As part of the #Harvest Exhibition at QAGOMA, I finally got to see the movie The Big Night starring Tony Shaloub and Stanley Tucci. This movie regularly appears in top 10 food movie lists but I hadn’t even heard of it until I joined a hangout on Google+ with a ‘movie night’ theme. When I saw it on the screening list, it became a ‘must do’ event. It is the inspiration for making Pumpkin & Ricotta Gnocchi
The Big Night
( 1996/Dir: Campbell Scott & Stanley Tucci/107 mins)
Brothers Primo (Tony Shaloub) and Secundo (Stanley Tucci) have travelled to America from Abruzzo, Italy to open a restaurant and make a go of it. They are part of a wave of Italian immigrants in the 1950’s striving to achieve their dreams. Primo won’t compromise on the authenticity of his menu and Secundo’s brow is permanently furrowed as he tries to keep the customers happy and his brother placated. Primo never waivers in his belief that he needs to introduce authentic dishes and educate the public. Everyone wants meatballs, no one has even heard of risotto but he doesn’t budge. Times are tough so they decide to give it their all in a spectacular meal for a famous singer who they hope will become their patron and spread the word. A Big Night indeed. Stanley Tucci is particularly enjoyable to watch as the quietly spoken but steely Secundo who has quite a few irons in the fire as he seeks to make the business a success. This is a gentle comedy drama that’s as much about the relationship between two brothers as it is about the authentic and rustic food they turn out from their modest kitchen. It’s also a commentary on the resilience and tenacity of migrants to realise their sometimes grand, sometimes modest dreams. An all star cast including Ian Holm, Isabella Rossellini, Minnie Driver and a delicious suckling pig.
Pumpkin & Ricotta Gnocchi
(adapted from Claudia Roden)
I didn’t spot any gnocchi in ‘The Big Night’ but I’m sure Primo would approve. These little dumplings are nothing if not rustic. There are many different types of gnocchi, the most common being simple potato gnocchi. I had an excess of pumpkin however so decided upon pumpkin & ricotta gnocchi. After I had bought the ricotta, I perused Claudia Roden’s ‘Food of Italy’ that has been languishing on my bookshelf. It included a recipe for pumpkin gnocchi without ricotta so I have adapted the recipe, adjusting the quantities to allow for the inclusion of the ricotta which I think makes for a lighter dumpling.
- 300g cooked, cooled pumpkin
- 200g ricotta
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 200g plain flour, sifted
- salt and pepper to season
- 100g butter
- 1 tbsp fresh thyme leaves
- Bake or steam approx 350g of chopped pumpkin. If steaming, drain well. Remove skin and allow to cool. Mash well in large bowl with potato masher. Final weight of cooked pumpkin should be approximately 300g.
- Add ricotta, egg and seasoning to pumpkin and mix to combine.
- Add 100g of plain flour to the pumpkin and mix.
- Add remaining flour a few tablespoons at a time and mix well. Continue to add flour until a soft and slightly sticky dough forms. You may not need all of the flour or may need to add a little more. You need to judge by eye and feel.
- When dough comes together, form into 2 or 3 balls.
- Scatter flour on bench and roll one ball into a long sausage, approx 1 1/2 to 2cm thick. Repeat with remaining ball/s.
- Use a knife or dough cutter to chop off even amounts of dough to form gnocchi. The dough is quite soft so as you cut, the gnocchi will flatten somewhat.
- If you are not using the pumpkin & ricotta gnocchi straight away, place on a tray lined with baking paper and cover with a tea towel. It can be left like this for a good few hours (and I think somewhat improves it).
- When you are ready to cook, boil a large saucepan of salted water and gently place gnocchi into the pot. Do not overcrowd the saucepan. It is very quick to cook one batch and then do another.
- Give the water a gentle stir to make sure the gnocchi aren’t stuck to the bottom of the saucepan and allow water to return to the boil. Gnocchi will initially sink but will then rise to the surface when they are cooked.
- Remove with slotted spoon and place in large bowl. Repeat with remaining gnocchi.
- When all gnocchi have been cooked, heat butter in frying pan on medium heat.
- Place gnocchi in pan and allow to brown in butter on one side for a few minutes. Toss to allow both sides to brown evenly. Add fresh thyme leaves to pan (and a small amount of extra butter if you wish) and give a shake to coat gnocchi with butter and thyme.
- Turn out into a serving bowl or plates with a grating of Parmesan cheese.
Serves 4 – 6 as a main or 8 as a side