Not to be Forgotten

More on Shepherd’s Pie

A Casserole of Mutton
Butter a deep dish or mould, and line it with potatoes mashed with milk or butter, and seasoned with pepper and salt. Fill it with slices of the lean cold mutton, or lamb, seasoned also. Cover the whole with more mashed potatoes. Put it into an oven, and bake it till the meat is thoroughly warmed, and the potatoes brown. The carefully turn it out on a large dish; or you may, if more convenient, send it to table in the dish it was baked in.”
---Directions for Cookery in Its Various Branches, Miss Leslie, Philadelphia, 1849



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Vincent Van Gogh, Peasant Man and Woman Planting Potatoes, 1885

Shepherd’s pie is one of those old dishes that endure.  The recipe you see above is 150 years old and still so appealing, especially on a cold winter night. 

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Not to be Forgotten

Calling All Recipe Detectives — Shepherd’s Pie

“Shepherd’s pie
1 pound of cold mutton
1 pint of cold boiled potatoes
1 tablespoon of butter
1/2 cup of stock or water
Salt and pepper to taste
The crust
4 good-sized potatoes
1/4 cup cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut the mutton and boiled potatoes into pieces about one inch square; put them in a deep pie or baking dish, add the stock or water, salt, pepper, and half the butter cut into small bits. The make the crust as follows: Pare and boil the potatoes, then mash them, add the cream, the remainder of the butter, salt and pepper, beat until light. Now add flour enough to make a soft dough--about one cupful. Roll it out into a sheet, make a hole in the centre of the crust, to allow the escape of steam. Bake in a moderate oven one hour, serve in the same dish.”
---Mrs. Rorer’s Philadelphia Cook Book, Mrs. Sarah Tyson Rorer Philadephia: 1886 (p. 117)



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Aelbert Cuyp, Seated Shepherd with Cows and Sheep in a Meadow, 1644
It’s the deep, dark of winter, and I crave a shepherd’s pie. Not any potato-topped casserole of stew, but the very one that steamed up the kitchen of my childhood, made by the Scottish nanny I wrote about in my last recipe detectives post. Her’s as I’ve mentioned, was a deep brown mix of meat and vegetables covered with a blanket of mashed potatoes three inches thick. 

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Masher

One Badass Cookie — Scottish Shortbread

Scotch Shortbread
One pound flour, one-half pound butter, six ounces sugar. Work all together on a board. When thoroughly mixed, press with the hand into cakes one half-inch thick; cut into shapes and bake in a slow oven.

The Neighborhood Cookbook
By The Council Of Jewish Women
Portland, Or. [Press Of Bushong & Co.] 1914.



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Rarely does the first recipe I try for a certain type of cookie get the honor of being dubbed One Badass Cookie. (What’s a Badass Cookie? Click here.) Especially a cookie like this one that I remember from childhood and that has a taste memory tangled up with emotions and history, and in particular the emotion of love; in this case, for a beloved Scottish nanny who made quite the impression on me growing up. In any case, the recipe above was the first one I received. The scent of it baking made me think it was possibly the one. Warm from the oven, I pretty much knew it was,

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Masher

Pizza in NJ

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Photo by Jason Perlow

I was never one of those pizza-crazed people.  First of all, I’m a female always worried about keeping the calorie count down.  Secondly, there’s just so much bad pizza around.  And thirdly, pizza is a survival tactic for me as a working mom,--you could say I’ve abused it too much to love it.

But when NJ Monthly magazine asked me if I wanted to write a story on the “soul of New Jersey pizza,”

Read more »

Masher

Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread Part 2

Food has long been baked in coals or under heated rocks, steamed inside animal stomachs and leaves, boiled in rockpots by heated stones, and so forth. An oven could be as simple as a hole in the ground, or a covering of heated stones. However, improved textures and flavours may not have been the reason fire was first controlled.
---A History of Cooks and Cooking, Michael Symons



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This old range is for sale.

