Reflections on food-blogging, videos and a recipe for rabatòn alessandrini

If there’s one thing I have learnt since starting this blog a little over two years ago, it’s that food blogging is one big learning curve. There was the lesson in deciding what I actually wanted to write about. Another one in not describing all foods I post about as merely ‘delicious’. The one in developing rock-solid recipes. The one in mastering how to use a camera manually. The one in composing pleasing photographs. The one in styling food to look ‘delicious’. The one in using Lightroom. The one in learning to shamelessly self-promote myself on social media. The one in using every spare moment as a mother and teacher I have to myself to do all of the above. The one in being kind to myself and not cringing at my earlier (cringe-worthy) photos and musings. Then, there’s the most important one of all: maintaining contact with my non-blogging friends who couldn’t care less if the artichokes I posted about on Instagram recently looked less than ‘delicious’. Grazie infinite for your voices of reason and sane perspective on life!

Now, I’m not throwing in the towel with this project. Far from it. In fact, I recently realised I could do something else on this website to help readers understand some of the techniques necessary for succeeding at the recipes I post about: videography. Yes, here, we go again, yet another extended lesson along that steep learning curve! I’ll always look to Pellegrino Artusi for the amusing anecdote, Gillian Riley for the erudite backstory and Harold McGee for the fascinating science. My love of classic cookbooks, food history and kitchen science aside, I’d be lying if I said that I rely exclusively on the written word when researching recipes and cooking techniques. Sometimes, the video recipes of established contemporary Italian food voices like Giulia Scarpaleggia’s are simply more effective at communicating important aspects in the preparation of an unfamiliar dish. Sometimes, the word ‘transparent’ won’t suffice as a description for the desired thickness of the pastry sheets enveloping that ‘delicious’ Ligurian chard, curd cheese and egg-filled pie made for Easter. I need to see what exactly ‘transparent’ means for myself. I’m sure it’s the same for other people too.

I’m not at the point of starting a YouTube channel just yet, but it is one of my goals for this site, eventually. Earlier this month, however, I livestreamed a video of myself on Facebook making a variety of gnocchi from Alessandria called rabatòn. And I’m planning on livestreaming another recipe from my kitchen again in May, with the technical assistance of Alecia, Diana and Sonia. Thank you so much ladies for your help and moral support the first time around!

Anyway, about these rabatòn. The name for these elongated, green-speckled dumplings comes from the method that is used to shape them, rabatare, which in Piedmontese means ‘to roll’. Often made in Piedmont’s southeast in spring, these ricotta and chard-based dumplings are rolled in flour until taking the form of sausages, blanched in boiling water and baked au gratin with a generous topping of parmesan and butter.

Like other members of the gnocchi family such as gnocchi di patate and Tuscan gnudi, rabatòn should be soft and pillowy. Key to obtaining this consistency is minimising the amount of breadcrumbs, ideally no more than a fistful or two, added to the mixture. Basically, the firmer and more thoroughly drained your ricotta is, the less breadcrumbs you’ll need to add. All excess liquid should be drained and removed from your cooked chard too. And, when rolling the rabatòn in the flour, do ensure that the flour remains on the outside as a coating, and does not enter the dumplings themselves.

These days, rabatòn are most commonly prepared with cultivated greens such as chard or spinach. The recipe below includes these. You could, however, as was once commonly done, replace these with edible wild or field greens you may have on hand such as dandelions, starflower or nettle. For added flavour, why not add some finely chopped marjoram or sage? And, just in case you’re particularly keen on springtime foraging, wild herbs such as calamint, costmary or wild fennel are sometimes added too.

Ingredients (serves 4-6 as a starter)

  • 300 g cooked, drained and finely chopped chard or spinach (about 1 kg fresh)
  • 400 g firm and drained ricotta
  • 150 g grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for topping the blanched dumplings
  • 2 lightly beaten eggs
  • finely ground breadcrumbs, as needed
  • salt, to taste
  • freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • freshly ground nutmeg, to taste
  • semolina flour, for rolling and dusting
  • butter, for greasing and topping the blanched dumplings

In a large mixing bowl, mix the ricotta, cooked greens, parmesan and egg until well combined. Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg and add just enough breadcrumbs to ensure the mixture holds together. Take a generous spoonful of the mixture and carefully roll it along a clean work surface covered in semolina flour. Form a sausage about 5-6 cm in length and 2-3 cm in diameter. Place on a lightly-dusted tray until all the rabatòn are ready.

Bring a large pot of water or vegetable broth to boil. Reduce heat to a gentle boil. One by one, lower rabatòn carefully into the water and blanch until they begin to float to the surface. Remove from pot with a slotted spoon, ensuring that they are drained of excess liquid. Gently lower into a greased baking dish and top with some grated parmesan and butter. Bake for 10 minutes at 200ºC or until crisp and browned on top. Remove from oven and leave to rest for 5-10 minutes before serving.

Buon appetito!

N.B. This recipe also appeared in Italy Magazine on 24 March 2017.



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