Croxetti with Smoked Salmon

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Last April when my husband and I visited New York City for my birthday, we went to Eataly. I could have spent much more time there, but my “other half” has limited patience shopping. We checked out the whole place, which requires a map if you want to do it in an orderly fashion, and then ate an incredible lunch.

My husband convinced me to shop online at Eataly.com instead of dragging groceries back home in my suitcase. In retrospect I think it was a trick to keep me from really shopping, but nonetheless I did grab a few Italian goodies.

One was Croxetti, a beautiful embossed pasta that I’d never seen before. I have since learned that the spelling can vary, but these “pendants” are Ligurian in origin.

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Over the many years of Croxetti development, the “traditional” designs have varied. The following photo is an example of a wooden stamp used for embossing, taken from the blog A Path To Lunch.

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I highly recommend reading the blog post I highlighted above. The blog’s authors, Martha and Mike, describe and photograph a meeting with the craftsman Mr. Pietro Picetti, who custom designs croxetti stamps in his workshop in Varese Ligure, Liguria.

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For the croxetti, I chose a light cream sauce with smoked salmon, hoping it would be a delicate enough sauce to not destroy the integrity of these delicate pasta discs once cooked.
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No real recipe is required. The pasta is cooked according to the package directions.
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I sautéed a few minced garlic cloves in hot olive oil, just for a few seconds, then added cream to the pot. Pour enough in the pot to lightly coat the pasta, about 12 ounces of cream for the 1.1 pound of croxetti.

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Julienne thin sliced of smoked salmon or lox, and add them to the cream. Heat through.

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Gently add the drained pasta discs to the cream and let sit, stirring once or twice as necessary to allow the cream sauce to coat the croxetti and get absorbed.

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Serve warm and sprinkle with capers, if desired.

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If you would prefer a thicker sauce, consider adding a little Marscapone or ricotta to the cream.
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Other options for this simple recipe would be to use butter instead of olive oil, and one could include clam juice with the cream for a fishier yet less rich sauce. Also, lemon zest would be a nice touch.

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If you happened to have fresh dill, a few leaves would be pretty on the pasta, but I only had dried dill leaves.

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The croxetti actually didn’t end up being as delicate as I assumed they would be. Of course I treated them gently as well. They were really fun to eat!

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Pumpkin Spazele

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My goal in the kitchen is not to be super creative and serve fancy food presentations. That’s just not me. I go to restaurants for that enjoyment. I’m just a self-trained home cook.

Spazele with pumpkin might seem like I’m trying to be creative, but my use of pumpkin began innocently enough, many years ago, for two different reasons. 1. I love pumpkin, and although a fall ingredient, can be used year round. 2. I always used canned pumpkin in my cooking as a way to enrich the food I prepared for my family. Sneaking in the pumpkin is perhaps a better term for what I did – sneaking it into stews, soups, chili, spaghetti sauce, meat loaf – you name it.

So my posting of spazele made with pumpkin is not meant to be show-offy or gourmet. It was just a natural thing for me to do because I became adept at sneaking in ingredients. And pumpkin, is fortunately pretty. Kids tend to be a little more suspicious of green ingredients.

I grew up with spazele because although my mother is French, her father was Alsatian. Spazele are German. They’re also spelled spaetzle. And perhaps even more ways than I realize.

I don’t think my mother ever put pumpkin in them, or anything else, because she always made them the traditional way. But they’re seriously fun to play with. You can add fresh herbs, pesto, tomato paste, cheeses, paprika crème, and just about anything that won’t ruin their cooking integrity. Because they all work.

If you’re not familiar with spazele, they’re kind of like gnocchi’s ugly cousin. I could also call them lazy man’s gnocchi. Either way, they’re simply made by adding spoonfuls of batter to boiling water, very similar to American dumplings.

There are spazele makers that turn out grated-looking “worms” of spazele, but I really like the rustic dumpling look. But taste and texture wise? Spazele are just as fabulous as gnocchi. They’re little puffy pillows of goodness. And simply tossed in brown butter? Dynamite.