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Masher

Thing of the Day - Food or Art?

There are presently more than 850 million people who do not have enough food to eat and 2.7 billion people living on less than $2 a day. Over the past 50 years, food aid has been one of the principal resources deployed in the effort to end hunger, and a number of donor countries, the United States prominent among them, have channeled billions of dollars’ worth of food to developing countries.
From the food aid website Bread for the World



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The Wedding Feast, Sandro Botticelli, about 1567
Yesterday I was watching Food Network’s Food Challenge on TV while I ran on the treadmill. In this episode, titled “Rock & Roll,” according to info on Food Network’s website, “five pastry chefs compete for $10,000 in their mission to create the ultimate sugar showpiece that not only demonstrates a musical theme but is also capable of movement (rocking and rolling). 

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Masher

How to Find an Old Recipe

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You meet some people who are lucky.  They are born to stable families that remain intact. Their parents live long healthy lives.  Mom and grandma were wonderful cooks. There was always enough to eat, as well as lots of love and attention.  They get handed down great family recipes, and for the rest of their lives food brings beautiful memories and associations. 

This is very nice.  And you know, sometimes it even really happens. 

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Artist's Notebook

Of Honeybells and Blank Canvases

(CNN)—A campaign using text messages to raise money for the Red Cross has tallied more than $21 million for relief efforts in Haiti.
The electronic fundraiser, boosted in its early days by widespread posting on social-networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, has outstripped the organization’s expectations and is showing no signs of letting up, an official said Monday.
“It’s blown me away and it continues to,” said Wendy Harman, the director of social media for the Red Cross.



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At the same time as my family sent me a big box of honeybell oranges I just happen to be in the middle of stretching canvases for a new series of paintings I will start this week. If you don’t know honeybells, they are unique among oranges. You shouldn’t really peel them as they are too juicy for that. Better to slice them with a sharp serrated knife and suck the juice and flesh right off the peel. The company that sells them coyly sends plastic bibs with them like the kind that people use when they eat lobster. Ice cold from the fridge they’re particularly refreshing.
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Somehow they are linked with my blank canvases for me this year and all the new beginnings inherent in them. Also I’ve been thinking about color a lot, and how I would like to work with color in a different way than I used to - more for an emotional response than a literal one. I’ve also been thinking about light, and those oranges just seem to radiate that southern, warm light where they hie from. They’re so juicy and fresh, and so are the blank canvases, ripe with possibility. I look at the oranges and think of orange cake, of the deep orange of Indian silk pungent with incense, of Joni Mitchell singing “There was milk and toast and honey and a bowl of oranges, too, and the sun poured in like butterscotch and stuck to all my senses . . .” The blank canvases are intriguing to me because they remind me that the surface of a picture is flat, something that artists have been making art about for decades. No matter what we put on the surface - an illusion of depth or one that asserts the flatness - the canvas remains an object to be reckoned with. How mysterious it is that for centuries artists have been fascinated by this simple problem of arranging color, form and line on a plane that hangs on the wall.
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My brushes, though well used, are all newly scrubbed and ready to go. All I have to do now is drop down, like a diver, below the surface of everyday life, to plumb the depths of the ideas that have been rolling around in my head for a month. Ideas about poetic, glowing color, about images that elude definition but rather hint at places or things, leaving room for the viewer to enter. I hope I can express it.
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In the exuberance of an orange, clues reside . . . intense hue, light, inspiration.


Masher

Thing of the Day — Tino Sehgal

Inside this temple of objects, I refocus attention to human relations.

