Ok it’s September and I promised to return to the keyboard. Trieste is easing into the end of Summer and into what I like to call the “Fifth Season”. This is that time, after the traditional and predictable burrasca at the end of August — which saw rain, wind and flooding in parts of the region over the last couple of days — and mid October when the city kicks into gear in anticipation of the regata La Barcolana, the city’s premiere annual event.
September is the season for Damson plums and in Trieste they are used in a unique culinary tradition — Gnocchi di Susine (gnocchi-filled with plums).
Fruit stands around the city are reopening after their well-deserved end of August ferie (summer vacation) and front and center are bins piled high with beautiful, purple, waxy looking damson plums, some sliced in half to show-off the sweet and juicy meat inside.
While everybody can agree that they are delicious and singularly Triestine, the great debate that rages on is whether they should be served as a pasta or as a dessert. Most restaurants let you decide, but either way only at this time of year can you savor an unusual and delicious treat.
Legendary Triestine chef, Maria Stelvio, put the recipe for plum gnocchi in the desserts section in her book “La Cucina Triestina“ — Trieste’s version of The Joy of Cooking— (look for the gnocchi di prugne recipe that follows the gnocchi di albicocche recipe).
Typically served as a Sunday dish in early Fall — Triestine kids have long challenged each other as to who can eat the most. Triestine tradition says that when a child is able to eat more gnocchi than his dad, that is when they truly are considered “grown-up”.
The recipe of plum gnocchi is of Bohemian origin; the fruits used are indigenous to the geographical area ranging from the Danube plains to the Triestine Karst, usually harvested in September and October.
Ingredients (4-6 servings)
for the gnocchi:
- 1 kg of white potatoes
- 250 gr of flour
- 1 egg yolk
- 30 grams of butter
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Salt to taste.
for the stuffing:
- 1 kg fresh plums (prunes) pitted
- sugar & cinnamon for seasoning (to taste)
- 50 grams of butter
- 30 gr bread crumbs
Prep the plums: Wash and pit the plums but leave them whole (some suggested pressing on them with your palm to eject the pit). Some versions of the recipe call for making a filling for the plum with butter and sugar and cinnamon while others simply submerge the plums in a bowl of cinnamon & sugar allowing the blend to enter the cavity and cover the plum before encasing it in the dough.
Prep the potatoes: Wash the potatoes by rubbing the peel lightly to completely remove any dirt. Put them in a pot, cover with cold water and boil over medium heat for about 40 minutes. Drain the potatoes, peel and pass them through a potato ricer. Add salt and let the mixture cool.
Make a well in the center of the mashed potatoes and add the flour, egg, melted butter and half a teaspoon of baking powder. Work the dough and roll it out with a rolling-pin on a floured surface.
Form the dough into small disks that are big enough to accommodate the plum. Close each disk well forming the gnocchi. Then immerse them one by one in boiling salted water. When they come to the surface, drain them with a skimmer. Season with bread crumbs browned in butter, and if desired, sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
You can buy them uncooked in most gourmet/deli shops in Trieste or savor them at your favor traditional Triestine restaurant. Suban’s are the most highly rated and you can read about them via the link.