remembering...the board


Family traditions are defined as the handing down of statements, beliefs, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, especially by word of mouth or by practice.

We all have traditions of some sort…some we continue…some we lay aside.  Sometime ago my friend Carla shared with me a cherished family tradition that I am thankful to be able to pass along to you.

Carla has a rich Italian background by way of her Sicilian grandmother (who apparently was a “pasta genius”). This little grandma would travel from back east to California when Carla was a young girl, and one of the things on the agenda when she was visiting was to make pasta. Pasta enough to last until the next time Grandma would hop on that plane for another west coast visit. But on Grandma’s first trek out west she said that there was one problem, she couldn’t make the pasta without her wood board; granite or marble would not do. So thanks to a handy young man in the family a wood board was produced. It’s nothing fancy, just a large piece of plywood with a stabilizing wood piece underneath so it would easily sit on top of any counter without moving. Now Grandma was happy, and so were all the hungry pasta recipients.

When it was time to make the goods, Grandma would roll up her sleeves and start mixing, kneading, rolling and cutting all kinds of glorious pasta. Within the fog of flour that would hang in the air, wonderful strands, pillows and sheets of dough would emerge. Everyone got involved; Carla was given the task and title of the “official gnocchi roller” with her famous finger flick style, the final shape for these beauties before they hit the water. And I would like to testify that to roll a gnocchi; especially Carla’s “finger flick” does take skill, of which I have yet to be proficient.

So even though I’m not related to Carla and am Scottish, (which is quite uninspiring on the food front) I had the opportunity to learn to make Grandmas’ Sicilian style gnocchi. And since Carla brought over Grandmas' board it made it even that much better.

The result…the gnocchi turned out great. We scattered them on sheet pans and put them in the freezer to firm up before we put them into their respective containers. Thankfully we held a few back so that we could reward ourselves and sample our labor with a simple lunch of gnocchi with browned butter and sage.

They were delicious!


Carla’s Grandmas Amazing Gnocchi

This gnocchi recipe is a little different, in that it uses ricotta cheese as opposed to potatoes.

  • 3-3 ½ cups all purpose flour (start with using 3 cups of the flour first, then add more as needed to get the right consistency)
  • 16 ounces ricotta
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature

Put all the ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed to pull everything together, slowly increase the speed. Let the mixer knead the dough until it begins to “slap” the sides of the mixing bowl. Feel the texture of the dough; if it is still a little sticky add more flour. The final result should be a smooth dough that isn’t sticky.

Put the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, pull off a knob of dough, about the size of a golf ball. Begin to roll out the dough into a long snake that is about a finger width in diameter. Then cut the snake into 1 inch pillows, lightly flour the gnocchi as you cut them. You can cook these as is or form them into the classic gnocchi shape with a gnocchi board, or the tines of a large fork turned upside down (or give Carla a call and see she if she’ll come over to do her famous “finger flick”style). Rest the bottom edge of the gnocchi board on the work surface, and then tilt it at about a 45 degree angle. Take each piece and squish it lightly with your thumb against the board while simultaneously pushing it away from you. It will roll away and around your thumb, taking on a cupped shape -- with ridges on the outer curve from the board and a smooth surface on the inner curve where your thumb was. (Shaping them takes some time and dexterity. You might make a batch just for practice.) The indentation holds the sauce and helps gnocchi cook faster.

As you shape the gnocchi, dust them lightly with flour and scatter them on baking sheets lined with parchment paper or waxed paper. Set gnocchi filled cookie sheets in the freezer for a few minutes to firm them up if you will not cook the gnocchi until the next day or later. Alternatively, you can cook them now, in a large pot of boiling salted water. They are done when they begin to float to the surface, about 5 to 8 minutes. Drain the gnocchi and toss with a little olive oil to keep from sticking. These are wonderful with a simple toss in some brown butter and crispy sage, or one of the ways Carla typically makes these with a marinara sauce and meatballs. Yum!