Quattro gatti (four cats) and bread gnocchi
Updated: Nov 17, 2021
a moment in time
Back in 2016 on the way from France into Italy, we stayed at a divine bed and breakfast - the Palazzo di Monteoliveto which is about halfway between Mantua and Lake Garda in the Lombardian countryside. If you ever find yourself in the vicinity do try and stay there. It is an Agriturismo - a working farm - not that we saw much of the farm activities, although I'm sure we could have if we had asked. It's called a Palazzo and it is as the photos below show. A small palazzo I suppose but a palazzo nevertheless and honestly pretty cheap. There's a swimming pool, vast grounds and a huge breakfast spread that is served in what looks like an old ballroom. Our hostess was the charming, English speaking, daughter of the house, whose name I cannot now remember but she was delightful. Anyway - go there if you can. It's a 5 star place, and very well placed for tourist adventures. Alas we were only there two nights.
My moment in time at the top of the page, was the main picture on my previous website. I thought it once again showed that thoughtful anticipatory moment before a meal out in a far off exotic location. On this new website Port Douglas stands in for Italy in terms of exoticism, which was a weirdly prescient choice I now see. No more trips to Italy for us I feel.
Those first moments in a restaurant are some of life's best moments for me. Particularly when, as here, you are on holiday in new and beautiful surroundings. David tells me that before we reach each place we have booked on holiday I go very quiet. Which is explained by fear that all will not be as you hoped. Well it's a bit the same with restaurants - even if they are recommended. After all it might just be a commercial arrangement between the recommender and the restaurant. But here we are - the setting is beautiful, the view is sublime and the waiting staff are friendly. Now all there is to fear is the food. But by that stage one almost doesn't care.
Anyway I am sitting on the terrace of a restaurant called Quattro Gatti looking at the view across the road. It boded well for the meal.
The restaurant had been recommended and booked for us by our hostess and we were told to mention her name as we arrived. I don't know whether that was why we had a warm welcome. I suspect it would have been offered anyway. I confess I cannot remember my main course - it could have been anything from pizza (I think not) to a barbecued meat of some kind. As you can see from the photograph they had a wood-fired barbecue at the end of the terrace. I cannot remember the dessert either. But I do remember the entrée. It was a very local dish, which is why I chose it - Capunsei.
This is the actual dish I had - well I think so - Google said it was from there. Doesn't look that wonderful? Well I can assure that they were. What they are, are a kind of gnocchi that is made from bread. It is very local to the area around Mantua, and is an example of Italy's cucina povera - food of the poor - which, of course has become fashionable these days so that you will find them on the menu in many restaurants in the region.
So how do you make them? Well if you want to watch a fairly boring but pretty explanatory video you can do no worse than watch this from a an Italian guy with an amazingly ridiculous hat, which is completely at odds with his rather phlegmatic personality. You will need to know Italian to understand what he is saying, and he's got a pretty flat voice. However, you don't really need to understand what he's saying - you can just watch as it's all pretty much self explanatory and at the end he puts up the list of ingredients. The most interesting thing I found about it - apart from his hat - was the way he just did it all on the workbench - no bowls - no washing up. Just hands.
I actually checked out a few recipes and they did not differ all that much from each other or the one in the video. Fundamentally you grind your breadcrumbs really fine, add salt, nutmeg, eggs and mix together. Add some grated cheese - preferably Grana Padano - it's local. Then bit by bit you add some chicken stock until you have a dough which you knead together and then rest for a time, before rolling small balls between your palms until you get those tapered sausage shapes. Cook in boiling water as for all gnocchi and serve with a sauce - the preferred one is butter with sage leaves. The only variations seemed to be whether you toasted the bread before turning it into crumbs, how fine the crumbs were, and what order you added everything else. The only mildly extreme variation I saw was the addition of a couple of amaretti biscuits to the mix. The first dish below is from a restaurant somewhere, the second is from La Cucina Italiana, then the 30 Minutes Chef and finally Cookist. I also saw an Italian lady demonstrating them and she added parsley to hers.
Why would you want to check them out? Well trust me they taste good, and next time you have a whole lot of stale bread in the fridge give them a go. I shall. I haven't before now, because frankly I had forgotten all about them until I was reminded by today's moment in time.
Before I leave the subject completely I should also mention Canerdeli which come from a little further north in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, on the border with Austria. They are a little more complicated as they have the addition of speck and sometimes onions to the mix, they are round and they are larger. They also seem to often be served in a broth like the Germans and Austrian knödeln to which they are related - in kind and also in name. But fundamentally it's the same idea as the Capunsei. Three examples are shown below: one from Great Italian Chefs, the second from The Pasta Project, and the last from Quatro Fromaggio and other disgraces on the Italian Menu.
Both of these things are from Northern Italy. I don't know why they are not a Southern Italian thing. After all they eat bread there too.
My husband tends to buy a lot of bread so that he has a variety to choose from for his breakfast toast and marmalade. Which means that we often have a lot of stale bread in the fridge. It gets used up for the toast but it's good to have a list of other things that you can do with bread. I know I did a post some time ago on what to do with leftover bread, but it didn't include capunsei. Next time I think we have too much I'll give it a go. Oh they don't recommend using a seeded bread or a very dark one. Anything else is fine though.