Sometimes The Simplest Food Takes The Most Effort: Making Gnocchi With Rosina from Until Next Sunday

Last week we toured Italy with Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday. On Monday, Audry visited our podcast and shared some of the behind the scenes of writing the book. Today, we dove into the book and decided to attempt to make and share the iconic family recipe for gnocchi.

Until Next Sunday is a book about two Italian immigrants who find each other and fall in love in America during the early 1900s.

Told through the eyes of the female heroine, Rosina, the story opens with the character saying goodbye to everything she knows in Italy to board a ship to America.

The stage is set for a bit of a Cinderella story as we learn Rosina is leaving because of an evil step mother that worked her to death. She doesn’t know if she will ever get to return, but she has an opportunity to join a brother in America and have her own happiness. Though goodbyes are heartbreaking, this one came with a hopeful promise.

In America, Rosina meets Gianni, and they fall for each other. Illness puts Rosina in a sanitarium (at a time in history when bad things happened there), and the budding love has to spend the majority of its time in letters. For years, the family they have together knew nothing of the past hardships that they faced…one Sunday visit at a time…during limited visits. They couldn’t read the letters either because they were all in Italian and in a dialect hard to translate.

Until Next Sunday is an immigrant story. It is upfront about the fact that it is a work of fiction, but what I love about it is the TRUE STORY behind it. Three sisters–who were granddaughters of Rosina and Gianni–inherited a box of mementos. In that box was a scrapbook of over 100 carefully stored letters. Thanks to the sisters and their determination to know more, a translator was found who could read the difficult regional dialect, and a year of stories was unlocked for all of us to hear. Many of those translated letters are in the book.

How precious would it be if you could see a prequel of the life of your loved ones?

Rosina was a storyteller. Family gatherings on Sundays were filled with food and stories. Some of the sisters’ fondest memories were of Rosina’s Gnocchi, so they included her handwritten recipe in the book. For this review, I decided to take it on.

Making Gnocchi

Gnocchi is a potato pasta that is just three simple ingredients: potatoes, salt, and flour. The ingredients were simple. The instructions were simple. The process was not.

First of all, there is a reason that the recipe calls for a ricer. After you cook 4 potatoes, you are supposed to press them through a ricer. This would mash them evenly into fine pieces. That is extremely important as you are counting on the starch in the potato to hold everything together, but it won’t be broken down enough without a ricer.

Boiling water for gnocchi becomes the test that shows what I did wrong

In my case, I didn’t have the ricer, so I mashed the potatoes as well as possible with a masher. What I ended up with was chunks of crystal-like potatoes in the dough that would make the dough fall apart in the water, create a cloud of starchy mash, scorch the pan, and cause me to have to drain and start over multiple times.

So…use a ricer.

Despite this rookie mistake, I did get a reasonable good dough out of it, and I did transfer it to a wooden board as Rosina suggested.

The board made it easier to cut and form the pasta, but it also further revealed how unsteady it was. It was hard to make any pinch of this hold together with chunky potatoes in it.

Still, some of them did hold long enough to rise in the water and be transferred to the sauce.

Success! Gnocchi made it to the sauce.

Gnocchi is pretty plain by itself (it’s a pasta), so you need sauce. I’m sure it would be excellent in cheese, but I wanted to be as authentic as possible and make a scratch tomato sauce.

Tomato marinara from scratch

How to make marinara

If you can get your hands on home canned tomatoes, that would be best, but I used store bought. For this sauce, I started with a generous coating of the pan in quality olive oil and spices. I used Greek cold-pressed oil, Herbs de Provence, and garlic powder. The herbs are extra fragrant, so I knew they would carry a little farther than just Italian seasoning. I sautéed that oil/herb based for a minute till it browned, then I added tomatoes. I added two 16 oz. cans of diced tomatoes (one had garlic and olive oil in it that really added flavor), one 16 oz. can of tomato sauce, and one 8 oz. can of tomato paste. You need that variety to create the consistency of a chunky sauce. The paste is important too because it acts as a thickener but with concentrated tomato flavor.

You want to bring all the ingredients together stirring them in the pan till a light boil pops. Then reduce the heat to its lowest setting and let it simmer. The longer a sauce has the chance to sit and simmer, the better it becomes because all those flavors and ingredients marry each other.

Final plate: gnocchi in homemade marinara, drizzled with Greek olive oil, and topped with grated parmesan

What Cooking With Rosina Taught Me

Making gnocchi was a lesson in itself. To get to that final plate that looks and tastes so good, you have to be willing to put in extra time, effort, and patience.

I’m not a very patient cook. After 30 minutes of messing with something, I am usually over it. I am sure half of my problems making gnocchi were from trying to make this without the proper tools. Nevertheless, this recipe said a lot about the person who wrote it. Rosina had to have been a very patient, loving, and resilient woman. What came second nature to her came because of years of making it so it would become easier.

How many things in life do we practice to perfection?

How many times do we exercise patience and persist when we want to quit?

