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.