Gnocchi: The Italian EvilPatrick Lancer, Sunday October 8th, 2006
For the past year, I lived "la vita bella" in Italy, living with a host family. The follow story details an incident that occurred after I returned to the states.
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Ok, truth betold I am no cook. My family here, however, is led to believe otherwise. "Oh yeah, my host-mom taught me how to make a bunch of stuff...", I tell my mom a few nights after we got back. I detail how she had me help as she made pizza, salsa, and gnocchi. "Just helped?", asks my mom. "Well not just helped, I also made alot of stuff on my own...", I defend. "Yah? Like what?", she quips. "Well, I made panini all the time", I say. My mom, not wanting to seem out-of-the-know, does not inquire as to the exact nature of panini. I don't press my luck too far, but cite that they can sometimes have "very complicated recipes." So last Monday I made pizza for my family and a few friends. That went well. That is, I myself noticed no errors in my ways, and the pizza looked good and tasted good. It was a low point when I set the stove for 250 degrees and wondered why it was not cooking well... I then, without a word, divided by 5, multiplied by 9, and added 32. I then reset the stove to 482 degrees. I got nothing but good reviews. Even I thought it was a damn good pizza. But I was blinded... There is an evil that lurks in Italian cooking.
So this afternoon I made gnocchi. Gnocchi are "easy easy", said my host-father every time I asked to help when we were making them. I took only brief notes, but it did look pretty damn easy to me. I had my note-book out and followed my own maze of instructions. For the pizza I pryed measurements out nof my host-mom, but I had no such luck with the gnocchi. "A pile of flour" which I described as "volcano-ish". My host mom said we needed "una bella patata a testa" (a good potato per head). Then there is a quote from Josh, describing the dough as "smooth and lump-less". Yeah, I could do this, no problem. The only number on the page was "one", denoting that I needed one egg. But the eggs that we had this evening were smaller than average. So I discarded that number and used two eggs instead. My "belle patate" were inadequate. I figured 2 rough, ugly potatoes were the same as 1 beautiful one. I was cooking for 5, so I upped the potatoes to 6. Now the potatoes needed to boil. Never having boiled potatos before I did not know how long it would take to get them to a "mashable" state. It turns out that it takes upwards of 20 minutes, I probably should have left them boiling longer. I mixed them in with the eggs and flour. The potatos were a bit tough and so it was difficult to get that "lump-less" dough described by Josh. As a matter-of-fact, the dough was anything but lump-less. It was kind of sad, really. So up to this point, I have made about five classic cooking errors, but the biggest one was yet to come. I cut up the gnocchi and put them in the pot filled with salt water and then turned on the heat. Now, experts say that you dump the gnocchi into the pot AFTER the water boils... Sure, whatever. I tried to make up for my mistake by not taking out the gnocchi as soon as they floated, but instead I stirring the pot for a bit and letting them bob around the top, hoping they would become more cooked, or "cookerd". This was probably a mistake. As a matter-of-fact, I've looked back upon my total process and see that just about everything I did was a mistake. As a matter-of-fact, I was probably a mistake. But I won't think about that right now. So I then proceeded to strain the water out of the pot... With many more curse words than needed, I picked up the gnocchi that I spilt while I was working. Roughly half of the total ended up in the sink, or on the floor, or on the stove, or on the ceiling (that was actually on purpose, it looked like it would stick, and it did!). It really was probably a good thing, because by that point it was quite evident that I had screwed up big time. The gnocchi were slimy and lumpy and just doughy tasting when I sampled one.
But here is the evil power that lurks in Italian cooking... You let them know it's Italian. My brother had a friend over for dinner; "What is this shit?". "Oh, they're gnocchi, try them, they're Italian..." Nothing but good reviews again, they liked it! And this stuff was rank... Like worse then cafeteria food, worse then the dinners in Sicilian hotels that are served without being fully thawed, and even worse than the molding dessert on the plane-ride back to the States. There is something about the food being "Italian" that makes it good. It's like when sweaters are cashmere; does it really matter if they are itchy? When food is Italian, to an American, does it really matter if it tastes like crap? And thus is the potently evil force that lurks behind Italian cooking. I'm just hoping we don't all die of e.coli or ebola or smallpox or something of the sort in the next few days...