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Dumpling Love

Pasta By Hand: A Collection of Italy's Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta

My interest in learning to make pasta is connected to my love of eating it, but I feel that it’s also related to my love of the TV show the Walking Dead.  This latter connection may not be immediately apparent.  Let me explain.  Walking Dead = post-apocalypse society.  Post-apocalypse society = no modern conveniences.  DIY skills would surely come in handy.  Whether pasta making is a necessary skill could be debated, but who doesn’t love pasta?  

There seems to be a renewed interest in old school skills such as knitting, farming, preserving, baking and curing.  Although trendy, this interest is worth nurturing because it helps to keep traditional craftsmanship alive.  Further, taking the time to make food and share it helps us to appreciate it all the more.  

This brings us to the cookbook.  Author Jenn Louis is an Oregon chef who fell in love with making pasta, specifically dumplings.  She went on a pilgrimage to Italy to learn more, travelling from region to region where she was mentored at every stop by an expert restaurant chef, nonna or home cook.      

Chef Louis defines dumplings as “carefully handcrafted nubs of dough that are poached, simmered, baked or sautéed”.  Dumplings can be made from potato, cheese, greens and a variety of different grains.  They can be dense and chewy or light and airy.  Gnocchi is the most familiar dumpling and the book contains many gnocchi recipes, but also lesser known regional specialties.  Each recipe comes with information about this particular dumpling, including which region it comes from and how it is served.  Sauce suggestions are included and a few classic recipes are provided.  

I tried Tuscan Ricotta Gnocchetti with a Beef Ragu, and Orecchiette, which I paired with a kale and sausage sauce.  First was the Gnocchetti (little gnocchi).  Gnocchi can be heavy, which is why I chose a version with ricotta and the result was soft and light.  I liked the meaty Ragu but next time I would pair the gnocchi with a lighter tomato or brown butter sauce to fully appreciate their delicate flavor and texture.

Next was Orecchiette, or “Puglian gnocchi”.  These were different from dried orecchiette, softer and chewy.  The ingredients were simple but rolling and shaping each orecchiette took a VERY long time.  I did feel like an Italian nonna with fingers flying, which was fun, and my speed improved by the end.  We served them with a traditional Puglian sauce of greens and sausage and I enjoyed every hard-earned bite.

No special machines or ingredients are required for these recipes, which is why I chose this particular book.  Pasta making is a labour of love but with great results.  Try it because you want to, not because you have to.  But you never know what the future holds….