Have you ever wanted to spend the afternoon drinking wine with friends, laughing, making a fun mess with flour and eggs, and then sampling delicious homemade pasta afterwards? Yeah, I didn’t think I was the only one to have a dream like that. Luckily for all of us, Cenacolo Restaurant in North Huntington is just the place to help us experience such a day. Tucked away in a rather unexpected location is this industrial-style Italian café that serves up the most incredible homemade pastas, offers a variety of hands-on cooking classes, and so much more.
A little while back, I was lucky enough to experience a gnocchi-making class with Cenacolo’s Jill Pelchen. Jill is a spirited, talented, hilarious woman, and exactly who should be teaching a fun pasta-making class. She knows a thing or two (read: A LOT) about how to work flour, eggs, ricotta and love into the most delicious gnocchi I’ve ever tasted.
When I arrived to class, I was greeted with a warm hello and the ever-imperative question of “red or white?”. Then, Jill jumped right into familiarizing everyone with their stations. Each student was equipped with all of the ingredients needed for the homemade Ricotta Gnocchi, a recipe card, a pastry cutter, a gnocchi board, and just enough room for that glass of wine. Always red, in my case.
Step 1: Dump ricotta cheese onto the board. Such a simple first step that had everyone in the class giggling with excitement and chattering about how they thought they were going to do.
Step 2: Make a well in the ricotta. (Note: Not potato like I’m used to seeing in gnocchi and a total game-changer.)
Step 3: Add and egg, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper into the center and slowly incorporate it into the mound of ricotta by pulling from the sides of the well.
Step 3: Slowly add flour and start kneading the dough until it’s no longer sticky.
Step 3a: Take a drink of wine. Jill says that flour on the wine glasses improves the flavor of the gnocchi.
As I looked around the room I noticed that some folks were really rocking. One woman was somewhat experienced and was excitedly comparing the gnocchi dough to her homemade ravioli dough. The gentleman next to her was more of a novice who subtly lifted his doughy hands into the air, almost as a white floury flag of defeat, until Jill came over to help him incorporate more flour into the dough and really worked it together. Regardless of how theirs looked… each and every person, beginner or not, was having an absolute blast. Including me.
Once the dough had come together, it was time for Step 4: cutting the ball into smaller portions and rolling those pieces into “snakes.”
Step 5: cut the snakes into small pieces with the pastry cutter.
Step 6: (my favorite step, aside from the eating part) taking those little doughy nubs and gently pressing them onto the gnocchi board with your thumb, and then rolling them down to give that traditional gnocchi ridge. Those little grooves are what hold all of the delicious sauce onto the gnocchi.
Step 7: coat the finished gnocchi in some extra flour so that they don’t stick to one another.
At this point, everyone packed up their gnocchi into a to-go container. But, the kitchen was simultaneously preparing lunch for us so that we could enjoy those little pillows of deliciousness right away. Chef Steve (the owner and Executive Chef) had prepared for us his homemade Ricotta Gnocchi, two ways: one with Garlic Cream Sauce and the other with Short Rib Ragu, Porcini Mushrooms, and Roma Tomatoes. (I may or may not have just drooled on my keyboard just thinking about them again.) Both preparations were so incredibly delicious, it would be impossible for me to tell you which is my favorite. All I know is that I MUST go back there for more in the very near future.
As everyone was cleaning up their stations, I was able to sneak next door to Dal Forno, their sister pizza place, where a child’s pizza-making birthday party was happening. It was during this little excursion through the “secret passage way” between restaurants that I learned about all of the things that Cenecolo and Dal Forno have to offer. I was initially under the impression that they simply held pasta-making classes, but no. I couldn’t have been more wrong. They offer Lemoncello classes, “Mom and Mozz” (a mozzarella class just in time for Mother’s Day), they have a Cigar and Bourbon Room, they offer catering and host private events, they serve brunch, and as I mentioned, pizza classes for the kids. I was in awe of all that they offer and I highly recommend that you peruse their website to find out more. http://cenacolorestaurant.com/
A special thanks to Jill Pelchen for answering all of my questions and giving me the VIP treatment that day.