Sunday Dinnertime Treat
This is Grandpa’s signature dish. Though a version of this recipe is in The Roanoke Centennial Cookbook, I’ve never been able to find this potato dumpling dish referred to as “cuyettas” in any other place I’ve looked…the Internet, anywhere. Plus, any gnocchi recipe I’ve ever seen includes an egg for binding and the lack of this key ingredient is what makes cuyettas different from other potato dumpling dishes and part of why it’s such a challenge to get right. I suspect like many of the dishes that Grandpa made, cuyettas were unique to Vanasca and were influenced by French cuisine.
Whatever the origin, I do know this…if you use too little flour in this recipe, the dumplings will fall apart in the boiling water…too much, and they will be quite tough (though personally, I really don’t mind them being tough).
The recipe that follows is my best guess at the correct potato to flour ratio and while there is a small margin for error, I’d suggest that you use more flour rather than less, especially the first time you try to make them. The information I include here is based on my personal experience and is certainly subject to skepticism.
I’ve actually gotten to the point, after making them countless times now, that I can “feel” the mixture and know when it’s okay. This will take a few times for you so again, I suggest you err to the high side with the flour. You can always back off on future attempts. And I can tell you from personal experience that after all the work that goes into making them, watching them disintegrate in the boiling pot is very, very depressing. Besides, a tough batch of cuyettas is way better than no cuyettas at all.
The other really tricky part of the process of making cuyettas is the preparation of the browned butter. The margin for error here is very small and for our dinners, we usually ask Sandra to perform this step. You essentially heat the stick of butter in a small pan until seconds before it burns and is therefore ruined. When you achieve this, it’s a beautiful dark brown color and when you pour it on the dumplings, it breaks up into thousands of tiny brown flecks which are very distinctive and give the dish a rich, golden appearance.
When you get this dish right, it’s one of the best things Grandpa made, my personal favorite at our dinners and for me at least, the cornerstone of this book. I hope you like it as much as we do.
3-5 medium-sized red potatoes (depending on how big a batch you want – I’d guess 3 serves four adults and 5 about eight, depending on what else is being served.)
5-10 cups flour
4 oz. butter (one stick)
2/3 cup Half & Half™ (or cream)
2 tsps. salt
There is some “waiting” in this process so allow several hours to prepare this dish. For a 6:00pm dinner-time, we usually start around 2:00pm. Of course that gives us time to have a few glasses of wine while we’re working!
Wash the potatoes and boil them in the skin for about 20 minutes or until knife tender. Set them aside to cool (at least an hour). When cool, peel the potatoes and discard the skin. On a hard, flat, clean and floured surface, mash the potatoes with a masher until no lumps remain. This is where it gets a bit subjective. Add flour and knead by hand until the mixture is only slightly sticky to the touch. I wish I could tell you exactly how much flour that takes but I honestly can’t. I would guess about ½ to ¾ cup per potato. Continue kneading til thoroughly mixed and roll into a 2-inch diameter loaf which should be about 8 to 12 inches long, depending on the number of potatoes and the amount of flour you used.
Keeping the work surface covered with flour, use a knife (or a puletta, see below) to cut a 1-inch long slice from the loaf. Set the remainder of the loaf aside and roll the slice into a “snake” about ½ to ¾ inches in diameter. Cut the snake into 1-inch long dumplings and layer them on to a floured, waxed paper covered surface (a serving tray works well). If you want to do the traditional preparation of cuyettas, see “The Final Touch” (below) for the next step. If not, repeat the above procedure til the mixture has produced all the dumplings. Sprinkle the dumplings with flour and cover with a terrycloth towel and let dry for one to two hours.
Bring 1 ½ to 2 gallons of water to boil (again, depending on the size of the batch). Add the salt. Place the dumplings into the boiling water as quickly as possible (have a couple people help you if you can) and stir immediately. Continue to stir occasionally and boil the dumplings until they float. This usually only takes a couple minutes and I take them out of the water after the entire surface is covered with dumplings. Remove the pot from the heat and drain in a colander. While the dumplings are draining, brown the butter in a small saucepan on medium/high heat til deep brown…as I said, til just before you think the butter is about to burn. Place the dumplings into a serving bowl and add the browned butter, the Half & Half™ and stir well. Serve immediately, sprinkled with Parmesan cheese to taste.
If you’d like the cuyettas to taste like they did when we had them as children, add a small amount of catsup as well, prior to the Parmesan. Gook luck!
The Final Touch
After each dumpling was cut from the “snake”, Grandpa would perform one more little ritual, one that we’ve never perfected. Dad showed us how to do it at one of our early dinners and unfortunately, no one paid close enough attention to get the technique just right. I’ll describe what Grandpa did as best I can, then give you another option to attain the same result. Grandpa would take his index finger and do a quick little roll, drawing the dumpling towards him while slightly depressing it. The purpose is to indent the dumpling so that the sauce has a place to grab ‘hold of. If you see store bought gnocchi, they typically have little ridges that serve this purpose. And sometimes, that’s what we now use, rolling the individual dumplings off a fork to produce this effect. I’m not sure that either procedure really does much good and while they do look rather more elegant with the ridges, Grandpa’s index finger method is the one we mostly use now.
In the photo to the right, you can see me forming the dumplings with what Dad told us is called a puletta. We knew Grandpa used this old hoe to smash the potatoes and cut the dumplings but we didn’t know what it was called til GMD 23. I’m so glad Sandra still had this and that Dad finally told us what it’s called. We also use a large piece of plywood as the base for doing the work. Dad also told us what this was called but unfortunately, we didn't document it so for now at least, it's a lost piece of information. If you happen to know what it's called, please let us know.