"Texture is so important when making pasta," Lidia says. "Think about taking raw silk and making it into a skein. It takes a little tender, loving care."
How to Make Gnocchi
1. Peel and rice cooked potatoes as soon as you can handle them for fluffy gnocchi.
2. Cool the potatoes completely before incorporating the egg and spice mixure.
3. Add enough flour to form a firm but moist dough. Keep your hands well-floured.
4. Roll the dough into six ropes, using palms and outstretched fingers of both hands.
5. Using the tip of your thumb and the tines of a fork, form the small dumplings
6. Return water to boil after adding gnocchi. Cooked gnocchi will float to top of pot.
Pignoli (pine nuts)
"I am picky about my pignoli," Lidia says. I used to harvest them from pinecones that fell behind my grandmother's house. Pignoli bring aroma and creaminess to pesto, like melted butter. They must be super-fresh."
"Dried oregano on a branch is stronger than fresh. I use oregano from Sicily or Greece. To use it, hold the branches over the pot and roll it between your palms."
Grana Padano Cheese
"Grana Padano adds layers of flavor and texture--it gives the dish a crunchiness and fresh milky complexity. One can taste the flowers from the pasture."
"Shape determines a cooked pasta's vibrancy and longevity. Penne rigate has the resiliency for baking, for those times I am not sure when my guests will arrive and the pasta might have to wait for them."
Check out class schedules and registration information at eataly.com or call 212/539-0204. Eataly is located at 200 Fifth Avenue in New York City. The market is open from 10 a.m to 11 p.m. every day.
Gnocchi with Aromatic Herb Pesto
- 1 recipe Aromatic Herb Pesto (recipe follows)
- 4 large unpeeled Idaho potatoes (about 2-1/4 pounds), washed
- 6 quarts salted water
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon salt
- Pinch ground nutmeg
- Dash freshly ground white pepper
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese
Prepare Aromatic Herb Pesto; set aside. To make gnocchi, place potatoes in Dutch oven with enough cold water to cover by at least 3 fingers. Bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer 40 minutes or until tender. Drain; let potatoes stand until cool enough to handle. The hotter the potatoes are when you peel and rice them, the fluffier the riced potatoes will be.
Peel potatoes and put though ricer. Spread out in thin layer on cool, preferably marble, floured work surface to expose as much of their surface as possible to the air. While potatoes are cooling, bring 6 quarts salted water to boil in 8-quart pot over high heat.
Gather cold riced potatoes into loose mound with well in center. In small bowl, beat eggs, 1 teaspoon salt, nutmeg, and white pepper together until blended. Pour egg mixture into well. With floured hands, work potatoes and eggs together, gradually adding as much flour as necessary to form firm but moist dough. Stop frequently to scrape work surface and reincorporate dough into main mixture. Forming dough should take no longer than 10 minutes. (The longer the dough is worked, the more flour it will require and the heavier the dough-and the finished gnocchi-will be.) As you work, dust dough, hands, and work surface lightly with flour as soon as dough begins to feel sticky.
Out dough into six equal portions. Using outstretched fingers and palms of both hands, roll each piece of dough into rope about 1/2-inch thick. Cut rope crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces. Sprinkle pieces with flour, then roll each piece between palms into rough ball. Re-flour hands as necessary to prevent sticking. Hold a fork at an angle to your work surface. Dip tip of thumb in flour. With tip of thumb, press a dough ball lightly but firmly against tines of fork while, at the same time, rolling it downward along tines. Dough will wrap around tip of thumb, forming a dumpling with a deep indentation on one side and a ridged surface on the other. Set gnocchi on baking sheet lined with clean, lightly floured kitchen towel. Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of dough.
At this point you can either freeze gnocchi or add it to boiling water. Cook until gnocchi are floating, indicating they are completely cooked. Reserve 1/2 cup of gnocchi cooking water; drain gnocchi.
In 12-inch skillet, bring butter and reserved cooking water to boil over medium heat. Add gnocchi; toss to coat. Remove from heat; add Aromatic Herb Pesto. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently with wooden spoon. Stir in 1/2 cup Grana Padano cheese. Transfer gnocchi to platter; serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Aromatic Herb Pesto:
In mortar, place pinch of coarse sea salt and five basil leaves. Crush with pestle. Add, a few at a time, about 25 fresh basil leaves, 1/2 cup parsley, 8 mint and 2 sage leaves, and 2 garlic cloves, crushing after each addition and pounding until mixture becomes a paste. Add 3 tablespoons toasted pine nuts; work into paste. Add 2 tablespoons shredded Grana Padano cheese. Slowly pour in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. Work all into creamy consistency. (If using blender, add salt, basil, parsley, mint, sage, and garlic to blender. Cover; blend to make paste. Add pine nuts. With motor running, slowly pour half the olive oil through opening in lid. Add Grana Padano cheese and remaining olive oil. Cover; blend until mixture becomes creamy paste.) You can also spread pesto on grilled Italian bread or use it as a condiment for beef and chicken.
