Italy. Just the name can conjure up romantic visions of rolling Tuscan vineyards, idyllic ocean and mountain views, dozens of buildings deeply rooted in history, and a messy, melt-in-your-mouth, tomatoey, cheesy slice of pizza heaven. Yum. I mean, what’s a foodie NOT to love when you go out for a “fast food” lunch and end up with this?
Maybe not the most balanced lunch, but I’m pretty sure it was perfect that summer day in Rome. And how cute is the little bottle of wine? And even better than fast food…
I would go absolutely broke if there was one of these anywhere on this continent. And besides the food, how about those views?
I was super lucky to get to spend a couple of weeks in Italy during a Summer 2007 European Adventure with my best friend, Amanda. After visiting several countries beforehand, we finally got to the crown jewel. We would be starting our trip in Venice, an iconic city that is a must-visit for any Italian travelers. We were coming down in one long day from the Swiss Alps, involving train switches in Switzerland, a “layover” in Milan, a crowded “water taxi” (not gondola, those things are EXPENSIVE!!!) which was basically a huge boat that was as crowded as the NYC subway at rush hour. And there we were, in Venice.
After schlepping across the city we finally arrive at the cheap(ish) hotel I had booked online a couple weeks ago (when we were probably somewhere around France). We were elated to finally arrive, to ditch the bags, and get some darn gelato already. But when I rang the bell and the staff member asked me my name through the crackly loudspeaker, a little alarm bell went off in my head when I heard the long, hesitant pause after I gave my name.
Moments later the door opened, where a slightly worried yet disaffected staff member asks me the million dollar question: “You did not get our email? It was sent this morning.” Um, I have been jumping on and off of trains from Switzerland for the last twelve hours and unfortunately wireless was not available on board. Why are you asking? “A pipe has burst in your room and it has flooded.” Alarm bell ringing!!! “But do not worry, we have booked you a room at another hotel.” Phew. Disaster averted.
Well, kind of. We find out that the hotel is in a completely different area of Venice. So the bags go back on our backs, and we again trudge determinedly on, desperate to just get there already. At one point, I thought we were just a block away, and then the street we were walking on was rudely interrupted by a canal (that I nearly walked into). Totally wasn’t on the map. Anyways, eventually we finally arrive at hotel number 2.
Next problem: the door is locked, the lights are off, and no one is home. A sign on the door, handwritten in marker, decrees that staff is not present past 7:30PM and lists two “emergency” numbers that can be called. Well, it is only 7PM (freaking Europeans) but the place is deserted, so I whip out my 10-bucks-a-minute global phone and call the first number. Which doesn’t work. On to the second. After half a dozen fruitless calls, a very annoyed sounding person answers. I explain the situation, while simultaneously being scolded in harshly accented English about arriving after hours and inconveniencing the staff. I declined to mention that this was their job, that the pipe was not my fault, and that it was in fact still working hours according to the door, but that would have cost me another buck or two so I refrained.
Somewhere in between forty-five minutes and two hours later (I don’t even know… it was just a long time) a woman arrived and let us in. FREEDOM! Well, from our backpacks and our stress. Amanda was happy. Cute place, too.
Out into the streets of Venice, sun has already set, and it is time for some food. Two things are on the menu for the evening: the first being gelato! We ate gelato all across Europe but couldn’t wait for the REAL thing. Success!
And as for dinner, I knew what I was ordering months ago. Let me explain. At the beginning of our European Adventure, Amanda introduced me to gnocchi, which I had never had before. I was so enamored that I even took a picture of the meal! I fell in love right there in London, and couldn’t wait to eat gnocchi in Italy (cuz if there is anything the Italians do right, it´s pasta). One thing: the pronunciation confused me, so it just became g´notch to me (and always will be).
Finally, I GOT MY GNOCCHI! Beautiful and delicious. Only gripe is that at most of the restaurants I visited in Italy, the featured gnocchi dish was with gorgonzola cheese. Not that that isn’t good, but where´s a spicy red sauce or some pesto when you need it? But apparently that is NOT what you serve with gnocchi. Okay, tangent over.
The rest of the Venice trip (very short) was nice and we got to do some sightseeing. And eat more gelato. Duh.
I was looking through pictures from my trip recently and had the strongest craving for gnocchi.
Of course, it isn’t exactly available for purchase here. But I remembered that weirdly enough, it was featured in the Peace Corps´Cooking-for-Dummies-and/or-People-Who-Live-in-the-Bush cookbook! The directions were terrifyingly simple.
Peel, cube, and boil potatoes til soft.
Then mash the crap out of them.
Then add flour and knead until you have got a dough. (Note: don’t be impatient and only wait a few minutes before trying to make the dough. The potatoes are still boiling temperature inside and your fingers will hate you.)
And roll off of the edge of a fork to make the grooves. (Note: this part was way hard. As soon as I grooved one side, the other side was flat. Must procure new gnocchi grooving techniques.)
Okay so the sad thing is I was cooking the pasta and then my boss comes in and says, “don’t cook dinner tonight.” And normally, the fact that I literally had dinner on the stove would be reason enough to politely turn down an invite, but it was their last night. I almost had tears well up in my eyes at the thought of not being able to eat my prized gnotch, but it was okay. I ate a good chunk of the batch when it was cooking and then the rest went into the fridge.
Made a pesto sauce on the saucepan…
And was so hungry that I didn’t get a single good picture of it. This is terrible. And for that I am sorry. Ew.
Instead of that monstrosity, let´s just be happy and pretend mine looked like this:
Check out the source of the above photo for a much more pretty and sophisticated account of homemade gnocchi. As well as a reminder that it is not actually a pasta. But that is okay, I call it a pasta and I am sticking to it. Although “potato dumplings” sounds cute too…)
My gnocchi? Not pretty. But I tried. I loved this, but will have to be really patient to make it again. Can someone send me a couple packets of gnocchi from the store? You know, that shrink wrapped kind? Pretty please?
Random, just found out that gnocchi in Portuguese is “nhoque,” which is pronounced basically the same. Maybe I should say that instead. Way cuter than “g’notch.”
What is your favorite pasta? You all know what mine is. Also, any dishes that you make that remind you of a certain trip or experience? What are they?