Tino Sehgal in response to an interviewer asking him where his intention lies as an artist who shows objectless, undocumented live pieces in museums and galleries.
As quoted in the New York Times Magazine
Sunday, January 17, 2010
“Art That Leaves Behind No Trace” by Arthur Lubow



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Laura and I talked once about how we can spend days making meals - her homemade ravioli, my pies - and then it is consumed in minutes. It’s not that cooks and bakers resent the eaters who adore us and our food, it’s just something that points to the ephemeral nature of domestic arts. We cook, and the food is eaten. We clean and the house gets dirty again. Much of domestic work - what is traditionally known as “women’s work” - is unseen and unpaid, in essence, invisible except for brief moments. It was with this in mind that I read this article about the work of artist Tino Sehgal in yesterday’s Sunday New York Times Magazine. Sehgal’s work is meant to leave no trace. It is made from human beings who inhabit a space, interacting with viewers. I saw Sehgal’s “This Situation” when it was at the Marian Goodman Gallery in NYC. I remember thinking that it was brilliant how Sehgal brought up questions about the traditional manner of making art in the form of objects, among other issues. His work is not even documented because he does not believe in filling the world with more objects when there are already so many. Which is not to say that the work is not sold. This is where the controversy comes in. How are fine artists to survive if they are not allowed to make money without their motives being suspect? Is he a P.T. Barnum with a gimmick, as one of my artist friends thinks? Or is he a visionary who sees beyond materiality to the essence of experience and has the courage to provoke a necessary dialogue?

This objectless art composed of living beings seems to say, “Here I am. Soon I will be gone. Be present here in this moment with me - don’t take pictures, don’t videotape it, just be here - or you’ll miss it.” Isn’t this so much what life is about? This also brought up my own feelings about my chosen form of making art - painting. I do believe in paintings since the conversation that artists are having in paint seems hardly finished, and because paintings communicate something about human experience that I find simply cannot be expressed for me any other way. I have a deep longing and love for paintings that is intrinsic to my being. On the other hand, Sehgal has a point, and he has begun a fascinating dialogue. I’m not about to kick all the object-makers out of the room and stop painting myself, but I like having him at the party too. I hope he - and his pieces - keep talking. Sehgal’s work will be on view at the Guggenheim Museum January 29th - March 10th.

see also: Thing of the Day — Chardin




Masher

Out My Kitchen Window

Tuesday afternoon, Dr. Louise Ivers, an infectious disease specialist at Harvard Medical School, was at a meeting of the World Food Program in a United Nations building in Port-au-Prince when the earthquake hit. She escaped to the building’s driveway unharmed. Within minutes of her arrival 350 injured Haitians gathered in her driveway, looking for medical help.

Ivers was the only doctor.

“The only doc”
Posted: 10:21 AM ET
January 17, 2010
By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Senior Correspondent



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Dr. Ivers with a Haitian patient, Staff photo Rose Lincoln/Harvard News Office
The tragic circumstances of the earthquake in Haiti has been on our minds lately and this powerful story of 48 hours in the life of one doctor who is trying to make a difference there touched me deeply. I want to share it with you. You can read the full article here. As I was reading it, I couldn’t help thinking that while I am researching the history of cookies for jellypress, these things are going on around me. Laura asked an important question in her previous post. What is our responsibility to the world as writers and artists? In the day to day business of raising a child, working for survival, keeping house, and making art, it’s natural for me to narrow my focus, keep my eyes down, usually focused on a kitchen counter where I am chopping herbs on a cutting board or mixing my palette in my studio for a painting. The beauty and security of these simple things can’t be ignored because they bring joy, and as Laura pointed out, speak to that which endures in the face of hardships. I can’t help asking myself however if I take enough time to look out my kitchen window at the broader horizon.

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Masher

More on Scottish Shortbread

To Make Short Bread
Take a peck of Flour, put three lb of Butter in amoung a little water, and let it melt, pout it in amoung your Flour, put in a Mutchkin of good Barm; when it is wrought divide it in three parts, roll out you cakes longer then broad, and gather from the sides with your Finger, cut down the Middle and job it on Top, then send it to the oven.

Mrs. McLintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work, 1736, available in reproduction.



