A few weeks ago, our 3-year-old granddaughter arrived to stay for a few days as we awaited the arrival of her new baby sister. I was eager to pack in as much fun as possible since I had lost a lot of precious time with my granddaughters during the pandemic. As I brainstormed ideas, I remembered a decision I made when we traveled to Italy in October 2019 — a lifetime ago.
As we visited Bari, Italy, we saw women making small ear-shaped pasta, known as orecchiette, at tables outside their homes. I decided that I wanted to share a pasta-making tradition with my granddaughters. I thought I could easily teach my granddaughters how to make pasta I had more experience with, like spaghetti or potato gnocchi (a dumpling-like pasta).
I searched the Italian stores for aprons for the 2-year-olds and finally settled on a pink-trimmed design. The shop clerk embroidered their names on them using a sewing machine. I tucked them away in my luggage, excited to give them their gifts when we returned home.
And then the pandemic hit in 2020. My pasta-making plans moved to the back burner, as well as my hopes for sleepovers with the girls.
Finally, however, the new baby’s arrival gave me the opportunity for an extended visit with Adina with masks.
As we unpacked her toys, clothes and other necessities, I baked several potatoes in the oven to make gnocchi. I thought it would be a good starting project because I make spaghetti using pasta roller and cutter attachments for my mixer. I didn’t think we were quite ready for that.
After I peeled the baked potatoes, I mashed them with the mixer. Adina helped me gradually add flour to the potatoes to make the dough.
As I rolled the dough into a slab on a floured board, I gave her a small ball of dough to do the same with. Then we cut the dough into strips, rolled them in flour to make long snakes, and then cut them into bite-sized pieces. I showed her how to roll each piece with her thumb to create an indentation. She was surprisingly adept at the task.
We had such fun making the pasta. I placed the pieces in a single layer on cloth-covered baking sheets dusted with flour. I boiled a large pot of water and carefully dropped in the gnocchi, cooking them until they were ready. Many recipes suggest cooking gnocchi until they float, but I prefer to cook them longer, sampling them until they taste cooked in the center. I served them with tomato sauce and meatballs.
Our experience was such a success that I can’t wait to do the same with Adina’s cousin and, someday, her new baby sister!