Gnocchi alla Romana

Gnocchi alla Romana

Somewhere between Polenta and Grits, this wintery preparation from central Italy is easy to prepare and versatile. It can be served as a Primo Piatto, just like a pasta course, as is or on top of some cooked greens like spinach. Or it can serve as crispy and rich side dish to a braise, roasted or sautéed meat.

They are made with coarse ground semolina (durum wheat) or even cream of wheat. Simply add about 1cup of semolina to 4 or 5 cups of hot milk stirring to avoid lumps. Cook about 15 minutes, season with salt, pepper, nutmeg and grated Parmigiano and pour the thick mixture on a greased sheet tray or greased surface. Use a greased spatula or plastic wrap and a rolling pin to level at about 1/2 inch thickness and allow to cool.

Once room temperature the mixture becomes firm and can be cut in shape, normally round discs about 2 inches in diameter.Arrange discs in a buttered oven proof dish and season the top with more grated Parmigiano and additional butter. At this point you may refrigerate or even freeze for later use if desired.To complete bake at 425F for about 20-30 minutes or until the gnocchi will achieve a golden crispy crust.

Let's Talk Carbonara

Bucatini alla Carbonara
Bucatini alla Carbonara
Bucatini alla Carbonara

A humble yet luscious pasta dish typical from central Italy. Composed of a few simple elements, it requires quality ingredients and skillful care to become a true delicacy.

No doubt it is packed with calories, fat an cholesterol. Get over it. Nobody is perfect. It is just fine if you enjoy it occasionally and in moderation as one very tasty and satisfying course on a multi-course meal, in which case you can plan to serve 6 or even more small portions out of one pound of pasta.

It consists of strips of Pancetta or Guanciale (cured pork jowl) rendered in a saute' pan until golden and crispy into which you toss some hot pasta al dente, immediately after draining it from its cooking water and quickly bond with a mixture of egg yolks, freshly ground peppercorns, grated Pecorino and Parmigiano cheese. Yolks should coagulate quickly but gently, without scrambling and just enough to create a rich creamy sauce that combined with the flavor and texture of the Guanciale, makes this pasta hard to resist.

Bucatini or Perciatelli are in general the pastas of choice, but Spaghetti, Penne or even other shapes can also produce interesting results.

The keys are a few:

- Like all simple preparations, using top quality ingredients makes a difference. A great fat artisanal Pancetta or Guanciale, freshly picked farm eggs, freshly ground black pepper and good and freshly ground Parmigiano and Pecorino (Romano works well but some other aged Pecorinos from Tuscany, Umbria or Lazio region can be even better) will yield outstanding results.

- It must be prepared at the last minute and pay close attention in cooking the egg yolks very carefully while continuously tossing the pasta in the pan, to ensure that they will bond and achieve creaminess without scrambling - a bit like in a Hollandaise. If the pan is hot and the pasta just drained, no additional heat should be necessary to cook the yolks. But if for some reason you have lost some of the heat, then be extremely careful to finish the dish over a gentle flame and stir it constantly.

Some like to use whole eggs and some like to add some heavy cream, although my favorite is prepared with egg yolks only.

Hopefully, the visual steps above can help you achieve a great result. Buon appetito!