I had to laugh at myself to keep from crying as I made this first attempt at gnocchi. Next time (and there will be a next time), a ricer will be involved. But making gnocchi with Rosina the cooking grandma, made me want to know her as Rosina the young woman. Until Next Sunday lets you do that.

I encourage you to jump on the author’s website and grab a copy for yourself. It’s worth it.

Travel to Southern Italy: A Region Featured In The Novel, Until Next Sunday 

by Audry Fryer, author of Until Next Sunday

Researching the Campania Region of Southern Italy had to be one of the best parts of writing my latest novel, Until Next Sunday. If only I could have conducted my research in person!

In Until Next Sunday, the main character, Rosina, makes the brave choice to leave her hometown of Torchiara, Italy, in late December 1919. She has a specific reason for her departure (which you’ll discover in the story). Still, leaving everyone and everything she knew for a new life in America is heart-wrenching. 

While someday I hope to visit the setting in Italy at the beginning of my novel, the family with whom I collaborated to write the true story based on their grandparents’ love letters was able to take a trip to this region several years ago. While there, they visited the home where Rosina lived before leaving for America, and they had a visit with the family of Filomena, Rosina’s cousin and closest childhood friend.

Rosina’s hometown of Torchiara, and Naples, where she disembarked for America, are in the Campania Region of Italy. Located in the Southern portion of the boot-shaped peninsula, Campania encompasses the coastal Mediterranean areas of the Amalfi Coast, Sorrento, the Cilento National Park, and the islands of Capri and Ischia. 
Campania has a variety of cities, picturesque coastlines, and historical places to visit. Naples is the bustling capital city. The Amalfi Coast hosts dramatic coastlines with mountains that rise steeply from the Mediterranean Sea. And, the ancient city of Pompeii is located in Campania. 
One of the tastiest regions in Italy, Campania offers a variety of well-known Italian dishes and drinks. It’s the birthplace of pizza, especially pizza Margherita. Campania is also known for spaghetti, mozzarella, limoncello, and cannelloni. And it excels in providing some of the best espresso and cappuccino in the country.
Centrally located in the Cilento National Park, Torchiara overlooks the blue Mediterranean Sea with groves of ancient olive trees lining the hillsides. This picturesque village enjoys mountain breezes, lower humidity, and views of Salerno Bay. On a clear day, you can spot the island of Capri in the distance. Torchiara boasts over a thousand years of history along its cobbled stone streets, ancient palaces, and quaint churches. 
Although born in Battipaglia in the Campania Region of Salerno, Rosina spent most of her youth in Torchiara. Her childhood home sat along one of the cobbled stone streets in this hilltop village. Before leaving for America, Rosina worked in the olive groves on the mountainside. 
According to Linda, one of Rosina’s granddaughters, “When I would comment on my Grandmother’s soft hands and beautiful skin, her reply was, ‘I worked in the olive groves of Torchiara, where some of the finest Virgin Olive Oil comes. And the oil from picking olives was the best lotion for keeping my skin so soft. So throw away your expensive creams and use a little olive oil each day! So what if you smell like a salad? It’s worth it!”

These three pictures were taken by the sisters that visited their grandparents’ home over ten years ago.

As the capital city of the Campania region, Naples is a dynamic location. And not just because it sits beneath the shadow of Mount Vesuvius! It’s also the third-largest city in Italy.
Naples has a diverse and complicated history with some triumphs and many setbacks. In my book, Until Next Sunday, Rosina disembarked from the port in Naples for America in 1919.
Although Southern Italy and Naples are considered much poorer regions than Rome and northern Italy, this region still offers many tourism opportunities. You can visit ancient sites and various castles, stroll through art museums, and indulge in a pizza or a shot of espresso.
If you travel West and slightly to the North of the Campania Region, you will come to the Eastern, mountainous coast of Italy known as the Abruzzo Region. Gianni, Rosina’s love interest in Until Next Sunday, originally called Teramo in the Abruzzo Region home. Teramo sits between the high peaks of the Apennines and the Adriatic Coast.
One of the region’s well-known dishes is homemade gnocchi. Rosina would prepare homemade gnocchi for her family at their Sunday dinners. You can find Rosina’s recipe for gnocchi in the opening pages of Until Next Sunday and within the free book club kit download from my website.

Final Thoughts

I hope you enjoyed this mini-tour of Italy. This region was fascinating to research. I love how a book can take you on a mental vacation to faraway places like the mountain village of Torchiara or the bustling city of Naples. Someday, I hope that I get to go there in real life! How about you? Is Italy on your travel “wish list”?

About the Book

About the Author

Audry Fryer is an author and professional freelance writer from Pennsylvania. Formerly a teacher, Audry wrote her first novel while her toddler son and twin babies napped. As her children have grown into teenagers, she has expanded her writing career. Audry lives with her family and two pugs in a quiet corner of Southeastern PA. To learn more about Audry, please visit her website at www.audryfryer.com