My Italian Nonna — imported to West Covina, Los Angeles via Bologna, Italy — was making farm-to-table, organic food long before it was cool.
In fact, when Eugenia Pellizzon was in her heyday in the 1970’s, the food she was making was decidedly uncool. Cooking for six stocky, athletic Italian kids wasn’t easy on a tight budget. To save money, she’d buy less popular greens like spicy arugula, bitter radicchio and baby spinach to whip up a mixed green salad instead of spending extra cash on watery iceberg lettuce. Instead of buying rice or bread, she’d make pots and pots of corn polenta and top it with a homemade tomato sauce made mostly with herbs and tomatoes from the backyard… plus a few canned varieties.
To this day, my dad and his brothers moan about how embarrassing it was to bring friends home for dinner to experience their mom’s “quirky” cooking style. Ironically, the dishes Nonna made to save money (that mortified her children) would actually become premium menu items thirty years later — an organic mixed green salad is a mainstay on any healthy menu, and polenta has become the go-to gluten free option for many health-conscious pasta lovers.
Her best money-saving culinary invention, though, has to be her infamous avocado cake. Nonna had a backyard full of avocado trees. Planted to offer shade and protection from prying eyes of nosy neighbors, the fruit they produced was first considered a perk… and by the end of the season, an annoyance. She’d be left with barrels of nearly ripe avocados that even she couldn’t figure out a use for, and as a child of the Depression she didn’t believe in wasting food. Then she had a stroke of genius: she’d sub in avocado for butter in her favorite white cake recipe. (SPOILER: The cake didn’t turn out great the first time.)
But her crowning achievement, and the recipe the Pellizzon clan still gets together to make every Christmas? Gnocchi. It’s got just four ingredients, it’s gluten free (if you want!), and it’s technically plant-based. Keep scrolling for the all-time fave, straight from her handwritten notes.
GLUTEN FREE GNOCCHI INGREDIENTS
5 pounds Russet Potatoes
2 or 3 cups Wheat or Oat Flour
1 | Boil and peel potatoes.
2 | Pass peeled potatoes through a ricer, adding in the egg and salt and mixing well.
3 | Sprinkle with the flour of your choice as you combine into a dough. Poke a finger into dough to make sure it comes out clean — if it does, your dough is ready.
4 | Pull off a small portion and roll into a long tube.
5 | Cut into 1 inch pieces and roll onto the back of a fork or a gnocchi paddle.
6 | Place on floured cookie sheet, covering with plastic wrap and putting in the freezer.
7 | To prepare, boil water and add gnocchi directly into the pot. They’ll rise to the top when done.
8 | Scoop out and place in a bowl — cover with sauce of your choice!