Fresh Spinach Fettuccine With Chanterelles, Spring Peas, and Prosciutto
The fresh fettuccine needs to be started at least one day in advance of preparing this recipe. The pasta can be made up to one week ahead and frozen, then defrosted before preparation.
- 1 recipe Fresh Spinach Fettuccine (recipe follows) or 12 ounces dried spinach fettuccine (about 6 cups cooked)
- 1 cup shelled fresh peas or frozen peas, thawed and drained
- 1 pound fresh chanterelle, porcini or other mixed mushrooms
- 5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 ounces thinly sliced prosciutto such as prosciutto di Parma or prosciutto di San Daniele
- 4 fresh sage leaves
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 cups canned Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano), seeded and crushed, with their liquid
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Grana Padano cheese (buy a 2-ounce block)
Prepare Fresh Spinach Fettuccine. To make sauce, if using fresh peas, parboil them in small saucepan of boiling salted water until softened, 3 to 5 minutes. Drain: set aside.
Trim tough ends and wilted spots from mushrooms. Wipe clean with damp paper towel. Thinly slice; set aside.
Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat. Press garlic cloves with flat side of knife; add to skillet. Add prosciutto and sage leaves. Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Stir in mushrooms; season lightly with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms are lightly browned and wilted, about 7 minutes. Pour in tomatoes, season again lightly with salt and pepper. Bring sauce to a boil. Lower heat so sauce is at a lively simmer; cook 5 minutes. Stir in peas and chopped parsley; cook until peas are tender, about 3 minutes.
While the sauce is simmering, bring pot of salted water to boil. When sauce is done, stir fettuccine into boiling water. Return to boil, stirring frequently. Cook pasta, semi-covered, stirring occasionally, until done, about 5 minutes.
Drain pasta well; return to pot and pour in about three-quarters of sauce. Bring sauce and pasta to boil, tossing to coat pasta with sauce. Check seasoning, adding salt and pepper if necessary. Remove pot from heat; stir in cheese. Transfer pasta to warm platter, top with remaining sauce. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
Fresh Spinach Fettuccine:
- 1 10-ounce box frozen chopped spinach or 10 ounces packaged fresh baby spinach
- 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for kneading and rolling
- 2 large eggs
- 2 egg yolks
If using frozen spinach, take frozen block out of box, place in colander over bowl and let thaw completely and drain in refrigerator overnight. Squeeze thawed spinach by handfuls to press out as much liquid as possible when ready to make dough.
If using fresh spinach, try to start a day ahead. Wash thoroughly in several changes of cold water. Remove stems; cook 5 minutes or more in large volume of boiling water. Remove spinach from pot; let drain and cool in colander. Squeeze out as much water as possible. If possible, let drain and dry in refrigerator overnight. Squeeze spinach again.
(With either kind of spinach, when you think you've squeezed it enough, squeeze it again, by handfuls, using all your might. The drier the spinach, the better the pasta.)
Crumble spinach into bowl of food processor. Cover; process until paste forms, scraping sides occasionally. Add flour; process with several on/off turns until combined.
Whisk together whole eggs and yolks in bowl or measuring cup with spout. With food processor running, pour in liquid ingredients on top of green flour. Process about 30 seconds, scraping down work bowl and remaining egg mixture. Process another 20 to 30 seconds, until dough has started to come together in ball on blade.
Turn dough onto lightly floured surface; knead briefly until smooth. Wrap in plastic wrap; let rest at room temperature 30 minutes before rolling.
To roll out dough with pasta machine, cut it in six equal pieces. Keeping them lightly floured, roll each piece through pasta-rolling machine at progressively narrower settings into 5-inch-wide sheets (or as wide as your machine allows) and 20- to 24-inches long. Cut long sheets in half crosswise into twelve strips, each about a foot long and 5 inches wide.
To cut fettuccine by hand, one strip at a time, lightly flour one strip and, starting with short end, fold it over in thirds or quarters, creating small rectangle with three or four layers of pasta. With sharp knife, cut cleanly through folded dough crosswise, separating into 1/2-inch-wide pieces. Shake and unfurl cut pieces, opening them into long ribbons. Dust liberally with flour. Gather fettuccine into loose nest and set it on floured tray. Fold and cut all of pasta this way, piling fettuccine in small, floured nests. Leave uncovered to air-dry at room temperature until ready to cook (or freeze nests on tray until solid; pack in airtight sealable freezer bags).
