I have a long-term affair with Italy; one that’s lasted for the past eight years and counting.
The first time I laid eyes on the boot-shaped country in 2007, Italy effortlessly won me over. Just like that, as my friends and I visited Cinque Terre, Florence, Venice and Bologna in slightly less than two weeks, I fell in love with the architecture in Italian cities, the wit and charm of dark-haired Italians, and the passion with which the people lived.
Over the next seven years, I’d pine to return to the Mediterranean country where the mountains were a natural backdrop to its waters, and when Juan and I finally made a trip back to Italy in August last year, Italy captured my heart all over again, at an even deeper level.
During our ten-day trip, where we covered Rome and the Amalfi Coast, we sought out pizza and bruschetta in Naples, oxtail soup and octopus salad in Rome, and plenty of seafood pasta all along the coast. Italian food now became the highlight of our trip – and as we re-discovered Italy bite after bite, savoring the flavors of vinegared olives, crusty bread dipped in olive oil, creamy gelato and refreshing lemon slush, I knew I’d found a cuisine that would always bring a glow to my face and happiness to my tummy.
When Juan was first diagnosed with Celiac Disease early this year (which simply means he has to go on a lifelong gluten-free diet), we thought that our relationship with Italian food was now over. Both he and I love pasta, and how could pasta exist without gluten? For a little while after receiving his diagnosis, our food-inspired world seemed to come crashing down.
Thankfully, the skies cleared and the sun shone again when we realised that there were many different gluten-free pastas that could replace the typical durum wheat pasta. I’ll be honest and say that while it’s not quite the same, gluten-free pasta does taste pretty good as long as you have a great sauce to go with it.
A while ago though, I started toying with the idea of making gluten-free gnocchi – a tough feat considering that I’d never even made gnochi before with normal wheat flour. I let the idea sit around on the “recipes to try” list in my notebook, but it took our trip to New York last month to finally bring it to life.
We hadn’t done much research for the weekend getaway to the Big Apple, but the one thing that we knew for sure was this: we were going to have dinner at Senza Gluten, the famous 100% gluten-free Italian restaurant run by Chef Jemiko.
On the website, Chef Jemiko says, “I decided to create the gluten-free Italian menu to focus on this incredible, delicious food that I learned from many executive chefs in this wonderful country. A gluten-free Italian menu does not have to miss out on flavor, texture, or delicious options.”
It’s hard not to like someone who says something so wonderful, and since Juan and I had been missing good Italian food, the first thing we scribbled down on our to-do list for NYC was “Eat at Senza Gluten.”
Given that we were zipping in and out of New York for just two short days, the only day that we could have dinner there was Saturday night, so we booked a table to make sure we would definitely have seats, especially since we’d invited our friend Vennie along.
It’d been a long while since I’d enjoyed Italian food so much: we had chicken soup and fungi bruschetta for starters, followed by pasta for our mains, and tiramisu for dessert. Each dish was a delight for both our eyes and taste buds, but the one dish that really stood out with Juan’s potato gnocchi with a creamy mushroom sauce.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of gnocchi, but the gnocchi served that night was just the right size with the right texture – neither too soft nor too chewy. It was simply so good, I couldn’t stop raving about it to anyone who asked us about our NYC trip.
When we returned to DC, I was determined to do some sort of recreation of the pasta, with a little twist. Instead of mashed potatoes, I decided to use pumpkin puree because pumpkins were in season and I wanted to add a splash of color to the gnocchi. And for the sauce, I went with something simple using what little I had on hand – rosemary-flavored brown butter with a hint of crème fraîche.
It took a little playing around with the dough and adapting a recipe I’d found on The Krooked Spoon, but the texture came out pretty close to the one at Senza Gluten. I was extremely pleased with it, but best of all, even Juan agreed that it was a close second.
I’m now determined that a gluten-free menu doesn’t have to miss out on flavor, texture, or delicious options. Thank you Chef Jemiko for the inspiration!
And as for the rest of you, tuck in and enjoy!
- 1½ cups pumpkin puree
- 1½ cups gluten-free all purpose flour blend + more as needed
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 stick of butter
- 3 sprigs of fresh rosemary
- 3 teaspoons of crème fraîche
- Salt to taste
- Place the pumpkin puree in a large bowl, and add the gluten-free flour blend and the beaten egg, then mix the ingredients well until you get a uniform dough
- Turn dough out onto a cool gluten-free floured surface, and use your hands to form a round disk
- Divide disk into 6 equal portions (like you would cut a pizza)
- Using floured hands, roll out each portion to the thickness of a finger and cut dough into 2 - 3 inch portions and roll into a an oval-sized gnocchi, then set gnocchi aside on a floured tray or plate.
- Repeat until all dough has been used up.
- Bring a large pot of generously-salted water to a boil, then place gnocchi in a few batched in the water. When gnocchi floats to the top, it is cooked. Remove gnocchi from the hot water and set aside.
- As the gnocchi cooks, place the three sprigs of rosemary in a large skillet over medium heat and melt the stick of butter and let it cook until it turns brown and fragrant. Add in cream fraiche and stir well, then add salt to taste.
- Divide cooked gnocchi into 2 equal portions and serve with rosemary brown butter sauce. Garnish with fresh rosemary and cracked black pepper if desired.