It all started early this morning before banks were open. I was in the village of Mamaroneck NY, a small Italian-American enclave in southern Westchester county and a short drive from NYC. I spent several years there soon after returning to the US from Italy.
You will find many Italian Americans there, first generation and right off the boat like me. "Gli Italiani" there hold on to their traditions. They like there espresso real. Starbucks lasted about 2 months there before closing shop. Really! Even on slow weekdays, you can easily see "My cousin Vinny's" cugini start their days in ritual street-side convocations of untold importance and often secrecy. The village hosts a few authentic purveyors and importers of great Italian ingredients and goods. The one I routinely visit is Cosmo & Alex Pisano. They are not a deli , although you can get sandwiches there. And they are not a chain . There is only one of them. It is for this reason that when you step inside you would think you were somewhere on Arthur avenue.
Oh, just in case I forget, you will also find Sal's pizza in Mamaroneck, but that's a topic for another day . As a teaser just take a peek at the reviews here to get a sense of why the place is so legendary.
Special days call for special wine. I have been holding on to a few bottles of red wine from Calabria. Production there is relatively small, just over 1 million hectoliters. When I heard the news today that Rio de Janeiro had been selected as the host city for the 2016 Olympics, I knew that today called for special Wine. My wife is from Brasil. A small celebration was in order. And what better way to celebrate than with some love around the island?
So I opened a bottle of Statti Gaglippo, a rugged southern varietal and IGT. As we sipped it, I immediately felt that sense of connection that has never left me since I have been living here i the United States. Gaglioppo is tagged as a full-bodied red, but I suspect that the critics scale might have been off when the labeled it as such. To me it was just like good old homemade wine that friends used to make. Punto!
The intense the sense of connection with my dear Italy and Calabria in particular was what really made my day. And I knew that for my wife, todays' news must have evoked similar feelings of connection with her dear Brasil. So today, mutually connected, we started planning our 2016 adventure.
And now for a quick recipe.
Gnocchi al Pomodoro Fresco
There are certain pastas that should be made fresh and by hand. Gnocchi is one of them. Under normal circumstances, I would clearly deserve a several point deduction but today with the special news, I am hoping for some leniency. I picked up 2 lbs of frozen potato ones. Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
2 lbs of Gnocchi . Do not do what I did today , make your own.
Sauce: 3 ripe tomatoes , 1 1/2 cups of tomato puree'
Salt, EVOO , 1/2 of an Italian hot pepper
Rating: The fan club got what they asked for a few days ago. I was very happy too.
No tricks here. Cook the gnocchi, toss with the cooked tomato sauce, but please do not overpower the pasta. If you use cheese , sprinkle responsibly.
There are some details you should note.
One: The sauce I used was all about pure tomato taste. I used fresh tomatoes of the beefsteak family which I ripened indoors for a few days. I used no garlic, no black pepper, no herbs, just a blend of tomatoes. To one part fresh tomatoes I added one part good Italian strained tomatoes . Today, I happened to try ones from Strianese , which turned out to be surprisingly good. My pantry stocks other brands including bottles from Ciro, Star and BioNaturae which happens to be my favorite these days. All are in glass bottles. none in tin cans. They are all 100% pure strained tomatoes, no other ingredients, and please do not confuse these with prepared sauces which fill can fill entire supermarket aisles. These bottles are reminiscent of how we made our own preserves that the end of the summer in Italy , and until 3 years ago here int he United states. Bottled tomatoes such as these are a new arrival. Try them out, you won't go back to metal cans.
Two: I find that when using frozen pasta, boiling the pasta without thawing helps keep it "al dente". A pasta such as potato gnocchi , especially if freshly made, can easily break down in hot boiling water. Also to ensure that the gnocchi are not overcooked, remove them from the heat and drain them no more than one minute after they float to the top of the boiling water. Then toss quickly with sauce to avoid clumping.
Today's Lesson: Not all tomatoes are created equal.