As Jeremy, Craig and I were enjoying our recent feast of treats from Whole Foods Market, and tasting their easy-to-prepare gnocchi [NYOH-kee], I started pontificating about the different styles of this classic dish.
Many people know about the dumplings, which are readily available in grocery stores. But there is also a Roman version, made of either farina or cornmeal, which is baked rather than boiled. I know - the little minutiae that take up space in my brain! Don't ever ask me anything practical, like how to jump a car battery. But I can chat for days about such esoteric matters as linguistics, art history, and regional cooking styles!
So anyway .... As we ate, I promised to make the Roman variety of gnocchi, which are akin to a cheesy polenta, to show the difference. And here they are!
The substantial gnocchi require a topping that's sturdier than a marinara sauce, which is better suited to something delicate like angel hair pasta. And so it occurred to me that I should make a sauce in honor of Craig's dog, Sammi, pictured above as a puppy (he's now 13). His breed and the sauce I chose share a name and a place of origin: Bolognese [boh-lohn-YAY-say], from the city of Bologna [boh-LOHN-yuh].
Because the Italians are as obsessive about their food as the French are about their mother tongue - remember the Académie Française, devoted to regulating the language into submission, an impossibly Sisyphean task - there is an "official" version of Ragù Bolognese. According to Wikipedia:
In 1982 the Italian Academy of Cuisine (Accademia Italiana della Cucina), an organization dedicated to preserving the culinary heritage of Italy, recorded and deposited a recipe for "classic Bolognese ragù" with the Bologna Chamber of Commerce (La Camera di Commercio di Bologna). A version of the academy's recipe for American kitchens was also published. The academy's recipe confines the ingredients to beef from the plate section (cartella di manzo), fresh, unsmoked pancetta (pancetta di maiale distesa), onions, carrot, celery, passata (or tomato purée), meat broth, dry wine (red or white, not sparkling), milk, salt and pepper. The option of adding a small amount of cream at the end of the preparation is recommended.
My version isn't an exact replica of the authorized one, but does feature all of the required ingredients: the pork fat, beef, vegetables, wine, tomato, and milk. And it's very, very good!
Have a lovely and very merry Christmas, with lots of good food! I wish you many blessings and much happiness ... :)
Be sure to stop by and visit on Wednesday, for my "Top 10 of 2012" post - the best things I've eaten all year!
Roman Gnocchi with Ragù alla Bolognese
(adapted from a recipe for Roman Gnocchi in From a Monastery Kitchen by Brother Victor-Antoine d'Avila-Latourrette)
- 4 cups milk
- generous pinch of nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1-1/2 cups yellow cornmeal
- 4 eggs
- 1-1/2 cups grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
Heat milk, nutmeg, and salt in a large saucepan over high heat just until it's almost boiling; turn heat down to medium-low. Slowly stir in cornmeal, in small increments; stir for 5 minutes until thickened. One by one, stir in eggs; then stir in cheese.
Grease a 9"x13" baking pan. Pour cornmeal mixture into the pan, cover, and refrigerate at least 1 hour to chill it and let it firm up.
Preheat oven to 425F. Cut into the cornmeal and score it into 2" squares; bake for 30 minutes or so, until firmed and golden at edges.
- 2 tablespoons bacon fat
- pinch of red pepper flakes
- 1 small onion, chopped
- 1 large garlic clove, minced
- 1 large carrot, chopped fine
- 1 large celery stalk, chopped fine
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- generous sprinkling freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1/2 pound ground pork
- 1/2 cup red wine
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 1-1/2 cups milk
In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, melt the bacon fat over medium-low heat. Add the red pepper flakes, onion, garlic, carrot, and celery; cook for 5 minutes. Add salt, pepper, sugar, and Italian seasoning; cook for 5 more minutes, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are tender and are just starting to turn golden.
Add the beef and pork; brown the meats, then drain the mixture. Add the wine and the tomatoes; cook for 5 minutes over medium heat. Add a generous splash of milk, stir in, and cook for 5 minutes. Add more milk in this same fashion, every 5 minutes or so, until all the milk has been incorporated. Cook on low heat for 15 more minutes.
To serve: Place 4-5 gnocchi onto a plate and top with sauce, then top with Parmesan cheese, if desired.