It’s easy to see why Elisa Chambers views the kitchen as the heart of a home. From birth, her family traditions and history have informed the person she is today. Her grandparents on both sides of the family were Italian immigrants who came to America decades ago. As a young girl, Elisa had aspirations of being just like her Italian mother who was also passionate about food.
“I always hoped I could one day be a fraction of what my mama was. In my case, she was such an intense guiding light,” she says. Her maternal grandfather was a winemaker and an amazing chef, who knew so many secrets of heritage Italian cooking. “My grandmother went to heaven a few days before I was born, so I am her namesake. Maybe it’s corny, but this is truly where my love of food was first cultivated.
When I was growing up, our food was created with love every single night. Family was everything to us, and cooking was an incredibly integral part of our lives.” In the evenings, Elisa and her family ate together and dinner was always thoughtfully prepared from fresh, wholesome ingredients. “My mother was very before her time, so to speak. She was an original granola hippie, always making homemade jams, breads, and pastas.” In their family, nothing was prepared ahead or readily made. She always had lunched packed by her mother with homemade jam, bread, nut butters, and fresh garden vegetables. “I had these gorgeous home-cooked meals, but I wanted what everyone else had. I dreamed of eating twinkies, wonder bread, and bologna. How crazy to think about!”
Ravioli, gnocchi, and pasta were Sunday treats that were shared with so many members of her extended family. They all dined together and everyone was invited to Sunday dinner. “My grandfather would always serve all of his grandkids a shot glass of a vintage wine that he carefully selected. This is where my love of food, cooking and treating your friends as family began — it’s my first real memory of sharing and gathering that’s centered around food.”
Later in life, Elisa had to modify her family pasta to suit her husband’s battle with celiac disease, so she learned how to take her traditional recipes and format them in a new way. “How brutal that was for an Italian! Really though, all you have to do is substitute a gluten-free flour for the conventional one — I promise, you’ll be fine!” Trying out many different methods, Elisa finally found a recipe that tasted just like the original gnocchi she enjoyed at her grandparents’ house as a child.
As a working mother, Elisa now finds it ultimately important to connect with her family through cooking in the evenings. “I segue into this with a glass of wine and while mulling over the day, I prepare dinner. My kids have developed their own love of cooking, and they enjoy finding and executing recipes. It’s a time to hear about everyone’s day and listen to them critique what we eat.
Cooking and kitchens have become such a fundamental part of life for Elisa. “The kitchen is the soul of your home. I design these spaces to be beautifully appointed without compromising functionality,” she explains. Traveling extensively throughout Italy and France, she’s taken note of kitchens that are both working and aesthetically pleasing. “Other countries use marble, even though Americans get so hung up on surfaces that etch or have imperfections. Italians have been using marble for centuries, and the patina is amazing — rolling out gnocchi on marble is heaven!”
She now works to create an environment where everything feels intuitive. “First and foremost, it always begins with listening and hearing how a family lives together, plays together, and eats together. Everyone is unique, so it’s important to understand the mechanics of a family. I try to create an experience, and a relaxed feeling. When you walk in, you should be arriving at a place that’s full of warmth and with every amenity that you need at your fingertips. Functionality, efficiency, and beauty are the key components to beautiful living.”
We sat down with Elisa in her own kitchen to taste her gorgeous gnocchi and hear more about her family heritage. Try this recipe for yourself at home! We suggest to add a table filled with friends, family, wine and lovely conversations.
Elisa’s Gluten-Free Gnocchi Dough
3 cups gluten-free flour blend
1 lb ricotta cheese
1/2 cup water
Mix 2 cups GF flour and 2 eggs in a food processor. Add 1 lb of ricotta cheese slowly. Once the dough forms into a sticky ball, remove the mixture from the processor and transfer to a floured surface to knead by hand.
The dough will be very sticky so place some of your remaining 1 cup flour on the counter and try to dry it up a bit. Knead until the dough gets pliable or rubbery, about 15 minutes.
Just pour yourself some wine and get into it!
Once your dough ball is formed, take a piece off and roll it into a long rope. Cut the rope into 3/4 inch pieces. Take your index and middle finger and press into each piece against either your countertop or a gnocchi press, rolling gently towards you to make an indentation. Then flick the pasta away with the tops of your fingers.
No matter what it looks like, don’t worry! The taste will definitely be amazing, even if they’re not perfect. (We like the imperfections!) Continue until the whole dough ball is finished.
If there’s any wine left, serve it with dinner.