Cavatappi al Forno with Sausage-Tomato Sauce
You will need a large pot for cooking the pasta and a 4-quart rectangular baking dish or oval gratin dish. Note: Sauce should be made in advance and can be refrigerated for a few days or even frozen for a few weeks.
- 1-1/2 pounds sweet Italian sausage
- 1 cup dry white wine, divided
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing pasta
- 2 cups chopped onion
- 1 large clove garlic, peeled and sliced
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon peperoncino flakes (or to taste)
- 2 (28-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) crushed by hand (6 cups)
- 1 cup water
- 1 branch fresh basil with lots of leaves for cooking and finishing pasta (a single batch), or 1 cup packed basil leaves
- Kosher salt for pasta pot
- 1 pound dried cavatappi or penne pasta
- 1-1/2 cups freshly grated Grana Padano, divided
- 8 leaves of basil, shredded
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- 1 (15-ounce) carton ricotta cheese
- 1 pound provola cheese, shredded, divided
- 1/4 cup fine dry bread crumbs
Remove sausage casings and crumble meat into large bowl. Pour 1/2 cup wine over sausage; mix with fingers, breaking up any big clumps so sausage is evenly moistened.
Pour olive oil into 14-inch skillet or Dutch oven and set over medium heat. Stir in onions; cook until they begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Scatter garlic in pan; season with salt and peperoncino. When everything is sizzling, add crumbled sausage and stir together with onions. Pour in remaining 1/2 cup wine. Raise heat a bit, and cook, stirring, as wine cooks away and sausage browns, about 10 minutes.
Pour in undrained tomatoes. Use one cup water to rinse tomato cans and bowl and add to pan. Submerge basil branch in liquid; cover skillet and bring to boil. Set cover ajar; adjust heat to keep sauce bubbling steadily. Cook 1 hour or more, until sauce has developed good flavor and is reduced to consistency you like for dressing pasta (about 8 cups total). Remove and discard basil branch. Reserve 4 cups sauce, or let cool and refrigerate or freeze for later use.
Fill pasta pot with salted water; add at least 1 tablespoon kosher salt. Bring to rolling boil. Stir in cavatappi; cook at boil until al dente (about 4 minutes less than package directions).
Drain pasta well in colander; place in big bowl. Pour in 2 cups sausage-tomato sauce; sprinkle with 1/2 cup Grana Padano and shredded basil. Toss well to dress cavatappi evenly.
Meanwhile, heat oven to 400°F. Brush baking dish with butter. Pour in half of dressed pasta, spreading to fill pan bottom in even layer. Drop ricotta by spoonfuls evenly atop pasta. Scatter half of shredded provola over pasta and ricotta. Spread one cup sausage-tomato sauce on top of cheeses.
Next, arrange remaining pasta in flat, even layer. Spoon 3/4 cup tomato sauce on top. Sprinkle with remaining Grana Padano and provola. Scatter breadcrumbs over all; drizzle last bit of tomato sauce over top.
Tent baking dish with aluminum foil, arching so it doesn't touch crumb topping, and pressing it against sides of dish. Set dish in oven and bake 35 minutes. Remove foil; bake 15 minutes more, until top is nicely browned and crusty. Serve hot! Makes 8 to 10 servings.
Linguini fra Diavolo with Lobster
"Fra Diavolo" indicates a spicy dish. While its roots are Italian, its origin is Italian-American, the delicious hybrid cuisine Italian immigrants created as they settled in the United States.
- 6 large frozen lobster tails
- All-purpose flour
- 1 cup vegetable oil, or as needed
- 8 cloves garlic
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 (35-ounce) cans Italian plum tomatoes (preferably San Marzano) seeded and crushed, with their liquid,
- 16 whole dried peperoncini or diavollilo hot red peppers, or 1 1/2 teaspoons crushed red pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano, preferably Sicilian or Greek, dried on the branch, crumbled
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
- 1 pound dried linguini
Thaw lobster tails. In 8-quart pot bring 6 quarts salted water to boil.
Cut lobster tails in half lengthwise. In heavy 12-inch skillet, heat 1 cup vegetable oil over medium heat. Dredge meat side of tails lightly in flour. Add as many of them, cut side down, as will fit comfortably in skillet. Cook until lobster meat is lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Remove from pan. Repeat with remaining lobster tails as necessary.