With the beautiful orange color and that hint of pumpkin, they should be loved by every one of all ages. So here’s my recipe. Enjoy!
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Pumpkin Spazele

2 eggs
1 cup goat’s milk, heavy cream, milk, dairy or non-dairy
1 cup pumpkin purée


1 2/3 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
Parmesan
see note below for seasoning options

Place a large pot of water on the stove and bring to a boil.

Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and goat’s milk together with the pumpkin purée and salt.

Slowly incorporate the flour into the batter, adding just a little at a time. Whisk to remove any flour lumps, then switch to a spatula. Don’t overstir.

The resulting batter can’t be too thin because it will disintegrate in the boiling water. But you also don’t want too stiff of a batter from too much flour and over whisking because the spazele will be hard and tough. You want a soft, tender spazele.

When the water is boiling, test one spazele if you want to time them. It’s worth doing if you don’t trust yourself, but honestly dumplings like these are very straight forward to cook.

Place a teaspoon of batter into the boiling water. Notice it will fall to the bottom of the pan. After it rises to the surface, scoop it up and place it on a plate.

Cut the spazele in half and study the middle. It should be soft, but not raw or tough.

When you are ready to begin, place uniformly-sized spoonfuls of batter in the water – only about ten or so at a time. Again, they will eventually rise to the surface of the water, at which point I let them cook another 30 seconds.

When the first batch is done, remove them from the water using a spider sieve, and place them in a colander or on a paper towel-lined platter to drain excess water. Then continue with the remaining batter. When cool enough to handle, I also turn over each spazele to drain any water on the top.

When you’re all done, place the spazeles in a serving bowl.

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Brown the butter on the stove.

While still hot, pour over the spazele.


Look at those lovely browned butter bits on the pumpkin spazele.
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If desired, sprinkle with grated Parmesan.

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note: Regarding seasoning, I’ve used a few different ones over the years – Chinese 5 spice, nutmeg, white pepper, and thyme. If you’re serving the spazele as a side dish, season in complement to the protein. Also, I chose goat’s milk for today’s spazele, but cream, or any dairy and non-dairy liquid would work. It’s your choice.

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Gorgonzola Sauce

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This post should really be entitled “Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce,” but since I didn’t make the gnocchi myself, I’m just making this post about the sauce. Which, if you love any form of good blue cheese, you will love. I promise.

This Italian-inspired sauce is pretty rich, but you don’t make much of it by following this recipe. A little goes a long way.

The flavor profile is lovely, with the combination of the blue cheese, a little bit of bacon, and everything topped off with toasted pine nuts.

Keep in mind that if you don’t love blue cheese, any cheese can be substituted. Goat cheese would be incredible in this sauce. And you can always omit the bacon, although that would be a shame.

Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce

4 slices, about 4 ounces, bacon, diced
1 teaspoon oil
2 small shallots, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
2/3 cup cream of choice – I used evaporated milk
Crumbled blue cheese*, about 4 ounces or less if desired
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1 – 16 ounce package fresh gnocchi – these are actually mini gnocchi

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Toasted pine nuts

Heat a large skillet over high heat. Add the diced bacon and the oil; I used olive oil.
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Turn the skillet’s heat down to medium, and cook the bacon until mostly all done. You’re not going for crispy bacon, you’re just cooking it and rendering some fat in the process. Add the shallots and garlic.

(If you prefer to sauté the shallots and garlic in olive oil and omit the bacon step, you can always throw in some prosciutto at the end, before sprinkling the gnocchi with pine nuts.)

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Cook them for about a minute, then pour in the cream or milk you have chosen to use in the sauce.
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Keep the heat at about medium, and cook the cream mixture for at least 5 minutes at a nice simmer.
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After the liquid has reduced a little, stir in the blue cheese crumbles.
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Give them a gentle stir, then remove the skillet from the heat.

Cook the gnocchi according to package directions. Mine suggested a cooking time of 1 – 2 minutes. I stopped cooking at 1 minute, because I want the gnocchi to absorb the sauce. If necessary, more cream or milk can be added if necessary.

See how beautiful these gnocchi are? They really hold their shape.
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After cooking, drain the gnocchi well.
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Then add the drained gnocchi to the prepared sauce.
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Give everything a gentle stir, and then set the skillet aside. Have your toasted pine nuts handy.

