La cucina piccola fa la casa grande*

*/a small kitchen makes the house big/

There is a saying in Italy about how a small kitchen makes the house big and it is a well known fact that a kitchen and good food will always bring like minded people together..

One of VIVITA’s goals is to include a wider community to VIVITA’s activities and by doing it, increase children’s opportunities to grow into bright and responsible world changers. That is why it is invaluable when our collaborators, parents, grandparents share their time and knowledge. Also each and every collaborator, innovator, inspiring practitioner and volunteer who with all their heart have shared the most valuable they have with VIVITA kids — their knowledge and time.

In VIVITA we often include children to everyday projects and what would be more natural and everyday activity than cooking. It is not always too easy to include children in the cooking process — even without the help of small eager hands, cooking can turn out to be messy enough. But if you finish the challenge successfully, the results are more than rewarding.

In addition to the art of cooking, it also teaches children other important skills that are necessary for 21st century’s changing world — for example analytical skills, creativity and teamwork. Cooking together and learning through different national cuisines about new culture, is a perfect way to teach and encourage children’s communication skills, but also consideration and mutual respect.

Carlo Vanzan, an inspiring member from Fotografiska Tallinn restaurant’s hospitality team, introducing children the customs and traditions of Italian kitchen.

This time we had a unique chance to include Carlo Vanzan, an inspiring member from Fotografiska Tallinn restaurant’s hospitality team. Carlo is also one of VIVITAs dedicated volunteers. When we talked to Carlo about the idea for him to come and share his skills with VIVITA kids, he did not doubt a second! Carlo said that in Italy cooking to somebody is one of the most important ways to show hospitality and how much you care and respect your guests.

The dish Carlo decided to introduce to children this time, was “gnocchi di patate” or potato gnocchi from North-Italy. According to Carlo, gnocchi is the food in Italy that quite often parents let children make and so did he. He shared that when he was a small boy, his Granny always put him to the job of making gnocchi, when she wanted this always active boy to calm down a little and sit still for a while.

What is gnocchi and how is it made?

Italy is often described as a land of pizza and pasta, but actually the differences between districts are quite big. Pasta is popular all over the Italy, but in the Northen Italy cuisine, there is also more potato and rice, also gnocchi and risotto. Potatoes became popular in the North in a time when whole-grain became too expensive to buy. In the early 19th century in Northen Italy, the ordinary food for a working class family was potatoes and polenta. Also whole-grain is not growing after certain altitude. In the Alps you find more potatoes and butter in the kitchens, than olive-oil and whole-grain.

The word gnocchi [‘njokki’] is in Italian already on plural (singular gnocco) so that in English it would be correct to order “gnocchi for me please” and not speak about gnocchis as it would be in English plural.

Gnocchi di patate is a traditional Italian dish that takes some time to prepare yet it is doable to everybody. What is great about gnocchi, is that to prepare it, you only need a few ingredients that you may already have in your kitchen kabinet. Gnocchi is usually made of potatoes, semolina, flour and egg.

Making preparations for the “Gnocchi di patate” workshop.

The children who arrived a bit earlier for the workshop, could already help out with the preparations. Together they peeled the hot boiled potatoes, chopped the tomatoes and grated the parmesan cheese. The best potatoes for making gnocchi should be the kind with lots of starch in it, easily decomposing mash potato. We used the potato sort “Laura” that has red skin on it.

While grating the parmesan, Carlo shared a story that made the kids giggle — as Carlo really loved cheese when he was a child, so it happened that while his Mom had let him grate the cheese, there was quite an amount of cheese missing, when the grating was finished. Because of this, his Mom had figured out a smart way — she let Carlo sing while he was grating the cheese!

When all the preparations were finished, we started to prepare gnocchi, following Carlo’s guidance. To turn the potatoes into smooth mass, children used a special potato mash — this was a tool that was new to the children and using it created some nice excitement! When all the potatoes were mashed, they were turned into small piles on the worktables and grooved in a small hole.

Getting acquainted to a new tool — a potato mash.

After that we added some flour on the pile and put an egg yolk into the pre-grooved hole. We used high quality 00 flour (also “farina doppio zero”). It is a soft wheat flour that most Italian households use to make fresh egg pasta. White Italian flour is milled really fine which results grains that are finer than semolina yet bigger than cornflour. Italian 00 flour is refined from the whitest part of the grain. As this is possible to get only from the small part of the wheat grain, this flour is used usually with more demanding recipes leaving palin flour for other dishes.

Making of the dough for “gnocchi di patate”.

For successful kneading it is important to follow the technique, where the edges of the dough must be put in the middle of the whole pile. If the dough seems to runny, you can add a bit more flour. You can also add flour while kneading. The dough must not be over-kneaded as when overdoing it, the dough will become sticky and needs more flour and loses in taste and texture and will become rubbery after boiling. But if you knead the dough too little, the gnocchi will break apart already while boiling. The flour will make gnocchi vapid and solid, therefore it should be used as much as need but as little as possible.