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The Milk Maid, Johannes Vermeer, 1858-60
In The Art and Mystery of Food, there is a comprehensive treatment on Scottish shortbread. Read it here. Laura found it while digging for authentic Scottish shortbread recipes and lore. The recipe included, above, intrigued me since I am hellbent on finding a recipe to post in my next One Badass Cookie column for the kind of shortbread I mentioned in the previous post. I was most surprised to see “barm” included - a kind of yeasty leavener made from ale. Yeast? In cookies? Ah, but shortbread, it seems, were not originally the cookies we call shortbread today.

A closer look at Laura’s sources point to the fact that like most old recipes, the origins of shortbread are deeply embedded in a way of life: the milk maids of fourteenth to seventeenth century Europe. Where there were dairy cows, there was cheese and butter. And in 1736, the year of the first documented Scottish cookbook Laura found, the word, short, in combination with the word, bread, or cake, was used as a verb rather than a noun. To “short” bread or cake, was in fact, to make it friable or full of what the English came to call “shortening,” in other words, to give it a tender crumb unlike the chewy, sturdy breads made before fat became a popular addition. And the word bread meant just that - bread, yeast risen, soft and sometimes full of citrus peel, spice and nuts - and not plain cookies.

The history of cookies as we know them is really the history of ovens. “Think about a wood burning oven and imagine baking cookies,” Laura told me, “It just doesn’t work opening the door every 12 minutes, right? It was done, but it really was not a practical part of every day life.” Unpredictable open hearths were used until the Civil War by all but the wealthy, and the development of trustworthy ovens was slow. 1910’s gas ovens gradually replaced coal, wood, and petroleum versions, followed by 1930’s electric ranges, both precipitating cookie recipe explosions. World War II’s rationing derailed bakers temporarily, but afterward, armed with abundant butter and sugar, bakers enjoyed a sky’s-the-limit enthusiasm for cookie invention that has yet to abate. 

Old recipes for short cakes and breads were made with ground oatmeal or rice flour. Notches in the dough symbolized the sun’s rays, and most of the early recipes yield cakes or breads that are round, and cut into triangles to serve. While the round shape is sometimes still specified in modern recipes, by the mid-nineteenth century the yeast and add-ins like nuts were gone, and our present-day shortbread cookies were conceived.

see also: Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread




Masher

Calling All Recipe Detectives — The Search for One Badass Scottish Shortbread

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I emailed Laura telling her that I wanted to find a shortbread recipe like the one I had as a child but that I had regretfully never learned to make. We’re all flawed. I was only eight years old, and didn’t fully appreciate the Scottish born nanny (and her handed-down recipes) who came to take care of us when my mother accompanied my father on business trips once or twice a year. She stayed briefly, a week or two at most. Her name was Mrs. Wanser. She was one of those story-book type of characters, bigger than life, who lives on in memory.  The bow-legs in their lace-up old lady shoes. The no-nonsense apron worn always and everywhere. The perfect accent. White bun. A gap-toothed smile and pink, flaring nostrils that conjured visions of miles of open, airy farmland and hard work. Her habit of calling us “brother” and “sister” instead of by our names, titles she insisted were as necessary as mother and father to convey respect. Certainly she treated us with more of it than we afforded her. We’d hide from her on the basement stairs, giggling uncontrollably as she called and called us. I have no idea now why it was so funny. We’d already driven off the other nannies. There were four of us, plus pets. You can imagine. She irked us with her old-fashioned rules of early bedtimes and mealtimes, cleaning to the point of obsession and bed sheets tucked in hospital corners so tight we had to struggle to get our feet under the blankets at night, but she was the one who stayed, gently and persistently teaching us grace and forgiveness with her shortbread and shepherd’s pie. I didn’t know this then of course. My mother impressed upon me her worth. Eventually I understood. When Mrs. Wanser gave me a pair of onyx earrings for my sixteenth birthday and I lost one when I wore them to the prom, I was heartbroken. It was all I had of her. When she died, I grieved.

