First there was flour and eggs and potatoes.
Then there was Gnocchi.
Heaven fell onto our plates.
And into our stomachs.
Last Friday night was the event of all events: Gnocchi night.
I’d been watching Gnocchi night inch towards us on the calendar for what seemed like ages. It was thus a thrilling moment to walk into the makeshift palazzo kitchen at 4 pm and see the gold mounds of potatoes and giant cutting boards, the eggs, the bags of flour…and the wonderful smile of Anna Rita.
It wasn’t long after we gathered around the square work table that we plunged our hands into the potato mountains. Anna Rita showed us how to work the eggs and flour into the riced potatoes, to roll the dough into slender tubes and cut these tubes into plush little dough diamonds. It was stunning to watch Anna Rita as she swirled and stretched and folded the dough with powerful, wizardly motions. I was equally impressed when she showed us how to indent the gnocchi and roll them into curls with the tips of our fingers. With this final step, each individual gnocco was given a small chamber space for maximal capturing of the sauce.
We were engaged in this gnocchi making process with intense focus for around an hour and a half. At a certain point I looked up and saw the positively insane quantity of gnocchi we were creating. They were arrayed on trays that spanned the entire wall of the room. The great diversity of the gnocchi in shape, size, quality of craftsmanship, testified to the many different pairs hands that had made them.
We may have done a very fine job with all of this mashing and massaging and rolling and shaping, but Anna Rita was responsible for the feast that followed. After freeing our hands from their potato shrouds in the bathroom, we entered the dining room where an tanatalizing spectacle of minestrone and carrot soup, frittata (with crispy onion…with asparagus…with smoked mozzerella and sun-dried tomato…), and piles of bread and wine, awaited us. As we chat, sipped and nibbled our way through these delicacies, Anna Rita took the hundreds of naked gnocchi we had made and draped them in a luxurious array of sauces.
The first gnocchi arrived in a steaming silver pot, and the scent of tomato sauce ragu wafted across the room. A few minutes later, this first debut was followed by gnocchi bathed in butter, olive oil, sage and rose peppercorns. Another fleet of gnocchi appeared up in the guise of a velvety red tomato sauce, and the next gnocchi were hidden amongst a stunning heap of smoked provola cheese, creamy artichokes and crunchy splintered almonds.
There seemed to be a pattern of increasing complexity and deliciousness among the gnocchi, and those amazing artichoke gnocchi were soon outdone by gnocchi in a sauce of salmon, peppers, tomatoes and parsley. The grand finale though was gnocchi with a pesto of peppers and pinenuts-something I had never heard of before and now wish never to live without.
Despite their frequent description as “light” and “pillowy”, gnocchi are also pretty rich and filling. After sampling Anna Rita’s incredible farro and carrot soup, various kinds of frittata and 6 heaping bowls of gnocchi, we were ready to curl up in the palazzo for a few solid decades of hibernation. It was at that moment that the tiramisu arrived. The two trays of the custardy, espresso laden cake, crowned with a cloud of cocoa powder, glided into the room like the last chariots in an imperial procession. There was no saying no. After two months in Rome, I’ve sampled a fair number of tiramisus, but immediately recognized Anna Rita’s as a superior, transcendent confection.
The festival of gleeful consumption that I have just described was followed by a spell of post meal quiet. But when Anna Rita and Annalisa began passing around tins for leftovers, the room bounced back into bustling activity. As we all gathered once more around the cornicopia, filling up our boxes with gnocchi, soup, frittata and tiramisu, I smiled at the bright prospect of eating this dreamy dinner for the rest of the week.
Looking a bit farther into the future, once my leftovers have disappeared, I’m so excited to dive into the book of Anna Rita’s recipes that we each received. It is a real treasure. I’ve already bookmarked the the eggplant parmagiana and that world-shifting Pepperoni Pesto.
Anna Rita, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts and stomachs!