in a cooperative house in which all 30 members cook dinner five nights a week in shifts (and in bulk. You can only imagine). My very rudimentary culinary skills (and food appreciation) have absolutely benefitted from these different forms of food immersion. Now that we have that out of the way, let me explain how excited I was to learn that Anna Rita would be hosting two Italian cooking nights this semester. SO. EXCITED. The first of these mythical nights is devoted to gnocchi, a typical Italian pasta made up of potato, flour, and eggs.
After boiling, peeling, and pressing many kilos of potatoes, we separated them into piles of about 4-5 kilos each, dropped in the eggs and flour, rolled up our sleeves, and began the long kneading process. Next to me, Cynthia was working at a furious pace with her dough, which was slowly but surely mixing into a smooth consistency; Natalie Kwee, on my other side, was busy extricating her fingers from the sticky paste on her table, hurriedly adding flour. My own ball had the unfortunate texture of glue, coating the wooden cutting board as well as my own hands. It took me longer than the rest, but at last I was able to work the dough into some kind of usable form (with flour. Lots and lots of flour).
When Anna Rita declared each student’s dough acceptable, we cut them into long strips and rolled them out lengthwise, as if we were in kindergarten again rolling clay caterpillars. Next, each caterpillar was sliced diagonally into smaller pieces, forming little rhombus-shaped macaroni. Using one or two fingers (I found my index and middle worked best), we rolled each rhombus onto itself from the middle outwards, creating the signature little shells of gnocchi. Some of the more adventurous students took it upon themselves to meticulously carve in the striped pattern using forks. In the end, we had quite a motley crew of gnocchi–plump, thin, patterned, and plain. My own were no match for Nat’s perfect examples; she was one of those gnocchi-striping fiends.
While we gnocchi slaves rested our weary fingers, Anna Rita began to boil the pasta and dress it with the many different sauces she had already made (a true Italian mamma!). The first sauce was a kind of ragu, a thick red sauce chock full of meat and carrots. The second seemed to contain artichokes and porcini mushrooms; the third, rich red peppers. The fourth was my favorite: a simple, light butter and sage sauce that perfectly complemented the heavy, starchy gnocchi. I’m not sure if the final sauce was another meat variation or if it was leftover from the first round, but at that point everyone was so far into a food coma that we didn’t question it.
The night was such a pleasant (and singular!) experience. Thank you to Anna Rita for organizing the event, cooking all the delicious sauces, and feeding everyone! To top everything off, three olive oil cakes (prepared in part by students as well!) were brought out at the end of the evening. At that point it just felt like overkill, but I went for some cake anyway. Obviously.