Italy – the country where every city boasts an extensive history of food and wine. Every city you visit has something they are famous for, whether that be the pizza in Naples or the tortellini in Bologna. Spending a semester in Siena, I quickly learned to appreciate high-quality food and the process of creating it. To take this appreciation to the next level, a group of friends and I decided to try our hand at cooking a traditional Italian dish from scratch, and that is how our Gnocchi Night began.
Gnocchi is a delicious Italian dish that is something between a dumpling and pasta. It comes from the Italian word nocca, meaning knuckle, that it gets from its shape. Gnocchi uses very simple ingredients, created using only potatoes, flour, and eggs. This dough is then rolled out into a 1-inch snake that is then cut it into 1-inch pieces. Though it is traditionally rolled out using a gnocchi board, a wooden panel with groves that you roll the gnocchi along to create little marks in the dough, that can just as easily be achieved using a fork to create grooves on the top of the gnocchi, which helps the sauce stick to it.
We had a group of 10 people, 8 from our IES Abroad program and two other international friends we had made in the city, and we were ready to get to work. We got our ingredients together, made the mashed potatoes, and then got to kneading our dough. It was a messy process, with flour slowly spreading all over the kitchen and all over ourselves. Once the dough was kneaded, we split it into smaller parts and started the tedious but fun process of creating each individual gnocchi.
One thing we realized fairly quickly into the rolling out process – we were making a TON of gnocchi. We had tripled the recipe, thinking that it was the right move to feed 10 people. We were wrong. Once we started cutting the dough into pieces, we quickly became aware of how much we had actually created. Soon there were not enough surfaces in the kitchen or living room to hold all the trays of gnocchi. It became even more apparent when we started boiling it because we realized that it tends to grow a bit when it is cooked.
This was all worth it when it came time to eat. We had created two homemade sauces to go along with our dishes, a tomato based sauce, and a brown butter sage sauce. We sat at the dining room table, and all proudly ate the dish we made. It turned out fabulous, and every bite was a delicious reminder of the work that went into the meal. Plus, having a big dinner with some of the most amazing people was always a joy, and made the whole process a tremendous success.
This night was an incredible way for our group to become closer as friends, and have a sense of accomplishment with our handcrafted meal. I guess the moral of this story is to check the serving sizes of the recipes before you start making them. But more importantly, get as many hands-on experiences with your host country and culture as possible, and don’t be afraid to get a little dirty.