Her shortbread I long for most. It was buttery but not greasy, with a velvet-smooth touch to the surface, and broke off in brick-like chunks from a honey-golden slab that was scored with lines for portioning. It had the kind of thought-erasing flavor notes that flooded your head from back to front. She made it from scratch of course, mixing it with her knobby, arthritic hands in a ceramic bowl on her lap. It worked up into a pliable dough that she patted into a rectangle, scored and baked slowly. Her shepherd’s pie had a blanket of mashed potatoes on it three inches thick over a deep brown mix of meat and vegetables. But I’ll get to that in another post. For now, I only want to find a shortbread that can conjure the taste memory I have of the one I loved then. If you can help, send a recipe to me. And check back soon for more on Scottish shortbread. Laura has been digging in old cookbooks online for the kind of recipes that Mrs. Wanser might have used herself as a young woman, and the things she found are fascinating and surprising, from the meaning of the word to its origins and ingredients. In the meantime I’m going to start with this recipe from The Historic American Cookbook Project. I’ll post the results soon.

Want to see my final favorite recipe for Scottish Shortbread right now? Click here.

see also: Calling All Gingerbread Detectives




Masher

More Thoughts on Catastrophe

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Irene Nemirovsky
I have often asked myself how I can write about pasta and and matters of food while there are so many desperate and pressing issues in the world and people are suffering.  I ask myself, as a writer what is my responsibility?  I think about this all the time and struggle for resolution.  Today the news of Haiti’s earthquake raises the issue again along with the guilt of being safe while other people suffer so horribly.  My heart goes out to the people of Haiti who have suffered so terribly for so long.

Last year I read the beautiful unfinished novel by Irene Nemirovsky “Suite Francaise,” published 65 years after her death.  A Russian Jewish novelist living in France when the Germans were marching in during World War II.  As the campaign against Jews became clear, she understood she would soon die.  Before she was taken away she did two things: 1) arrange for her two daughters to be hidden and saved (they were) and 2) furiously write as fast as she could her ultimate novel.  It was to be a thousand pages long in several parts, yet she only finished a fraction of it before being taken to Auschwitz.  The events of the novel--documenting what she was witnessing as the Germans arrived--are incredibly sad and raise all the questions of human weakness and tragedy.  And yet her act of art, her act of writing on the brink of death was enormously optimistic.  She was a beautiful writer.

During this time, she kept notes where she mulled on her plans for this opus novel of hers.  She didn’t want to create a work that would be solely about the tragedies of World War II because she knew that ten years after the war, people wouldn’t want to think of the horrors any more.  What would endure and still matter in 2052, she asked, while writing in her notebook in the woods, waiting for her death.  And she answered herself:

“What lives on:

1.  Our human day-to-day lives
2.  Art
3.  God.”

I am so taken that someone amidst catastrophe and on the brink of death would understand that “our ordinary day-to-day lives” matter.  I suppose that when women write or paint about domestic life, they are addressing this enduring part of what it means to be human, and in this fact something deeply true.  And this helps me justify what I do.  Sometimes this in itself is art, and sometimes even a step toward what I imagine to be god. Still my questions remain not entirely resolved.

In the meantime what else is there to do but try to help those who suffer? 

If you’d like to help the victims of the quake, text “HAITI” to 90999 to donate $10 to Red Cross relief efforts in Haiti.

Unicef has also appealed urgently for emergency assistance. Visit this link to help.

You can also help immediately by donating to the Red Cross to assist the relief effort. Contribute online here, or

Or, you can donate $10 to be charged to your cell phone bill by texting “HAITI” to “90999.”


