Make Gnocchi Like an Italian

michael shaping gnocchi hiking tours italyOur Italy tours this season included several cooking classes. After our walking tour in Venice we cooked fresh seafood straight from the Adriatic. In the town of Bolzano, after a day cycling down the Sudtirol Wine Road surrounded by the Dolomites and Alps, we cooked fresh mushrooms and white asparagus. Some classes were hands-on events led by me, others were Italian chefs demonstrating their techniques, and one very special class was a collaboration between myself and an Italian chef, Chef Michael Seehauser in Bolzano.

group with chef michael private hiking tours italyThroughout the tours, our Italian chefs shared their recipes and techniques for making gnocchi. I have made gnocchi countless times, quite often in cooking classes as it is a fun dish to make with a group. I’ve developed my own methods for insuring light and tender gnocchi, but learned some new techniques from Chef Michael.

sampling gnocchi custom hiking tours italyOur list of ingredients and ratios was quite similar – potatoes, eggs, flour, salt. I use 2 eggs, Chef Michael uses 5 egg yolks. Chef Michael emphasized the proper choice of potato, something starchy like our russet potatoes is preferable. He peeled, then boiled them until tender, riced them while still warm, then places them in the refrigerator overnight. This allows them to dry out quite a bit. We both agreed the secret to tender, light gnocchi is to use as little flour as possible. Including this drying time helps with this.

shaping gnocchi hiking tours italyChef Michael also recommends mixing in the eggs and salt in before adding the flour. He believes this allows the salt to be better distributed in the dough. He then adds nutmeg – he described it as a “little nutmeg” but it was much more than I would have included! I had just seen another chef add nutmeg to his gnocchi the week before, and it was just a few scrapes on the grater. Chef Michael added much more, probably close to 1/2 teaspoon or so. I liked very much the addition of the nutmeg, but will probably adjust the amount I add according to the final recipe – a sauce with some earthy flavors might bear more nutmeg, while something light and fresh I’d add a bit less.

finished gnocchi guided walking tours italyHere’s Chef Michael’s recipe:

From Chef Michael Seehauser in Bolzano

2 1/4 pounds starchy potatoes, such as russet
5 egg yolks, beaten slightly to combine
1 tablespoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Peel and cut potatoes into large chunks, Place in a large pot of water, add salt, and bring to a boil. Cook until tender when pierced with a knife. Drain.

Allow to cool just until you are able to handle them. While still warm, rice the potatoes. On a scale, weigh 2 pounds of potatoes for your gnocchi, using any that remain for another purpose. Allow your 2 pounds of riced potatoes to cool to room temperature, and then preferably sit overnight in the refrigerator.

When cool, add in the egg yolks and salt and mix to combine. Add in the nutmeg and the flour, and mix again, just until combined; you don’t want to handle the dough too much.

Fill a small pan with water and bring to a boil. You will use this to test the texture of your gnocchi. Take a small piece of dough, about the size of a strawberry, and drop it into the boiling water. It will cook for about a minute, and then should rise to the surface. If, rather than sink and then rise, it breaks apart, add a bit more flour to the dough and knead again. Once you get a test one that sinks and then rises without blowing apart, you are ready to move on to the next step. You should have a test gnocchi that is cooked through, but still soft and light.

Dust the counter with flour. Divide the dough into between 4 and 5 equally sized pieces. Take one of the pieces and place it on the floured counter top. Using the palms of your hands, roll the piece out into a 1/2 inch thick log, which will be about 18 inches long. Cut the log into 1-inch lengths, and place the individual gnocchi onto a sheet pan that has been dusted with flour. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

Fill a large pot with water, bring to a boil and season with salt. Add the gnocchi to the boiling water in small batches. Once they have risen to the top, scoop them out with a slotted spoon and lay them on a baking sheet to cool. At this point, they are ready to use in your favorite sauce or baked gnocchi dish.

