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Three moments in time - gnocchi

"Gnocchi is not just for rib-sticking, soul-warming meals by candlelight, but for light summer days, too." Nigel Slater

Uninspired again I started browsing through old photographs looking for a suitable photograph around which I could ramble and came across this one, which is just a plate of gnocchi in a brilliant green pesto sauce, but the thing is - this was Venice. It was also the first time I went to Italy. We went because I had always wanted to see Venice and we were not disappointed.

We rented a house, shared with a group of friends in the Veneto, not in Venice itself. However, we all decided that as we had saved so much money by sharing a wonderful house, then we could lash out on a night in Venice. We stayed in this little hotel on a tiny square not far from St. Mark's Square. The rooms were very small but you could sit in the square and eat breakfast, and walk just a few yards to the main sites. Not that the main sites were really the only thing about Venice. I think overall what impressed me was how easy it was to get away from the crowds, and yet it was all still beautiful, and interesting and photogenic. It was very hot, but the laneways were shady. We loved it.

But back to the gnocchi. We asked for recommendations for a restaurant at the hotel, and they sent us here, sort of in the open air but enclosed at the same time. The food was wonderful and not too expensive, considering this was Venice. The point of the gnocchi I suppose is that a fairly ordinary photograph of one plate of food, however, delicious - and they were - brought back so many wonderful memories of Venice, of the week in the Veneto, and of the friends we travelled with. Not to mention all the little happenings along the way - including a major happening for one of our friends who lost, or had stolen, all of her documents and money, but somehow or other managed to get herself through this complete disaster, albeit with a lot of help from David - and American Express.

Gnocchi moment in time number two. This is a terrible photograph I know - I think it was taken by another guest in the tiny restaurant in the town of Lerici, just south of the Cinque Terre. I have spoken of the town before, so I won't bore you with how beautiful the house was. Like the Cinque Terre the town clung to the hillside at the sea's edge although perhaps not quite as steeply. Mind you every time we walked there from our house a little out of town at the foot of its own 200 or so steps, we felt it was quite steep enough.

Late in our week there, we found this little restaurant owned by the aging couple in the middle of the photograph. Two of our friends declined to come. They are vegetarians and had been battling with restaurant menus which had, surprisingly, very few options for vegetarians and so decided to stay 'at home' and cook for themselves. As it turned out this was a mistake because the menu for the evening - a kind of home-cooked degustation menu - was almost entirely vegetarian. Why I remember the gnocchi is because Anna - the owner and cook took us into her small, very small, kitchen to watch her make the gnocchi. So quick, so nimble, and so very, very delicious. This time they were served with a gorgonzola sauce. Now I don't particularly like gorgonzola, but trust me, in a sauce with gnocchi it was perfect.

Last gnocchi moment. Still in Italy but two or three years later we are now in Umbria in a tiny village not far from Todi, upon which we gazed from our house's garden. In the village there was a restaurant called Le Noci. Well it was in the village so we had to try it. Besides it appeared with favourable reviews in Trip Advisor. Once again the photographs are terrible - me exiting the restaurant having made a reservation and therefore looking relieved and a bit pleased with myself that my Italian had been up to the task - and a bad photo of David with an empty plate. It must have been good because it's wiped more or less clean.

And that bottle of wine featured in a couple of other photographs because it was so good - a Montepuliciano. The thing about the gnocchi here is that they were served with truffles. Well truffles actually featured a lot on the menu - Umbria is truffle country. And I think it's the only time that I have had truffles and been able to distinguish any taste of something distinctive. Saffron is the same - I can never really taste it. Here, however, I could and it was very, very good.

A common feature of all three moments is the paucity of good photographs to really illustrate how good a time we were having because we were having too good a time to think of taking photographs and, I anyway, am always feeling a bit inhibited when taking photographs in restaurants so they are always a bit rushed. Besides when something gorgeous arrives at the table I want to eat it straight away. In some ways, however, and for example, the not very good photo of David above does actually give you a feeling for the evening. The empty plate, the empty wine bottle - there seems to be another one so we must have drunk two, and a glimpse of the ambience behind.

Another thing that kick started me on this was this dish here - Miso butter butternut gnocchi from Ixta Belfrage's book Mezcla. It was one of the many things I was considering for Saturday's lunch - either as the main dish for our vegetarian guest, or as an entrée for all of us. But I have decided against it because of a distant sort of similarity to my finally chosen main dishes. Not gnocchi, but there are similarities in the sauce.

I love gnocchi. I often order them in restaurants, and occasionally make my own - whether spinach ricotta, or potato and cheese. I may even have made pumpkin gnocchi. Suffice to say that there are thousands of recipes out there. I was interested to see, however, that Ixta Belfrage made this dish with bought potato gnocchi although of course she said that you could make your own. The butternut in the title of the recipe is in the sauce, not in the gnocchi. I have never actually bought readymade gnocchi. If somebody like her says to use them, maybe I should.

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