Sunday, May 9, 2010

Buona Sera

Dustin and I are always on the lookout for a fun date-night activity, and I thought it would be interesting to take a cooking class. We had done it once in Cincinnati- we learned to roll our own sushi- and we really enjoyed it. It was something out of the ordinary to try, and we came away with a new skill. So while searching for our next culinary challenge, I found Rania's Catering. It's a small place down in Mt. Lebanon (South Pittsburgh) that offers a variety of classes. There were a few that sounded appealing, but I loved the idea of making our own pasta, so that was the winner!

Our class was called: Hands On Pasta Making, and it was taught by Steve Salvi, who's know as the "pasta king of Pittsburgh". (Check out an interesting story about him here.) He owns his own pasta making business, Fede, and supplies many local restaurants with fresh, custom created items. Also...he's pretty dreamy:

I had a small, buttery, crush on him by the end. I blame it partly on the Limoncello he served us. Makes you feel all warm and delicious inside.

Anyway....back to the food...

For our class, we focused on ricotta based gnocchi, in three flavors- plain, basil, and truffle. How could those not be good? Especially with this spread of fresh ingredients:

We also learned to make three sauces: fontina cream, tomato basil, and truffle butter. Yuuuuuum.

I don't have pictures of the process (by then I was covered in flour, eggs and cheese), but it was actually pretty simple. We mixed the ingredients, rolled "logs", cut them down, and rolled them on boards (or the back of a fork) to give them that traditional gnocchi shape. We all mixed ours together for cooking, but if you look closely you can see a few that I did- they're the perfect, irresistible looking ones, of course!

Steve threw them in, and then got started on the sauce.

Meanwhile, I expanded my photo-ops to include a less than thrilled husband. He loved the class...he was less enthused about me documenting it all.

But I was undeterred, and kept snapping away, trying to remember as many details as possible, so we could recreate this magic in our own kitchen. The big secret? Use butter. A lot of it. Often.

Steve threw butter in every sauce. And not, he would sneak a handful (that's how he measured look and feel) in at various points in the cooking process. And then he added some cream sauce to the tomato sauce. Just because he likes it.
Now do you see why I liked him so much?
Then he mixed the gnocchi in, and we were finally allowed to dig in. We had no shame.

Can you almost taste it?!

It was one of the most delicious meals I've ever had, and we scarfed down plate, after plate. (And in Dustin's case: after plate, after plate, after plate, after plate...)

One of the best parts, is that in addition to the feast we ate there, we got to take home containers of leftovers, samples of Steve's handmade ravioli, and salad, bread and deserve from Rania's. And if that wasn't enough- we got to keep half of all the dough we made, to roll more gnocchis at home. Dustin went to work the next day and we now have three containers in the freezer. I'm pretty sure they're not going to be there for long!
For all you Pittsburgh folks, I would definitely recommend taking a class at Rania's. They have a ton of offerings, so at any point, there's bound to be something interesting going on.
He shared the "recipes" for everything with us, but they were pretty vague. He had learned from his grandmother, who learned from hers, and so on and so on. He gave measurements, but then pretty much ignored them, telling us to do what looks, feels, and tastes right (this was a little tough for me, as I didn't really have experience to use as a frame of reference, but it all seemed pretty delicious no matter what.) But I'll share them here, in case any of you want to try your hand at pasta creation. (or in case I forget everything I learned....which is likely).
Ricotta Gnocchi
1 lb ricotta cheese
1 C parmesean cheese (but he said any cheese would work...)
1 Tbsp salt
1 tsp pepper
1 egg
optional ingredients- 1 C chopped basil, 3 Tbsp truffles (we used a can of chopped black truffles), or whatever else sounds good!
1 C flour
  • Mix together the ricotta, parmesean, salt and pepper.
  • Form a "well" in the pile, and crack the egg in. Mix together.
  • If you're using any additional ingredients, add them now.
  • Mix in flour, adding a little at a time, until it no longer feels sticky. (This part is a little tricky- too much flour mixing, and the gnocchi will be dense and tough, too little, and they'll fall apart in the water. His advice was to go slowly and keep testing until you learn what feels right.)
  • Roll dough into 1-inch-thick ropes. (keep your counter, and hands floured so they don't stick)
  • Cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces.
  • Place the cut edge on the back of the fork, press down lightly with your thumb, and roll down the fork to form the gnocchi and give it the "lines" on one side. (this takes practice, but they don't have to be perfect. It is easier to do with a gnocchi board- which sounds a little snobby and specialized, but they're pretty cheap, so it might be worth it.)
  • At this point you can either cook them immediately, or freeze them for later use. The dough only lasts about a day if it isn't cooked, so pop them in the freezer if want to save them for later.
  • Cook about 2 minutes in salted boiling water. They'll float when they're done, but again, Steve said it's best just to taste them. Don't mind if I do!
  • Mix into the sauce, add extra cheese or herbs if you'd like, and serve.

Eat. Love.

(oh, and he mentioned you could use the same recipe for potato gnocchi- just subbing out the ricotta and parmesan, and using 2lbs potatoes for every 1 egg. His tip was to roast russet potatoes, remove the skins, and then put them through a ricer. Mix ingredients while the potatoes are still hot, begin careful not to over mix, because they'll get too starchy. Sounds like this might stretch my skill level a bit, but I'd love to try it someday!)


  1. Oh how I LOVE Italian food and lemoncello! Actually had some at a restaurant this last visit! I remember Dustin loved gnocchi and would order it if we went to an Italian restaurant. Now he knows how to make his own! Wow! I'm impressed! I made my own once a long, long time ago and it was a lot of work so it was just that once! I kept my recipe though. Now, if you can tell me how to make that real Italian red sauce? It looks so yummy!! Good job! Luv you both. ymil in FL PS just what IS a TRUFFLE?

  2. Dreamy - - yep, no doubt that's the word I would have used to describe Steve! But what kind of chef serves you lemon jell-o? Bill Cosby? :-) oh, I kill me...
    Mt. Lebanon, eh? Hangin' in the ritzy sections of the 'burgh now.
    It really does look delicious, and the best part is you had a great time doing it! Love you...

  3. Looks delicioso! Does that recipe make a ton of gnocchi? It looks like you guys had a great time too! I love the last photo...and every one with food in it.

  4. oh my gosh, how fun!!! i want to do something like that... i'll be honest court, sometimes i'm a wee bit jealous of your life! :)
    the meal looks sooooo good and i don't even like ricotta cheese!
    limoncello is the BEST!!! ok, now i just want to go to Italy :)