Chef Michael’s tips:

Use a starchy potato
Rice when warm, so you don’t get mushy gnocchi
Allow to cool, preferably overnight to insure they are as dry as possible.
Add the egg yolks and salt before the flour, as the salt will better mix into the potatoes
Add a lot of nutmeg

Add links to my ways to use gnocchi:

Gnocchi and Tomato Gratin

Gnocchi con Crema di Montasio, Speck e Semi di Papavero (Gnocchi with Montasio cheese, Speck and Poppy Seeds

Gnocchi Crocconti di Sauris

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The Cherries of Marostica, Italy

main piazza marostica walking tours italyToday our private cycling tour brought us back to Marostica, a town famous for its annual chess game, and known for its cherries. Cherry farming has always played an important role in the local agricultural economy. The Marostica cherry P.G.I., the only Italian cherry to bear this geographical indication, is heart-shaped and is picked by hand without removing the stalk, a technique that helps the fruit maintain its flavor and aroma. The color of the Marostica can range from pink to dark red according to the variety. It is juicy and has a full taste, ranging from somewhat tart to sweet.

duroni and IGP cherries cycling tours italy
Sweet Duroni on left

The best-selling varieties are Sandra, Romana, Francese and the distinctly sweet Duroni rossi. The growing area stretches across hills strewn with old towns, such as Marostica, with its Upper Castle, Lower Castle and city walls, all built in the fourteenth century. The historical center is home to numerous palaces and religious buildings, such as the charming seventeenth-century Carmini Church, the San Marco Church, built by the Venetians in honor of the Patron Saint of the Republic, and the Sant’Antonio Abate Church.

In even-numbered years in early September, the world famous human chess game is played with living pawns in the famous Piazza degli Scacchi in front of the Doglione Palace and Lower Castle. The game dates back to 1454 when it was organized to settle a courtly duel between two noble lords competing for the hand of a lady, the daughter of the Lord of the Castle of Marostica. To celebrate his daughter’s wedding the Lord planted cherry trees in the surrounding countryside.
marostica cherries at market hiking tours italy
Marostica is also known for it’s local cherry festival, the Sagra delle Ciliegie, celebrated on the last Sunday in May every year. This event celebrates the first spring fruit. Throughout the harvest season cherry based delicacies are served in the traditional restaurants of the area.

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Exploring the Olive Orchards of the Colli Berici

olive-orchard-bike-tours-italyOur travels today wound through the picturesque Colli Berici, or Berici Hills, south of Vicenza, Italy. Off the well worn tourist track, we encounter only locals out hiking the trails or cycling along these quiet country roads. In addition to vineyards, we are surrounded by many olive orchards. Producers are many, and we of course taste some olive oil as we stop for a snack at a favorite wine bar.

The flavor of olive oil is due to the presence of a large number of chemical compounds. Over one hundred compounds, including alcohols, esters, ketones, aldehydes, and phenols are found in olive oil, and contribute to each a distinctive aroma and flavors. The flavors can range from mild and fresh to grassy, floral, to spicy, with enough peppery piquancy to make one cough.

Many factors play a role in the presence and amount of this compounds. The care exhibited in growing, harvesting, and extracting the oil. If the olives are stored for a long time after harvest, or milled at too high a temperature (this does increase the yield), the flavor degrades. Olives that have been harvested to early also suffer, the highest concentration of the volatile components in olive oil only develop fully in mature olives.
olive oil tasting private hiking tours italy
The storing conditions and the age of the oil is also important. With age, the flavor and aroma of the oil decrease. Olive oil should be stored out of direct sunlight, in a sealed and dark container, and used within 30 days of opening.

Finally, the variety, weather, and location of the orchards all play a role as well. Producers of olive oil have the same deep knowledge and appreciation of terrior as a wine maker. They know the optimum place in their orchard for each varietal, how the flavors in each varietal develop on their lands, and suffer through bad years when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

olive oil tasting custom hiking tours italyToday we sampled a Colli Berici olive oil side by side with a Sicilian oil – north versus south. The Colli Berici oil was fresh, lighter, with hints of grass. The Sicilian more piquant and peppery. I’d prefer the former to garnish a grilled white fish, the latter on a crostini. So many to enjoy in different ways!

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The Prosciutto of Montagnana

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Walls of Montagnana

Prosciutto is one of Italy’s most renowned food products, but in the US we only see two of the many wonderful prosciutti produced in Italy. Only prosciutto in Parma and the San Daniele prosciutto from Friuli are produced in a manner that adheres to US import guidelines. But there are many others produced in Italy that you can only enjoy in Italy.

ride montagnana private cycling tours italy
Cycling to Montagnana, Italy

Today we visited one town in the Veneto particularly known for it’s proscuitto, Montagnana. Located between the Euganie and Berici hills, south of Padua and Vicenza, Montagnana is a small walled city, one of the best preserved examples of medieval walls in Europe. We visited on a cycling tour, but the Euganie Hills are a wonderful place for hiking tours too. A lovely evening walk around the city to view the walls at sunset is a must.

