I remember the first time I had gnocchi. I was sitting in a café in Paris in the late November light, gazing out onto the banks of the Seine, when my companion suggested we go for early dinner before the sun went down. So we flagged the waiter, paid for our café au laits, and headed to Le Marais, where my friend knew of a small establishment whose owner came from Florence. You wouldn’t think you could find good pasta in Paris – baguettes yes, pains au chocolat of course, but authentic Italian – well, we should have been in Tuscany or Sicily, not the capital of France, this tourist menagerie filled with 8 euro prix fixe menus featuring watery onion soup and hard lumps of steak. Nevertheless, we were tired of wine and cheese and even good steak-frites. We wanted something different – a special treatment of flour and herbs, with a certain zest that we had been missing.
Stepping through the streets a layer of misty rain fell down on us, typical for a November evening, light enough that there was no need to reach for an umbrella. The restaurant emerged out of the dark, stone-lined street – a tiny, warm hub of Italian-ness with a bright lantern and sign proclaiming ‘Ristorante Rustico’ in cheerful blue letters. My friend opened the door for me and we stepped out of the rain into a shed-sized entryway, tucked beneath the staircase of an old Parisian house.
The owner, a medium-set younger man, appeared at once. “Ah, Josef!” he proclaimed, grasping my friend by the arm. “You came! Benvenuto, and to your friend as well!” He clasped me around the shoulder and led us to a table, edged between the wall and the window but still somehow spacious enough to allow for a small vase of flowers. “Please, take a seat! I will be right back.”
The young man disappeared into the kitchen, and shortly we heard some clattering and banging of pans.
“Are you sure about this place?” I asked Josef.
“Aurélie swears by it,” said Josef. “She’s good friends with Luca. She says he was making it really big in Florence. Everybody loved his restaurant – super traditional, classic pasta with fresh ingredients. But Luca was bored. You saw him, he’s energetic, right? So he started altering the recipes, trying new ingredients. The younger folks liked it, but he lost most of his older customers. I think he got fed up and decided to come here. Paris is more forgiving…it appreciates innovators.”
Luca had re-emerged, carrying two glasses and a bottle in his hands, and a small plate filled with perfect, round cushions.
“Please!” he said, coming to our table. “Try this new prosecco – it’s from my village.”
We didn’t put up much of a protest, sipping at the sparkling beverage, transported to a field of sunflowers and poppies as it hit our empty stomachs.
“And this. A little warm-up. Pumpkin gnocchi with pancetta, for the season.” His smile disappeared and he waited anxiously to see how we were going to receive the orange offering sitting cheekily before us, its flakes of sea salt and olive oil drops reflecting glimmers of lamplight. I speared a gnocchi with my fork and so did Josef. As we bit into it, the dense give imparted to our tongues a deep taste of fall, squash and sage rolled into one, enhanced by rich fatty pork.
“Oh my gosh,” I said, mouth still full. “That’s amazing.” I washed it down with prosecco, probably in violation of all sophisticated European culinary etiquette, and shook Luca’s hands. “We are at your disposal. Please bring us more of your creations.”
Luca beamed at us, relieved, and ran back into the kitchen. The meal that ensued was one I’ll never forget, as much as it blends into a hazy tapestry of different flavors and textures in that cozy one-room ristorante in the city’s forgotten corner.
- 1 cup of fresh roast pumpkin, or canned pumpkin
- ½ - 1 c cassava flour (depending on brand/may need to adjust flour amount up or down depending on how watery pumpkin is)
- ½ tsp sea salt
- 1 tb olive oil
- ½ package bacon (~8 strips)
- a handful (~ 3 tbs) of fresh sage
- ½ purple onion, sliced
- 1 tsp lemon or lime juice, or apple cider vinegar
- Combine pumpkin with flour, salt, and olive oil and mix well until dough ball forms. If dough is too wet add more flour until you can easily work it with your hands without it sticking.
- On a floured surface, you can roll out six inch tubes of dough (~1/2 in. diameter) and cut them in into individual pieces (~1 in. long), or you can just grab bits of the dough and shape them free form (roll them into circles and tweak the ends for a more ovular shape).
- When you have the shape you like, press gnocchi with a fork to make indents.
- Bring a pot of salted water to boil. Once water is boiling, drop gnocchi in (try not to crowd them, or shake the pot a bit so they disperse/don't stick to each other). They should cook in a couple minutes, and are done when they float to the water's surface (which is fun to watch, heh). Drain in a colander.
- Brown bacon over medium heat. Pour off/scoop out some of the rendered fat. Add onion, cook for one minute. Add gnocchi and cook for another couple minutes, until gnocchi start to brown. Add sage and cook for another minute or so. Turn off heat. Add lemon/ACV, and season to taste/finish with a few drops of olive oil.
This post has been shared on Phoenix Helix’s Paleo-AIP Roundtable.