GUA resident kitchen hobbyist and foodie Sr Gregor prepares italian meatloaf and gnocchi in a pair of recipes handed down from a little old lady in Umbria.
So, amidst my other assorted hobbies, I've been taking a cooking class here or there, and one of my favorite places has been Cook's, Pots and Tabletops
down in Eugene, Oregon. The owners and assorted guest chefs have been lovely and charming masters to learn from, and the atmosphere is inviting and fun. Taking what I learned there, I've derived my own spins on a couple recipes and tried them out on my housemates.
To start with, polpettone
sounds crazy fancy, right? Turns out, it's basically "giant meatball", or "meatloaf". That said, this recipe was a definite step up from what we found in school cafeterias and mom's dinner table. I started with a pound and a half of hamburger (7% fat) and a pound of ground italian sausage. I added in a cup of ricotta, 2 eggs, 1/2 a teaspoon of nutmeg, a cup of panko bread crumbs, 4 minced cloves of garlic, 3 tablespoons of dried, ground parsley, and a teaspoon of gelatin dissolved in two tablespoons of water to act as an additional binder. A single heavy pinch of sugar mixed in (Chef Rosa's protip: for any savory dish, add a dash of sugar. For any sweet dish, add a smidge of salt.) I worked all this together into a big mess with my hands and formed it into a large meatball, then wrapped it in plastic and set it in the freezer for about ten minutes. Basically, the whole block was too sloppy and squishy to be able to place in my pot without it falling apart, and as the picture shows, it still came apart a bit when I flipped it.
While I had that cooling and firming up, I started in on my gnocchi. I generally chide myself for resorting to using ketchup in some of my sauces and marinades (seems cheater-y... I've since started doing my own with tomato paste and other ingredients), so it grated against my instincts to use instant potato buds - basically dried potato flakes that you can buy in pretty much any store for making instant mashed potatoes. But, who am I to argue with an Umbrian mother? So, 2/3 cups of potato buds, plus 2/3 cups of flour, and a generous helping of salt to make my basic flour mix. I set two cups of water to a rolling boil, then dropped in the mix and cut the heat. You need to stir quickly to make sure the powder all mixes evenly, to form a rough-hewn pasta. Take it out and throw it down on a dusted cutting surface, and roll it up into a log.
At this stage, I jumped back to my polpettone and took it out of the freezer where it had firmed up nicely. In a large stew pot, I laid down a bit of olive oil and seasoned the bottom of the pot, getting it up to a nice heat. Once it started sizzling, I dropped in the meat and browned the underside, then flipped it over to brown the other side. Once it seemed properly browned, I dropped in a little over a cup of white wine and a cup of beef broth, lowered the temp from 8 (out of 9) to 6 on my stovetop, and covered with a good heavy lid to seal in the moisture.
Back to gnocchi - I cut my log in half lengthwise, and took one of the halves and began rolling it out until it was about two fingers wide. With a knife (since I didn't have a proper wedge thingie - that's right, wedge thingie. Heck if I know what it's called.), I began to cut the rolled pasta so that it was about as wide as it was thick. Did the same with the other half and set aside. Next, I got another pot of water up to a nice boil, then I'd drop in the gnocchi four or five at a time. The goal here is to cook them for about 30 seconds to a minute, right to when they start floating up in the pot. It ends up smoothing out the outside of the little balls of pasta, and sealing in the soft, gushy goodness. Do that with all the gnocchi and set aside.
Now, timing-wise, I think in the future I would do all of the polpettone up front - the giant mass of tasty meats takes quite some time to cook through. At this stage, I also added a couple slices of provolone to the very top so that it could melt down into both the nooks as well as the crannies of the big meatball, and recovered. So, since I had split up my time, I had to sit around for a bit, which let the gnocchi cool. I don't think it jacked the flavor any, I was just afraid that it would make all the pasta balls stick to one another. Luckily, this time around, it didn't.
So, after letting the meat cook for ten more minutes, I started to get a pan up to medium high heat (7, on my stove). I dropped in two tablespoons of butter, as well as two table spoons of truffle butter, and seasoned with salt and pepper. I would then take about half the gnocchi and cook them in the butters, rolling them around to get them nicely coated, as well as cooking the outside of the pasta a bit more, firming it up and even letting it get just a smidge brown. After I finished one half of the gnocchi, I'd do the other half, again with its own sets of butter. When I plated them, though, I let the butter fall off - my goal wasn't to have them swim in it on the plate, just to coat them fully and evenly.
By this point, the polpettone was done, and was sliced or slabbed, with a generous portion of the sauce that all the yummy fats and oils had mixed into with the broth and wine. A small side salad of spinach, tomato and onion rounded out the meal.
From the feedback of my housemates and wife, it seemed to please, with smiles and licked plates all around. There was just enough gnocchi for everyone, and a couple slabs of polpettone to make leftover sandwiches the next day. Hopefully, somewhere out there, a small Italian mother whose idea of measurements consists of "you know, a handful of this, a bit of that, a little of the other" is smiling.