montagnana ham private hiking tours italy
Prosciutto tasting, with local melon

Prosciutto from this area in the Veneto has its own D.O.P designation, Proscuitto Berico-Euganeo. The DOP regulations for the Berico-Euganeo prosciutto describe it as a “pink-colored ham that tends towards red in the lean parts and pure white in the fat parts which has a delicate and fragrant aroma.”  Every year the town of Montagnana celebrates its prized product with a week long festa, or festival, when restaurants offer special dishes, producers offer tours, and local chefs teach classes featuring the ham.

colli euganie wines private hiking tours italy
Serprino wine from Colli Euganie

On our visit here, we enjoyed a tasting of the prosciutto. It is a bit sweeter than Parma prosciuttos, and pairs wonderfully with the local melons which have just come into season. A white wine from Colli Euganie, the Serprino, a refreshing still white wine made from the same grape used for prosecco, is a perfect pairing.

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Reviewing the history of Montagnana
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Tiefenbrunner – Wonderful Wines from Alto Adige

Our season starts soon in Italy, and we are looking forward to spending a couple of cycling tours exploring the wine regions in Alto Adige. Three bicycle routes run along the Alto Adige Wine Road, or Strada di Vini, through the province’s largest winegrowing zone, and amongst some of the loveliest vineyards in all of Italy. One day we’ll follow the path that runs from Bolzano, through Caldaro, and Cortaccia down to Trento, without any serious ascents as we pass medieval manors and castles through the vineyards and right by numerous wineries. One winery we will pass is Tiefenbrunner.  Their wines are available here in the US.

tiefenbrunner vineyards walking tours italyThe Tiefenbrunner winery is in the hamlet Entiklar, in the town of Cortaccia. Wine production has always played a significant role in the economic development of Entiklar, with grapes cultivated here as far back as Roman times. Located today in the Castel Turmhof estate, the winery was founded in 1848, but wine production on the estate dates back over 300 years. Today, the winery is still owned and operated by the Tiefenbrunner family, with Christof now overseeing the operations began by his parents, Hilde and Herbert. The passion this family has for its farmlands, its history, and their estate is wonderfully expressed in the wines they produce.

tiefenbrunner castel walking tours italyThe vineyards of Tiefenbrunner are spread on the picturesque mountain slopes around Turmhof Castle, with other vines located in the the flatter valley. The south facing slopes and loamy, chalk soil is the optimum environment for producing high-quality wines. The unique climate of this area, characterized by moderate rainfall and cool evening winds, and over 300 days of sunshine a year, results in a large temperature variation between day anid night, ideal for the ripening of the grapes. The Tiefenbrunner family appreciates the unique qualities of their terroir, carefully selecting varietals for each plot and overseeing their care, with a focus on enhancing the distinctive varietal nature of each wine.

tiefenbrunner cellar walking tours italyThe estate produces a nice range of wines, predominately whites such as Pinot Bianco, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Müller-Thurgau, but also a few reds that do well in this northern region, Lagrein and Pinot Nero

A few tasting notes on the Tiefenbrunner wines I’ve enjoyed:

tiefenbrunner pinot bianco walking tours italy

 

 

 

 

Tiefenbrunner Pinot Bianco

100% Pinot Bianco, known here in Alto Adige also as Weissburgunder. A refined Pinot Bianco, bright yellow in color, refreshing in style. Floral aromas, with scents of apples and citrus. Rich, yet fresh, with a nice counterbalancing minerality and acidity. It pairs well with an antipasti, seafood dishs, and vegetable risottos.

 

 

 

 

 

tiefenbrunner feldmarschall walking tours italy

 

 

 

 

 

 

Feldmarschall Müller-Thurgau

100% Müller-Thurgau. The vineyards for this wine sit on the high plateau of Fennberg, and ripen in a very rare microclimate. At an elevation of 3,300 feet above sea level, these are among the highest vineyards in Europe. The wine is named after Franz Philipp Freiherr von Fenner zu Fennberg, founder of the Austrian Kaiserjäger (soldiers of the Austrian emperor), who once used this as a summer residence.

Straw yellow in color, with fragrances of stone fruits and citrus and spicy florals. A well-rounded and elegant palate with hints of peaches and white flowers balanced nicely with a fresh acidity and generous minerality. This is wonderful on its own as an aperitif, or with seafood dishs and light salads and pastas.

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