Gnocchi alla mulinèra

Ark of taste
Back to the archive >

Gnocchi alla mulinèra (or gnoc a la mulinèra) is a pasta traditionally made on floating mills in the middle and lower reaches of the Po River. These mills, which were anchored to the riverbank and used the river’s current to drive water wheels that turned millstones to grind grain, were once numerous—in 1873, for example, there were 173 of them just in the area around Ferrara. The first mention of a floating mill dates to the year 901 AD, and the last one was destroyed in 1945 by aerial bombardment. Eventually, the mills were declared dangerous and an obstacle to modern navigation, and were banned by law, despite having been crucial for the economy of river towns for centuries.

The millers (known as mugnai in Italian and muliner in the local dialect) who worked on the floating mills cooked their meals from the few ingredients that were readily available: soft wheat flour and water.
Gnocchi alla mulinèra (from mulino, which means “mill”) were prepared exclusively by men who, due to their famously calloused hands, were less sensitive to the high temperature of the water necessary to give the dough for the gnocchi the right elasticity. Women usually took care of preparing the sauce.
A hundred years ago, the water of the Po was potable and was used both to prepare the dough and to cook the gnocchi.

Giovanni Fornasari, from Casalmaggiore in the province of Cremona, was one of the last muliner; he handed the recipe for this poor but tasty dish down to his daughter, Teresa Fornasari, who, in turn, passed it to her daughters. The three sisters—Virginia, Fausta, and Deanna—are the last remaining custodians of the traditional recipe for gnocchi alla mulinèra. The Italian writer Grazia Deledda mentions gnoc a la mulinèra in her book of short stories Il cedro del Libano. She ate them during her stays at her home in Cicognara, not far from Fossacaprara, a hamlet of Casalmaggiore.

The recipe itself is very simply but requires precision: You start by making a mound of soft wheat flour with a depression in the top, into which you pour boiling water. You mix the water into the flour, first with a fork and then with your hands. Next, you work the dough until it forms a consistent, elastic mass. This is divided into pieces, which are pulled into long strands. You cut the strands into small pieces about 3-4 centimeters in length and then, using your index, middle, and ring fingers, form each piece into the shape of a leaf, slightly rolled up along the edges. By closing each leaf of dough on itself, you give the gnocchi their particular shape, which holds the sauce. The sauce was traditionally made by mashing boiled potatoes together with tomato puree and borlotti beans. The large, soft gnocchi literally melt in your mouth and are light while still filling. Manual skill is required to give the dough its characteristic lightness; this dish is impossible to produce industrially.

Back to the archive >

Territory

StateItaly
Region

Emilia Romagna

Lombardy

Production area:Middle lower reaches of the Po River

Other info

Categories

Pasta

Nominated by:Ileana Baruffaldi, Condotta Slow Food Oglio Po