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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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
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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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