Last Tuesday I brought a very special guest with me to the cooking class I teach at the Montclair Cooperative School. It’s a man who taught me how to roll, cut, mold and perfectly cook gnocchi, a delicate and decadent food I previously knew little about and had always been intimidated to make. Of course, my special guest is my dear friend Lou, a natural born teacher, a man who makes cooking seem easy and inspires all who encounter him in a kitchen to try and succeed. With Lou as my mentor and coach, this Italian dish quickly became part of my repertoire. And so I wanted to teach what I learned to my students and decided there would be no better way than to bring my inspiration with me. So I asked Lou, who agreed wholeheartedly, eagerly accepting my invitation.
We got together earlier in the day to make the velvety smooth dough (as soft as a baby’s tush) so that it could rest a bit before we brought it to class. We measured and chatted while Lou’s Kitchenaid did the kneading. In less than ten minutes, I was out the door smiling from cheek to cheek, with Lou noting that our cooking date didn’t take long enough and that next time we’d have to make something that kept me there longer. But we’d be reunited in a few hours in my make-shift kitchen sitting on miniature chairs with ten adolescents crowded around us.
I knew Lou would be a hit — how could you not like Lou!? He’s charming, a jokester, loving and just puts a smile on anyone’s face. So, he sat with me on these pre-school sized chairs waiting for my students to arrive and as soon they did, they knew they were in for an amusing class. I introduced him to my students as my gnocchi teacher and cooking partner. I told the kids that even I, their teacher, have teachers and most of them have been my friends and father.
He demonstrated the art of making gnocchi that day with such ease that I’m pretty sure all the kids could confidently make them themselves. He doled out a task for each student, with some cutting, some rolling and others pressing the dough into the grooves of his hand-made gnocchi paddle. He heckled them in his normal fun-loving way as I’d step in from time to time reassuring them that he was only kidding. But they knew and were mesmerized by his charm, captivated by his way and completely and totally inspired. And of course, after we boiled the little grooved dumplings and tossed them in olive oil, butter and cheese, they devoured them, begging for more.
He almost came with me again yesterday when I made latkes for Hanukah, but he never made it. I told my students that he may show up and they cheered at the very notion. We waited with the door ajar as we would for the prophet Elijah on Passover. And when he didn’t materialize, I reassured my disappointed kids that I’d bring him back with me again one day to make ravioli, another food Lou makes easy and possible. And we’re all looking very forward to his return — especially me!
Lou’s Gnocchi con Ricotta
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups Ricotta fresh drained
2 whole eggs lightly beaten with a fork
1/2 cup Reggiano Cheese — grated
Put flour in a high sided large dish, mix the lightly scrambled eggs with the ricotta, add Reggiano and mix gently with a large fork until smooth, knead for a few minutes.
Cut off chunks larger than a golf ball until you improve the technique. Shape and roll out to about 3/4″ in diameter, the cut off 1/2″ pieces and ridge with a fork.
Boil water in slightly salted, water must be at a full boil, add gnocchi after floating for about five minutes lift out with a slotted spoon, serve with melted butter, olive oil and cheese or a fresh tomato sauce.