A little over four years ago, I turned sixteen. I remember my sixteenth rather well. My birthday fell on a Friday, but as per tradition, my grandfather and I went shopping on that Saturday.The weather was hot and humid, and as one of his gifts to me, my grandfather treated me to a smoothie from Coldstone Creamery before we began our shopping trip. We were down in Evergreen Walk, walking around, trying to stay cool and it was proving to be nearly impossible. Far off in the distance there were thick storm clouds brewing and we both hoped that it would hold off on raining until after we were done shopping. Unfortunately for us, it didn’t. We were walking out of Sears when it began to pour and we had to drive to the Ficara’s in that rain. My grandfather had always teased us kids about our want to go to Olive Garden saying that it was “fake Italian food” it wasn’t until that day what he meant. We arrived at Ficara’s while it was still pouring and made it inside before we were too drenched. Immediately, I was fond of the restaurant, but didn’t understand why a reservation was necessary. The restaurant was practically empty save for two other people, the servers and my grandfather and myself. We were seated in a large room with plenty of tables, each having a candle on it and handed menus. The server brought us bread while we perused the menu. The bread smelled delicious and I nibbled on it while trying to figure out what I wanted. I knew what some of the menu items were, but what did I want? Finally, I settled on the Gnocchi Amatriciana. I had no idea what it was and all that it said underneath was “with prosciutto, marinara sauce & cheese” At that point, I still didn’t know what prosciutto was and my grandfather explained it was in the bacon family. It had to be good, right? So I ordered this funky gnocchi dish. When it was brought out, I was uncertain. The pasta was unlike anything I had ever seen or smelled before. It smelled kind of like potatoes while you boiled them and looked like sea shells. They were about the size of my thumb, with ridges on one side and an almost shell like side on the other. It was odd looking and odd smelling, but I was fascinated by them. Tentatively, I took a bite and forgot all about my hesitation. It was simply… fantastic. I finished the dish almost forlornly, having enjoyed the last bite as much as the first, but was sad that it was gone.
After Ficara’s, I was wary about eating at Olive Garden again. Their so called mozzarella sticks didn’t hold up to the lightly breaded and baked mozzarella that I’d had while I was at Ficara’s. The pasta was bland, they didn’t serve gnocchi, but I still ate there with family. It wasn’t until last winter when Mum and I ended up at Olive Garden for lunch one afternoon that I noticed they did have gnocchi. Every time we’ve been, we always order the same thing. But it was a cold winter day and I wanted soup instead of salad and that’s when I saw it. Chicken and Gnocchi soup. “A creamy soup made with roasted chicken, traditional Italian dumplings and spinach.” Of course I ordered it and when it came, I tried it. The gnocchi was similar tasting to what I remembered, but in a creamy soup, it was different. Each bite was paired with the delightful cream sauce that made the broth of the soup and with chicken? It was out of this world and ever since then, I’ve ordered the soup instead of salad.
Outside of restaurants, however, I haven’t found gnocchi until recently. Yes, I’ve found countless recipes telling me step by step how to make the traditional dumpling pasta, but I don’t dare. We all know how horrible I am with all things doughy, and I don’t want to mess them up. But a couple nights ago, I was in the grocery store. I was killing time waiting for a pizza to be made and I was perusing the pasta isle. You know, the isle that’s got all 8 variations on canned, diced tomatoes with 5 different kinds of jar sauces (not that we use jar sauces around here, they have sugar in them), and pasta at the other end of the isle. Well, I had picked up a can of diced tomatoes with oregano and garlic when I saw it: boxed gnocchi. There were 2 varieties, whole wheat and regular. It was right there, in that moment, that I knew I wanted to make gnocchi with red sauce… soon.
Until next time-