A grandmother is a mother who has a second chance

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Gnocchi

Ed and I went out for dinner on Friday and I had Gnocchi with Bolognese Sauce. I love gnocchi partly because of the taste, and partly because of the memories.

When I was a kid, one of our special holiday events would be making gnocchi. Although we didn't call it gnocchi - we called it "guvadeal" - which I later learned was my family's way of saying "cavatelli". I believe the difference is that gnocchi is made with potato and cavatelli is made with egg and sometimes ricotta. Since my family called them "guvadeal" but made them with potato, they were all screwed up! But, oh, what a treat.

The day would start early with my grandmother (on my Dad's side - my maternal grandmother avoided cooking as much as possible) clearing off the kitchen table and placing a huge wooden board on it. We kids would also help put a clean white sheet on Grandma's bed and dust it with flour - this was where the beloved gnocchi would be placed to dry. A big pot of potatoes was on the stove and she cooked them in water until they were mush. Then she drained them a bit and mashed them down until they were the consistency of - well, of runny mashed pototoes! She would put a huge pile of flour on the board, make a well in the center with her fist, and begin pouring the potatoes into the well. Then she would mix. All by hand. More flour, more potatoes. Probably some other ingredients like salt, but all I remember was the huge flour-potato mess.

Finally we would be at the dough stage. Several huge balls of dough. Next step was to cut a chunk of dough and roll it into a long thin rope. Grandma had a knack of making these ropes as long as the table without breaking them. This was the moment we kids waited for. We would stand around the table watching the process. Flour would be flying around and by this time most of our faces were dusted white. We had washed our hands and were ready to go to work. Once the dough rope was done, another "grown up" would begin cutting it into one-inch pieces. Our job was to take one of these pieces, put two little fingers in the center, and roll the dough just a bit so it was now the shape of a little shell. I think the purpose of this exercise was to break the air bubbles - and to give us kids something to do. Gnocchi in restaurants don't appear to have any kid fingerprints on them.

Once we had finger-rolled a batch, someone would appear with a cookie sheet dusted with flour which we would fill up. Then we'd head into Grandma's bedroom and put the gnocchi on the sheet, careful that none of them touched each other, to let them dry. This event went on for a couple of hours and we kids would get tired about halfway through and be sent away. I think they secretly were glad when we left the area. Between the periodic dropping of the cookie sheet (filled with gnocchi), the extra flour on the floor, the constant chatter and questions, the occassional fight (which is really messy with flour and doughy hands), our presence was tradition, but probably not the highlight of the adults day!

When dinner came we all were dispatched to the bedroom to grab bowls or trays of the gnocchi and bring them back into the now cleaned up kitchen. And into the pot they went. The water was so thick with starch that you couldn't even see the gnocchi! Dinner was heavenly. Grandma would be saying, "Mangi, mangi, bella, mangi." Although, if you've ever had home-made gnocchi, you know that after eating a bunch of them, it is often difficult to get up out of the chair. They are like little lead weights with sauce on them.

As I got older, this tradition seemed to fade away. Too much work for everyone. Life was too rushed and the holidays too harried to fit in a day of gnocchi-making. My aunt would still make them by herself once in awhile. One time when I visited her in Tucson, she gave me about 4 pounds of them she had frozen for me. I had to go buy an insulated bag to get them back home to California safely.

Now I only get them in restaurants. Any time I see them on a menu, I must have them. They bring me back to a wonderful time in my life and a tradition that still brings a smile to the faces of my cousins and me. And sometimes teary eyes from missing all the family members who were part of the tradition and are now gone - along with the lifestyle we had back then.

8 comments:

ba and the boys said...

sandi-we must have been seperated at birth! our nana alway used the word guvadeal and i had no idea it came from another word.
i remember making them at my great grandmothers home in her small little kitchen with all the women. such good memories...
in fact, i have a wooden gnocchi maker that i never use but might dust off now.
thank you for posting!

namaste said...

i discovered gnocci when i was still living in florida and my girls were smaller. (frozen ones in the supermarket) love them. sounds like i would love the homemade ones even better. yum!

It's Me said...

ahhhhhhh....love all those Italian treats. My son's family (father, grandmas, etc...) are 100% Italiano! When he comes back from visiting, I love to hear about all the great dishes his grandma cooks for him. Last time he came home wanted me to make some type of meat that starts with an "M"...(moglio???)....

Maryann said...

We must keep these traditions, alive! Wonderful!

Desert Diva said...

Gnocci sounds delicious - I've never had them. You story sounds like the Hispanic equivalent of making tamales at Christmas!

jesse said...

I can't think of anything more comforting than gnocchi... thank you for this wonderful post.

Fleur de Lisa said...

Your gnocchi story makes me think of what my family always made at Christmas-- something called klejner. I should try gnocchi again.

Jenni said...

I remember we made gnocchi once at Aunty Mary's for Thanksgiving. That was a fun day.

We should do this sometime with the kids. Vika and Eamon would love it.