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.

HelloFresh Review: Pros, Cons, & Some Pretty Cool Extras

HelloFresh is a mail order food service committed to providing sustainably sourced food to consumers in a way that minimalizes waste. In this review, we will take a look at how they do that, pros and cons of the service, bottom line recommendation, and some pretty cool extras about the company.

How It Works

HelloFresh is pretty straight-forward with how they work. First, you pick from one of six different dietary restriction-based meal plans. Then your options are narrowed to that plan, and you pick how many people you want to make for and how many meals per week. You then pick subsequent sets of meals for future boxes. When you submit the order, you commit to a subscription of auto deliveries that arrive at your home at the dates you assigned every week. Boxes can be delayed to come less frequently, but that is not the automatic choice on the website.

Pros

Pro #1: Sustainable and Eco-friendly quality goes all the way to their packaging and beyond.

The company branding is geared towards buyers who are concerned about carbon emissions and responsible stewardship of Earth.

The shipment box itself was impressive because it was a cardboard cooler with instructions on it for how to recycle it. The separate meals inside were packaged in brown paper bags. Some of the ingredients were also repackaged into paper containers. For example, two cans of black beans for one recipe came in cardboard boxes similar to grade school milk cartons.

Pro # 2: Fresh produce really was fresh.

This should seem like a given from a company with the word “fresh” in the title, but it is not easy to do. Fruits and vegetables spoil easily–especially tomatoes–but ours were firm and nice from the point of delivery to final make (roughly a week later).

If you are on a clean eating diet, this freshness is a BIG plus. Even without the dietary restrictions, I experienced noticeable improvements to my health simply by cooking with fresh ingredients.

Pro #3: Fresh ideas bring fresh fun to the kitchen.

If you have gotten into a rut in the kitchen (cooking the same stuff over and over again), mail order food services give you something new and surprising to try. It is a food gift you give yourself and your loved ones. It is self care through homemade food instead of fast, processed, or frozen food.

Though all the recipes I picked for this box were simple, there were a few techniques and ingredients I wasn’t familiar with. I found it exciting to learn new skills and challenging to try to figure out how to prep new ingredients.

Cons

Con #1 : Inaccurate timing on the recipe cards

Almost all of the recipes claimed they took an hour or less to make, but that simply was not true. I ran a stopwatch on 2-out-of-4 meals. From start of prep to plating with no breaks except to read the instructions, most recipes took 2 hours to make.

The biggest chunk of the recipe time is in prepping fresh ingredients. If you can plan ahead for the day, you can prep the ingredients and have them ready so that the actual make time is an hour or less. I really can’t imagine it getting faster than that–not even if you are Gordon Ramsey.

Con #2: Subscriptions are pricey and only worth it if food waste is a real problem for you

HelloFresh claims they are cheaper than buying groceries, but I was able to get all the ingredients for my family’s favorite HelloFresh dish for about the same price as what I got them from HelloFresh.

What I couldn’t do was buy in less quantity. So, for example, I had to buy a whole bag of poblano peppers instead of just two. If I don’t use them all up or prep and freeze them, I risk losing money to spoiled food.

Con #3: Repetitive ingredients and messy instructions

I’m not a big fan of mayonnaise, but it was used a lot in the recipes we had to create dips and sauces. This particular dish was lovely without it. I recommend really looking at your recipe options before you buy. Here is a link to the directory of all their recipes.

In terms of messy instructions, this is particularly in terms of how the instructions guide you to work in your kitchen. The instructions take for granted that you have all the necessary cooking tools, oils, and lots of bowls for the ingredients. Many recipes could have been streamlined into 1-2 mixing bowls.

Bottom Line

These two Latin-inspired dishes were palate pleasing and light. Which would you try? Black beans with poblanos and onions (left) or Turkey with red cabbage slaw and tangy dressing (right)?

I loved the surprise of the meals and the self-care of eating more intentional foods, but these particular meals were frustratingly long to prepare for how simple the food really was. It was also not a cost efficient way of cooking for a family of three or more.

I would recommend trying the service if you have been throwing out more food than you have been able to actually cook with. I would also recommend it if you want to try a few boxes to just play with new food and ideas. If you are trying them out for play, be proactive about your subscription. If you want to discontinue the shipments, set a reminder to cancel future boxes before they ship and charge your card.

Some Pretty Cool Extras

If you give HelloFresh a try and become an avid supporter of the product, you may want to consider a job with them. HelloFresh is a global company with active openings in multiple countries including over 300 jobs in the United States.

I don’t often look for a chance to partner with a company and promote their product. I prefer to give my readers honest journalism; there is no payment attached to this post. That being said, it is pretty cool that HelloFresh offers options for partnering with them to promote their products. From including samples and gift boxes to new employees to being an influencer plugging their product, HelloFresh will entertain proposals for business partnerships.

Happy Cooking, everyone!