Masher

Dining Room Table On The Garden

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Pierre Bonnard, Dining Room Table On the Garden, 1934-35
Pierre Bonnard, painter, lover of poetry, did most of the work emblematic of his mature style in his late fifties. It was during this time period that he moved with his wife, Marthe, whom you can barely see on the margins of the painting above if you look closely, to their house in the countryside of France. Out of the city, away from the noise and blur, he could contemplate the quiet domestic scenes flooded with color and light that fascinated him. I’ve been thinking a lot about color and light in my own paintings, coming to the conclusion lately that it is light and an unusual use of color - one that invites a poetic reading rather than a literal one - that most interests me. I’ve been looking at color everywhere, not only in painting, but in life all around me.
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This tart I find particularly glorious. Look at the deep blue and gold and rose of those baked berries. There’s nothing else quite like that.
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This is what I was thinking about when I painted this picture of the purple beans I grew in my backyard one summer. As I continue painting I would like to paint my emotional response to my subject; the essence of the thing and not the thing itself. It’s a process that I’ve only begun. Bonnard is quoted as saying that he wanted to portray the moment of walking into a room for the first time. If you turn from your computer and look behind you into your life, what do you see? A dining room table, a freshly baked tart, a handful of beans? Or is it the quality of the light and the colors it illuminates that will remain in memory long after everything else is gone?


Not to be Forgotten

Gnocchi alla Romana

Fried Cream Wheat from the Ancient Romans

Accipies similam, coques in aqua calida ita ut durrissimam pultem facias, deinde in patellam expandis.  Cum refrizerit, concidis quasi culdia et frigis in oleo optimo.  Levas, perfundis mel, piper aspergis et inferes.  Melius feceris, si lac pro aqua miseris. 

Take flour [semolina], cook in hot water so that it becomes a very firm polenta, then spread it on a plate.  When it has cooled, cut it as for sweet cakes and fry in oil of the finest qualty.  Remove, pour honey over, sprinkle with pepper, and serve.  You will do even better if you use milk instead of water. 

The De re coquinaria of Apicius

as found in A Taste of Ancient Rome, by Ilaria Gozzini Giacosa, Translated by Anna Herkolotz



You probably haven’t read Latin in a while, so I included the English translation.

What you have here is “polenta” made with semolina and fried.  How intriguing that it’s covered with a combination of honey and pepper. Today we think of polenta as cornmeal mush.  But before corn reached Europe from the Americas, polenta was a sort of porridge that could be made with various grains or even chestnut.  This comes from the De re Coquinaria, attributed to a gourmand named Apicius who lived in ancient Rome during the first century A.D. (though he alone did not solely write it).  When you read through the recipes for cabbage and vinegar sauces, porridges and roasted pigeons, so much seems to be missing that would seem to be “Italian” food: No tomatoes, potatoes, hot peppers, corn, and even pasta as we know it.  This is because what we know today as “Mediterranean cuisine” is very much rooted in the Middle Ages, not the Romans.

Which gets you thinking about the endlessly deep story of Italy and its food and language--ever changing and so deep.  All these ruminations because I had such a wonderful time last night with a large group of Italians and Italian Americans in Princeton.  I was there to do a talk about Genoese food and my ravioli memoir at a culture center called Dorothea’s House.  This is a very special place with a huge following.  Check it out if you live anywhere close. 

It’s very strange how writing is such a solitary experience and requires years of loneliness, yet because of the world we live in, the book is published, and a writer must become a public person.  Sometimes it is very difficult (and at times terribly embarrassing).  Other times you can’t believe how lucky you are to meet such wonderful people.  Last night was one of those wonderful times and I’m sure it was the warmth of the people, who share long bonds to Italian history and culture.

There was a reception and pot luck following, where I even tasted some pesto that made me feel as though i was in Genoa.  But the dish that left a huge impression was Gnocchi alla Romana..  I’d never had it before.  It was little cookie sized circles of polenta baked to crisp brown in layers on a dish.

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Jellypress is about Nancy and Laura having fun with what they love: old recipes, art, and ideas--as we find them in our modern lives.  We met...read more »

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