Press garlic cloves with side of knife. Place in 12-inch skillet; add olive oil. Cook, shaking skillet until garlic is lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Carefully pour in tomatoes; add peppers and dried oregano. Season lightly with salt. Bring to boil; adjust heat to lively simmer. Simmer, uncovered, 15 minutes.
Stir in fresh oregano and tuck lobster tails into sauce. Cook at lively simmer just until lobster meat is cooked through and juicy, about 5 minutes. Keep sauce and lobster warm over very low heat.
Meanwhile, prepare linguini according to package directions. Drain linguini; return to pot. Spoon liquid portion of lobster sauce over pasta, leaving just enough sauce behind in pot to keep lobster pieces moist. Bring sauce and pasta to boil, stirring gently to coat pasta with sauce. Check seasoning, adding salt if necessary.
Divide linguine among 6 pasta bowls. Top each with two lobster tail halves. Spoon some of remaining sauce remaining in pan over each serving. Serve immediately. Makes 6 servings.
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Cooking School: New York's Eataly
Celebrate Italian cooking at New York's premiere pasta locale
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Recipes for This Story
Gnocchi with Aromatic Herb Pesto
Spinach Fettuccine with Chanterelles, Spring Peas, and Prosciutto
Cavatappi al Forno with Sausage-Tomato Sauce
Linguini fra Diavolo with Lobster
Federico Fellini quipped, "Life is a combination of magic and pasta." Surely, the master filmmaker was having a prophetic vision of Eataly, the 40,000-square-foot Italian food emporium cofounded by culinary powerhouses Lidia Bastianich, son Joe Bastianich, Chef Mario Batali, and Oscar Farinetti, who established Eataly's Italian outposts.
Located in the landmark Toy Building in New York City's Flatiron District, Eataly exemplifies the magic of the Italian table with a slate of artisanal producers of pastas, pizzas, breads, salumi, cheeses, beers, and wines. There are also boutique eateries, vegetable purveyors, butchers, and bakers.
Lidia's exclusive domain is La Scuola di Eataly, the School at Eataly, tucked in a corner behind the butcher. Traditional Home's former master chef-there are plenty of other credits to her name: author, Emmy nominee and James Beard Foundation winner, winemaker, restaurateur-made a commitment early in the planning stages to include education on Eataly's menu. Lidia serves as dean of the school and several times a year steps into the role of instructor. I attended a class covering the latter half of Fellini's equation: spring pastas.
La Scuola's intimate space accommodates 20 students. Classes, averaging $125, occur almost daily and are taught by staff experts and guest chefs, as well as Lidia and Chef Batali. Topics range from wine-tastings to regional culinary tours.
We are seated at small marble-top tables facing a demonstration kitchen made cozy with a wall of kitchen supplies. "While the school is small," Lidia explains, "it has enormous impact. It encourages people to shop for the recipes they've learned and re-create them at home."
Assisted by Alex Pilas, Eataly's executive chef, Lidia starts class by explaining how the shape and texture of different pastas contribute to a successful dish and the distinction between fresh and dried varieties. (Don't despair if you prefer to open a box.)
"Dried pasta should be uniform in color," Lidia says. "A rough, floury texture is best for grabbing the sauce. Fresh pasta should be soft and porous so it takes on the sauce and is well-coated."
Lidia illustrates the point by demonstrating how to make gnocchi (small potato dumplings). Rolling the small balls of dough off the tines of a fork to create the gnocchi takes practice; Lidia patiently directs students in the technique.
When the gnocchi have finished cooking, they are drained and tossed with an aromatic spring pesto of fresh basil, flat-leaf parsley, mint, and sage.
Eataly wine director Dan Amatuzzi steps up to pair a lovely Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Picolit blend from the Friuli region with the gnocchi. (Most classes include wine pairings.) "With Italian foods, the weight of the food dictates the weight of the wine," Dan explains.
Other class recipes include a luxurious, spicy Lobster Fra Diavolo and an impressive Cavatappi al Forno, a casserole of epic proportions packed with sweet Italian sausage, three cheeses, and Italian plum tomatoes. "These sexy little tomatoes yield a rich, fruity sauce," Lidia says. "They are thin- skinned with lots of pulp and few seeds."
To prepare spinach fettuccine with chanterelles, spring peas, and prosciutto we make long strands of fettuccine from scratch. "Italians never break their pasta," Lidia says. As she serves the pasta, Lidia makes a perfectly curled nest in the center of the plate.
"Everyone wants to know how to do that," she says. "It's simple: Turn the plate."
Dan pours a wine with each recipe, including unexpected combinations such as a Rosato with the lobster. It's magic and pasta. Somewhere, Fellini is smiling.
Photography: Bill Bettencort