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Just before serving, heat the gnocchi through. Add a little more liquid if necessary, if the gnocchi have absorbed a significant amount of the sauce.
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If desired, sprinkle the gnocchi with the toasted pine nuts. The crunch is delicious with the soft gnocchi.

note: This package of mini gnocchi, which I highly recommend if you don’t make your own gnocchi, makes 4 servings as side dishes, or two generous servings as entrées. I served the gnocchi along with steak and broccoli for dinner, but they would be just as fabulous as a vegetarian meal served along side a green or tomato salad.
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* I happened to have some leftover Gorgonzola on hand from Christmas, but any good Stilton or a Cambazola would work just as well. If you’re not fond of a strong blue cheese flavor, you can cut it in half with a mild cheese like a Fontina, a Chèvre, or even some cream cheese.

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Walnut Cream Gnocchi

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Years ago my husband and I took a wonderful three week trip throughout Italy, mostly the northern parts. One day we had lunch in the beautiful city of Siena. I remember it like it was yesterday – not only the city but also the lunch.

We had walked away from the more touristy part of town, off the beaten path, so to speak, and found ourselves in a wonderful, alley-filled area full of restaurants. We checked out posted menus, and finally just picked one at which to have our lunch. Honestly all of the restaurants had fabulous menus.

I ordered gnocchi with a walnut cream sauce. And, it could definitely be my last meal on earth, if I had a choice in the matter. Of course, being Tuscany, the gnocchi were sinfully delicious. But the walnut cream sauce was heavenly. I actually took before and after photos of my lunch, and fortunately, have never deleted them from my computer. They’ve been a constant reminder to try and duplicate the sauce. And yes, I ate the whole thing.

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Just for fun, here is a shot of the Tuscany countryside, looking just like it does in movies! I love Italy.

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There are so many different ways you can make a walnut cream sauce. For one thing, it depends how thick or thin you want it. The sauce I prepared is very thick, because the cooler weather made me crave something hearty. But you could simply steep some ground walnuts in milk or half and half. What I had in Italy was somewhere in between the two extremes.

So here is my simple recipe for gnocchi with a walnut cream sauce. Being that I was about to leave town when I made this dish, I decided to use some frozen sweet potato gnocchi that I’d purchased last fall from Marxfoods.com. They were still in good shape, and delicious.

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I made them last year for the blog, simply cooked and tossed with browned butter and sage leaves. They really are a fabulous product.

roasted sweet potato gnocchi sauteed in browned butter with sage

Walnut Cream Sauce for Gnocchi

4 ounces walnuts
8 ounces heavy cream
2 ounces unsalted butter or olive oil
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
Prepared gnocchi
Parmesan, to taste

Firstly, toast the walnuts in a heavy skillet just until lightly browned. Let cool.
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Then combine the walnuts and the cream in the blender jar. Process a little.

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At this point you could probably steep the cream-walnut mixture on the stove for a bit, then strain it and toss it with gnocchi. But I decided to just go for it. I processed the mixture for about one minute. It was thick.

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Set aside the blender jar.

In a large skillet or wok, heat the butter over low heat. Add the garlic and warm it in the butter for a few minutes.

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I normally only cook garlic for about ten seconds, but I didn’t want to have too sharp of a garlic taste in this sauce.

Then I added about half of the amount of sauce that I made, directly from the blender. The amount of sauce I made could easily coat enough pasta or gnocchi for 8 people, but half of the amount was perfect for two hearty eaters.

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Stir well until combined.

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Then gently fold in the prepared gnocchi, or really, any kind of cooked pasta. I wouldn’t cook the paste al dente, because this sauce isn’t thin enough to be absorbed.

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Once the gnocchi are coated with the sauce, and heated through, serve immediately.

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Top generously with finely grated Parmesan.

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I have to add that this isn’t the prettiest sauce in the world. The walnuts make the sauce a bit off in color, but it’s so good I’m not sure anyone would really care. I used up the rest of the sauce by sautéing mushrooms, adding them to the walnut cream sauce, adding some dried thyme and black pepper, and served the resulting sauce over steak. It was also delicious!

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