Feb 072015

A couple of weeks ago, Linda Pelaccio, a producer and host at Heritage Radio Network, asked if I would talk to her about that very question. It’s the subject of my last book, Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes to Comfort Your Soul, and something that’s on my mind more than ever as I travel around Italy these days. Seems it’s going the way of America with its fast food habits and global food tastes, while we’re going the way of Italy, yearning to farm, recapture heritage seeds, and make artisan foods. So the other day, I made my way to the radio station launched by Patrick Martins, founder of Slow Food USA. I felt right at home in the cozy studio, built from two repurposed shipping containers. Besides, it’s on the premises of Roberta’s, a legendary Brooklyn restaurant known for making the best pizza outside of Italy (not to mention the sensational house-made “n’duja,” a fiery Calabrian smoked pork spread I crave). Have a listen to my conversation with Linda on her program, “A Taste of the Past,” hereand see what I mean.

With host Linda Pelaccio, at Heritage Radio Network on site at Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn.


Feb 212014

If you missed it, click on the logo below to hear my broadcast on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”
Julia della Croce on National Public Radio

The lead:

For 27 years, Julia made her gnocchi with sweet potatoes, mixing an American staple into the classic recipe. “Here I was, one foot in the new world and one foot in Italy, where my family is from, and they seemed perfect for gnocchi. Why not?” And in all that time, her dumplings were sweet, served with a hazelnut butter sauce, and — most importantly — a lovely shade of orange.

This is one way I serve them–American style–alongside roasted duck. The orange sauce is classic Italian, but spiked with my own garden currants that I’d frozen for a winter day. A bright dish such as this with its memory of summer brings such cheer to the table.

6 gnocchi with duck

An antidote to winter blues: purple and golden sweet potato gnocchi, served alongside roasted duck. The condimento: sweet-and-tart orange and currant sauce made with berries from my garden.

I hope you enjoy the interview. Some answers to listener questions:

What variety of potato is best?: I reiterate: use sweet potatoes that are dry, not oozing moisture. Buy them a week or two in advance and leave them out on a countertop to dry out somewhat. Cook them as I describe, at a very low temperature, for a long roast (never boil–this would draw water into the potatoes). Very dry varieties, like the purple “sweets” I discovered, are ideal because their water content is so low. The drier the potato, the lighter the gnocchi will be.

Precisely how much flour should I use?: I give guidelines in the recipe, but this will depend entirely on the moisture content of the potatoes.

Illustrated fine points:

"Roasting them, slow and easy, for maximum water evaporation. Covington variety, left; Red Garnet, right.

Two different varieties of orange “sweets.” Roasting them, slow and easy, for maximum water evaporation. Covington variety, left; Red Garnet, right.

The easiest way to puree: pass them through a ricer.

The easiest way to puree the potatoes: pass them through a ricer.

Form thin coils--the thinner the coil, the smaller and more delicate the gnocchi will be.

Form thin coils–the thinner the coil, the smaller and more delicate the gnocchi will be.

5 gnocchi on towels

My daughter Gabriella and I are arranging the formed gnocchi onto lightly floured kitchen towels to prevent them from touching, and sticking to each other. My daughter, Celina, is taking the pictures.

About the Stokes purple sweet potatoes, look for them in specialty markets in late August when the new crop will be harvested.

I might also add that I haven’t abandoned the classic potato gnocchi of the Italians. I adore them, too. For the back story about my “found” recipe, continue reading here.

Feb 192014
Julia on NPR Radio: "Found Recipe"--Sweet Potato Gnocchi to Brighten Your Winter

February, with its serial blizzards and record-shattering low temperatures has been a cruel month for New Yorkers. At the farmers market, such as it is, there are root vegetables galore, potatoes that have been in storage since fall, and not much else. In truth, it’s the best time for pillowy sweet potato gnocchi, which are best made when the tubers are not freshly harvested and brimming with moisture. My friend and neighbor, Joan Gussow, grows her own sweet potatoes and we made them together on a recent blustery day along with my two daughters in her light-filled kitchen on the […more…]

Oct 202013
 How to Become a Food Writer

In thirty years of writing about food and cooking, people have so often asked me how I became a food writer. A few weeks ago I was invited by my friend Carol Durst-Wertheim to talk about cooking the Italian harvest to the Pleasantville Garden Club in that bucolic village in Westchester County, NY. A few days later, Carol interviewed me on PCTV, Pleasantville’s hometown television station, about how I found my way to food writing. It was the kind of talk you’d have with a neighbor over a cup of tea at your kitchen table. How I merged a predilection for art, […more…]

Aug 092013
Julia on NPR Radio and Zester Daily: Global Warming Leads to Pine Nut Plagues

If making basil pesto is a rite of summer for you, you’ll want to check out my most recent stories on Zester Daily and NPR radio about the disappearing pine nut and substituting pistachios for pesto instead. As our planet warms, we’re losing our pine forests. Everyone I spoke to, from the American pine nut gatherers in the southwest dustbowl, to the pesto makers in Genoa who have relied on the Mediterranean fir forests for centuries, said the same thing: the nut-bearing conifers are an endangered species. It was a tough story to digest, but digest it I did. Because I write about food […more…]

Aug 012013
Reader Mail: Why Does Everything Taste Better in Rome?

  Every cookbook writer loves to hear from their readers and find out how they’re getting along with the recipes that are lovingly tested to make them foolproof before they’re published (but, hey! don’t expect the results promised if you go off and “do your own thing”). Here’s a message I got recently (what a treat—they even sent a photo!): Before my wife had given me your Classic Italian Cookbook, I had only nostalgia for the dishes I had tasted during my stay in Rome. Now I am able to re-create those same dishes in my own home, and I […more…]

Sep 102012
Unraveling the Mystery of a Grandmother's Lost Recipe

Recently, Oldways Preservation Trust asked me to solve a culinary mystery for the new “Lost Recipes Project” on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered. Oldways Preservation Trust is a food think tank with a mission to preserve culinary traditions and artisanal foods. My task for NPR was to trace the roots of a listener’s elusive family recipe for an unusual type of ravioli. The detective work will draw you into the story of one Italian family, their traditions and food. Listen to the story of how I tracked down the long-lost recipe on the audio segment of “The Salt,” NPR’s food blog […more…]