Knead the dough as little as possible, yet as much as needed.

When the dough was ready it was made into a nice chubby ball and entered the next tool — spatula! This was a good helper to clean out the workstation that as a next step we powdered with rice flour. In rice flour we rolled “sausages” from the dough and cut them into “small pillows”.

Gnocchi di patate.

After that Carlo introduced children to another new tool — gnocchi board, a rigagnocchi. This board has raised lines to help to shape the gnocchi. When it comes to gnocchi, the shape has a really important role. This ribbed board and holes made with thumb help to hold the sauce. In case you do not have this kind of board at home, you can use a fork instead.

Another new tool — a gnocchi board!

Gnocchi making is also somewhat soothing hands-on activity. When the gnocchi was molded, Carlo taught children how to make three different sauces that go perfectly together with gnocchi. First one was a fresh tomato sauce, the second one was cheese sauce and the third one was buttery sauce with sage. To our surprise, Carlo decided to put some of the gnocchi into the oven! It is important to make all the sauces ready before boiling the gnocchi. When gnocchi is boiled, then it is already too late to think about the sauce. The sauce should be already waiting on a stove in a hot pan.

To boil the gnocchi you must bring the water to boil, season it with salt and pour gnocchi into the boiling water. The gnocchi will be done really fast — within 1–2 minutes! They will rise on the water as soon as they are ready — then it is the exact time to take them out from the water — the easiest way to do that is using a spaghetti spoon.

Preparing gnocchi in three different sauce.

Gnocchi ready, sauces ready — time to do some tasting! The most popular dish among the kids turned out to be gnocchi with tomato sauce, the second and the third place were equally shared between gnocchi with cheese and gnocchi with butter and sage.

The children were extremely happy about the experience and proud of the new skill they learned. In addition to learning how to make gnocchi they also remembered some tips from Carlo: 1. To understand if the oil is hot enough for frying, you must add a small slice of onion to the oli, as soon as the bubbles start to emerge, the oil has reached the perfect temperature for frying! 2. To get the best taste out of fresh tomatoes, always add a bit of sugar to the sauce! 3. The best way to show somebody respect and care is to cook for them!

Recipe failures are equally important as having success. This helps to develop resilience — a very important feature for young world changers. It also teaches patience and persistence that would lead to a wanted result.

Carlo Vanzan and young gnocchi-specialists.

If you wish to try making “gnocchi di patate” and fresh tomato sauce at home, try this recipe!

Gnocchi di patate: (for 4):

Ingredients:

  • 700g potatoes (for best results try red potato Laura)
  • 150g type 00 flour
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt
  • Rice flour

First boil the potatoes, strain them and let them cool down a little so you can hold them in your hand and peel. Mash the peeled potatoes (if you do not have the potato mash, you can push the potatoes through a sieve or mash them with a fork — but do not pestle them, while then you may end up with big lumps. When all the potato is mashed, make a pile of it, dig a smile hole in the middle of the pile. Dust the 00 type flour on top of the edges and into the hole, add some salt and finally add egg yolk into the hole. Knead the mixture together, start by raising the edges to the middle of the pile, so that the egg yolk would not run out. Mould the whole mixture into a ball (or two). Dust some rice flour on your table, cut a smaller piece of the mixture from the ball, roll them into about 2cm thick “sausages” and afterwards cut the “sausages” into 2cm “pillows”. Repeat until all the mixture is finished. Use a gnocchi board or a fork to makr stripes on one side of the “pillow” and use your thumb to make a small curve on the other side. Put the water to boil — there should be plenty of water! If the water is boiling, carefully put the gnocchi into the water. Be ready to take them out as soon as they rise on the water — it will happen in 2–3 minutes. Season the gnocchi with your favorite sauce — tomato sauce, cheese sauce, pesto or with just grated parmesan!

Simple tomato-basil sauce:

Ingredients:

  • Fresh cherry-tomatoes, 500g
  • Fresh basil
  • 1 shallot onion
  • 1 garlic glove
  • Tomato pasta (passata di pomodoro) 200g
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Sugar (1 tsp)
  • Olive oil

Cut the cherry tomatoes, chop the onion and garlic. Put some olive oil to the frying pan, toss in a small amount of onion — if the oil around it starts bubbling, the oil is hot enough to toss in the rest of the chopped onion. Fry the onion until it turns soft, add garlic, tomatoes, tomato pasta, shredded basil leaves, some salt to your tasting, some pepper and do not forget a tiny bit of sugar. Bring the whole mixture to boil, and let it simmer about 5 min. Add the sauce to your freshly boiled gnocchi.

Thank you, Carlo Vanzan and restaurant Fotografiska Tallinn!

Text and photos: Sigrid Kägi, VIVITA Estonia

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