Beautiful pasta, formed with your own two hands, using simple, good ingredients is what Pasta by Hand by Portland-based chef/author Jenn Louis is all about.
In the introduction to her book, Jenn discusses the confusion of names and regional differences of what she refers to as Italian dumplings. We think of them as gnocchi but come to learn that while all gnocchi are dumplings, not all dumplings are gnocchi. These handcrafted nubs of dough, as she defines them, can be made from a variety of ingredients, such as, potato, cheese, greens or grains. And, they can be cooked by a variety of methods—poaching, simmering, baking, or sautéing. There might be a disagreement of names, but no one denies that these dumplings are treasured comfort food.
Learn the geography of Italy as you cook your way through this book. Jenn begins with the dumplings of Sardinia, the island off the west coast of Italy. From there she heads to the southern part of Italy with dumplings made from semolina flour. Up through the center of the country, with its rich pastures and farmland, we see the ingredients change with dumplings made from potato and cheese, such as ricotta. Head north where wheat is grown and the dumplings are likely to include breadcrumbs.
Along with stories of regional cooks and mouth-watering recipes, the book is rich with photography, specifically, technique shots to teach the step-by-step process of creating these shapes. This is truly where a picture is worth a thousand words. See exactly how one angles their thumb to press on a nub of dough before gently pushing it against a gnocchi board.
I could begin by making the basic gnocchi recipe, but my mouth waters at the thought of Chicche Verdi del Nonno. Gnocchi made with potatoes, spinach, semolina flour, and eggs. These beautiful, tender green pillows are sautéed in butter and then drizzled with brown butter and sage.
Or, for sheer comfort on a cold rainy night, Royale Bolognese would warm the bones. Dumplings made from eggs, butter, Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and flour are simmered in a meaty broth. Jenn learned this recipe from Luisa, her mentor, in Bologna. That page is dog-eared in my copy of the book. So is the Buckwheat and Ricotta Gnocchi on page 158. This dumpling is from the alpine region of Trentino-Alto Adige. The suggestion of pairing it with a rabbit or lamb ragu sounds perfect.
I’m ready to cook some potatoes, push them through my ricer, and use my hands to press together dough, and then roll it out on a flour-dusted counter and form it into ridged curled shape. With this book I can play in my kitchen making handmade dumplings and dream about my next trip to Italy.
We have a jam problem. It's an easy problem to have if you do any preserving at all. Jams and preserves are the gateway to canning. They're easy and delicious, and as the seasons roll by you catch yourself saying, "Well, we're going to need to make a batch of strawberry jam" or "We can't go through blackberry season without putting up some preserves." This, my friends, is how it all begins. Innocently enough, and then you blink and your pantry is overflowing with jam.
We joined a canning club. Every month, we trade 5 jars of something we made for 5 different jars of things other people made. This has evened out our jam-to-pickle ratio a bit, but we're still at critical mass considering there are only two of us, and one of us doesn't even like sweet things at breakfast (traitor).
And we've maxxed out our contingent of friends who we can donate preserves to. In effect, we've not only filled up our own pantries with jam, but also those of most of our friends. Maybe I'm just imagining things, but when we go to a friend's house for dinner with a jar of something in hand, I think I can see a glint of dread in their eyes. It's like getting four sticks of lip balm every Christmas (and if you're a woman, you will probably get at least that many)--I love lip balm. It's really great. But I still have three from last time, and I'm just one person!
Thankfully, jam bars are a thing. And they work perfectly with almost any jam or preserve. I imagine they would work with jelly as well, but I haven't tried it yet. These apple pie bars are simple to make, and they have the buttery goodness of a pie but without all the rolling and crimping. I used half rye flour for my crust for a bit of nutty flavor (and because I can't leave well enough alone), but using just all-purpose works just as well. This would also be an excellent gluten free recipe since it involves a press-in crust and a streusel topping. Just use your favorite gluten free flour blend.
Apple Pie Bars
Makes twenty bars
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease a 9x13-inch baking pan. Whisk together in a bowl or pulse together in a food processor:
2 cups all purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and 1 cup spelt, rye, or buckwheat flour)
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cups (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Cut in or pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Add:
3 tablespoons cold water or milk
Knead or pulse until the dough begins to hold together. Press the dough into the baking pan and bake until barely firm in the center, 12 to 15 minutes. Spread over the hot crust:
1 1/2 cups apple butter
Whisk together in a bowl or pulse together in a food processor:
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (or 1 cup all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup spelt, rye, or buckwheat flour)
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Cut in or pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Stir in:
3/4 cup chopped pecans
1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
Beat together lightly:
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk or water
Stir into the flour mixture until the streusel is moistened and forms small clumps. Sprinkle the streusel over the apple butter. Bake until the streusel is nicely browned, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack.