In 2006, I had the honor of being invited to work for NBC at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Torino, Italy. This opportunity was beyond anything that has ever happened in my career. Being able to experience working for the Olympic Games television programming and being able to do this in Italy was a dream come true. This month long trip kept my husband (fiancé at the time) and I apart, however he booked a flight to meet me in Italy once the games were over-how romantic!
I will never forget my excitement traveling on the train from Torino to Milan to meet my fiancé. I got to the hotel first, and he met me there shortly after to begin our Italian “pre-wedding moon”. After exploring Milan, we traveled to Venice and Florence, with Florence being our most favorite city of the three. While in Florence, there were so many foods and dishes that I could write about, but I have to focus on one memorable dish. My sister-in-law, who had recently traveled throughout Europe, gave us a list of restaurant suggestions in Italy, one of which was in Florence. On one of our last days in Florence, one of the first sunny, clear days of March after many rainy, gray days, we decided to give it a go.
It was March 6th, and I had been in Italy for well over a month by then, and our time in Italy was coming to an end. On that sunny but cold day, we headed out looking for a pasticceria for coffee and breakfast but never really found what we were looking for, so we settled for an average place. With a croissant and café Americano for me and a doughnut and cappuccino for Matt, we headed to Ponte Vecchio, a famous old bridge over the River Arno. Across the river, the Tuscan hills and gardens were breathtaking. While in the area, we checked out the Science Museum, which was filled with ancient maps, thermometers and medical instruments. We walked through the Palazzo de Medici and The Medici House, the quarters of Duke Cosimo, his royal family and court. After much sightseeing, our rumbling stomachs were in need of a good meal. We opted for one of my sister-in-law’s best suggestions, Osteria Santo Spirito located across the Ponte Vecchio in the Piazza Santo Spirito.
We easily found this little gem of a restaurant. Osteria Santo Spirito had an artsy, offbeat vibe, which we loved. After sitting at the red painted table, we were served a basket of hot baked bread with an olive tapaenade. We ordered an appetizer of these little hot ham bites. I can’t remember the Italian name for this dish, so I refer to it as ham bites although it was much more elegant than that sounds. Balls of mozzarella wrapped in a smoky ham were baked at a high temperature, and served over a bed of lettuce and tomato. The ham was crispy on the outside and the cheese was oozing onto the plate. After eating those little bites of heaven, we moved on to our entrées. Matt ordered a Rigatoni pasta dish with ricotta and a red sauce, and I ordered, as per my sister-in-law’s recommendation, the Gnocchi. The gnocchi was cooked and baked in a cast iron dish with 4 different cheeses and truffle oil. Served sizzling hot, the gnocchi and cheeses were golden brown on top. Once cooled down a bit, I was able to safely take a bite of one of the most divine dishes I ate while being in Italy for over a month. The creamy texture of those pillows of soft homemade gnocchi, and divinity of the flavor of cheese mixed with truffle oil created an unforgettable palate experience, an experience so delightful that I often spoke of recreating this dish sometime at home.
I finally attempted my own version of Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio. I regret to inform you that it is not even in the same realm of the meal I had Florence but that is a lot to live up to. While it was not the same, the gnocchi I created was still delicious in its own, simpler American way.
Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio
1 16 oz. Package of fresh or frozen gnocchi (If you want a challenge and have the time, then try making your own gnocchi.)
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1/2 medium onion, grated
2 garlic cloves, grated
1 tbsp flour
2 cups cream or milk, heated
1/2 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano (freshly grated)
1/2 cup Asiago cheese (freshly grated)
1/2 cup shredded Mozzarella
1/2 cup shredded Fontina cheese
In a large oven-safe saucepan, heat up the extra virgin olive oil over medium to high heat. With a micro plane or grater, grate 1/2 of a medium onion into the oil. Turn the heat down and sauté the onion for about 2 minutes. Add a dash of sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grate in the garlic cloves and sauté for another minute. Next sprinkle in the flour and
incorporate well with the oil and onion with a whisk or wooden spoon. Let the flour cook for about 2-3 minutes before adding the warm milk or cream. Use 1% or 2% milk if you want to lighten it up otherwise go all the way with whole milk or cream. Whisk the milk into the flour over medium heat until it thickens slightly and all the flour bits are dissolved. Continue whisking and add the white wine. Simmer the mixture for about 10 minutes, stirring
In a large pot, bring salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, which will take no more than 3 minutes to cook. You will know the gnocchi are done when they float to the top of the pot. Drain well and set aside when done.
Make sure the heat under the milk mixture is on super low. Add all the cheeses into the milk incorporating well with a wooden spoon. The cheeses will melt nice and slow as you stir gently. Once the mixture is smooth and the cheese is melted, then add the gnocchi. Mix well into the sauce and transfer to the oven. Bake the gnocchi in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.
I hope that you can bring a taste of Florence into your home with this Gnocchi recipe. If you have truffles or truffle oil, then add those to this recipe. I think that is what was missing-I know that is what was missing. If you don’t have the truffle oil, then try this recipe, which I think you will find rich, satisfying and delicious. This dish is so elegant and lovely that you will want to make it for a special evening. Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and my Gnocchi Quattro Formaggio would make for a perfectly romantic meal with a pan-seared steak or chicken breast with roasted vegetables.
Step out of your comfort zone and try a new creation in your kitchen. When you eat a dish out at a restaurant that you love, try to recreate it yourself at home, so that you can share it with your family. Since I know I won’t be back to Florence for quite some time, at least I know I can make this dish, sending me right back to that beautiful piazza across the Ponte Vecchio in one of my most favorite little cities in the world.