Saturday, 23 July 2011

I guess, we all have a big shelves full of cookery books in our kitchens. But there is always the one that we use mostly, we love it for its recipes and the style of the author.... Some time ago, I stopped buying the ‘just cookery books’ as I call them. I love those books that are much more than wonderful recipes with photos, they tell stories, give a vivid and fascinating insight into the authors’ lives  and you can read them again and again and again... not only in a kitchen...
And definitely Mary Contini is one those authors that I can endlessly read and laugh at her little charming story where she unravels to her daughter Francesca, the family story like a precious thread. It’s full of warmth, love and respect for traditional Italian attitudes to food as the cornerstone of a nurturing family life.

This is how she wrote to her dear daughter Francesca....

‘’Dear Francesca,
When your dad was very young, he spent many long summer holidays with his grandparents, Annunziata and Luigi. He learned to speak Neapolitan, to understand the Italian mentality and to enjoy the best Italian food. Annunziata loved him with a passion and cooked for him all the best she could afford. She was an instinctive cook. She never read, never owned a cookery book, but had learned from her mother and mother-in-law how to feed a family. Like us all, she did have one or two blind spots. She knew that her grandson loved gnocchi. She always made them for him the very day he arrived. He enjoyed the ritual of pleasing her by eating two or three platefuls. Her gnocchi were quite heavy and, as she got older they got heavier. By the time she was eighty-five, they were referred to as ‘pietre di piombo’, ‘lead stones’ – though never in her presence.
On honeymoon, when we visited, she insisted on showing me how to cook her gnocchi for my new husband. It was now my duty, after all to provide him with all his needs. Gnocchi included!!! To prove to her how he loved her, and I suspect to let me know who was going to be a boss, your dad ate not one, not two but three huge plates of ‘stones’... Let me just say that it took him three days to recover, and he didn’t quite keep up his air of authority at all times....
These are my mummy’s gnocchi. Many Italian women add some baking powder to prevent them being heavy. Mummy uses a little self-raising flour to the same effect. You need to choose floury potatoes to make gnocchi. Waxy or new potatoes don’t work.’’

450g floury potatoes, such as Maris Piper, Kind Edward or Desiree
1 organic egg yolk, beaten
200g plain flower
20g self-raising flour
Maldon sea salt

100g butter
100g sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
150g mixed olives, pitted
Handful fresh basil leaves, roughly torn, plus extra to garnish
150g ball mozzarella, drained
Extra-virgin olive oil, for drizzling

1. Boil the unpeeled potatoes in a large pan of water until tender. Drain and, when cool enough to handle, remove the potato skins. Mash until really smooth.
2. Add the egg yolk, plenty of salt and the flours and blend everything with together with clean, floured hands. Turn out and knead on a floured surface for a few minutes.
3. Put a large pan of water on to boil. Cut the dough into 4 and roll out each piece to 2cm ‘ropes’. Cut off at 2.5cm intervals and cook the gnocchi in the boiling water, in batches, for 3-4 minutes (4-5 minutes, until risen to the surface.
4. Preheat the grill to high. Heat the butter in a large ovenproof frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the gnocchi, in 2 batches, and cook until crispy and golden. Return all the gnocchi to the pan. Add the tomatoes, olives and basil and warm through.
5. Tear the cheese over the gnocchi, pop the pan under the hot grill, until melted and golden. Serve, drizzled with oil and the extra basil.

Mary Contini continues to her daughter... 
‘’....Traditionally, gnocchi were made by eye. The women never weighed the potatoes and flour. They just judged when they had added enough. Use the recipe above as a guide and make them how you like them.
Francesca, don’t let Nonna Annunziata know that your dad likes my gnocchi better than hers!...’’

I did my gnocchi according to Contini's recipe and they tasted absolutely scrumptious.... finally, I found the best consistency of gnocchi.... thanks to Mary and Francesca..... 

Enjoy yours!!! 

Fragment of the book 'Dear Francesca. An Italian journey of recipes recounted with love.' by Mary Contini. 

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