Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sage Sauce

How many blogs have I started with the sentence, “So it’s fall…”? Probably like 100. I feel like I say it all the time. Or spring. But of course that’s because I’m Canadian, and that means our lives revolve around the changing of the weather.

That being said, fall is probably my favourite season for cooking. It means that you can turn on your oven without your house feeling like the Seventh Circle of Hades, you actually feel like eating instead of just wanting 5 cold showers a day, and you can finally justify stuffing your face with delicious pasta, because that bikini can fuck off for eight months now. It’s the perfect season, really.

Being an ambitious young adult, I once tried to make gnocchi from scratch in my University Apartment, for my University Boyfriend, with my University Budget and Attention Span (sadly the attention span issue persists today). It was awful. I attempted such a thing because I knew that University Boyfriend’s favourite pasta was gnocchi, and I thought to myself, “What better way to charm a man than to make his favourite pasta from scratch?” I was given added confidence by watching Giada Di Laurentiis do it on her cooking show, which made making gnocchi look as easy as making Kraft Dinner. “Just scoop out the potatoes,” she said, with all her teeth and baby pink nail polish convincing me that I could just as easily scoop out a roasted potato or two and whip it into perfectly fluffy balls of pasta, given added charisma by being rolled on the back of a fork for a truly professional look. It was seductive, and I imagine University Boyfriend’s impressed and touched face as he popped my perfectly crafted gnocchi in his mouth.

What actually happened was that I began this project at 5:00 for a 6:00 dinner. Frantic, at 5:30, when my potatoes may as well be stones of granite, they were still so hard, I decided that mashing them at their current texture would be just fine. It was not fine. The dough was decidedly lumpy, I was covered in flour and still in pyjamas for dinner, I had potato bits in my hair for days, and I learned a very valuable lesson about why Italian men treasure their Nonnas so much.  To give credit where credit is due, University Boyfriend did his absolute best impression of himself being touched and impressed, and ate the pasta sauce like a soup.

Today, as I reflected on that memory, I decided to redeem myself. A fresh, fall day, I was ready for some flavours that reflected the season. I’m also somewhat precariously employed at the moment, so I have quite a lot of time on my hands. It felt like a day for self-improvement, and where better to start than one’s gnocchi-making skills? These are the skills of domestic goddesses and master chefs alike. These are the skills that build one’s character. These are the skills that, while unlikely to get you a job anywhere but the restaurant industry, require credit given on a résumé. Why? Because the creation of these perfect little potato balls requires diligence, attention to detail, and ambition. It is the activity of one succeeding in all aspects of life. To make one’s own gnocchi is to prove to the world that you are an adult and you can Make Anything Happen.  

Also, it’s way better than those weird rubber balls you buy in the grocery store. If for no other reason, this is worth it because I promise this is going to taste better. Let’s get started.

In “Bailey Makes Gnocchi: Volume 1”, my main mistake was not cooking the potatoes long enough. This is crucial. Give your potatoes a full hour in the oven at 425°. You also will ideally own a potato ricer, and if not (like me), you at least own a fine strainer that you can push the hot potato flesh through. (Use a spoon to do this, unless you have asbestos-hands.)

Start with two yellow potatoes and a sweet potato. Bake them on a rack for an hour at least, depending on how large they are. Once your potatoes are cooked, let them cool just enough for you to be able to handle them. Slice in half, and scoop the flesh out. Either rice it or press it through a sieve into a bowl. To your now-smooth potato innards, add:

  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 2-3 tbsp of grated parmesan
  • Salt and pepper to season
  • 1 cup of flour
  • 2 tbsp olive oil

Stir that up just until it’s mixed. As with all things that receive mixing, over-mixing your dough will result in the Worst Kitchen Disaster Ever- tough little balls of various baked goods. So just enough to blend is fine.

Once you’ve formed dough, flour a surface that you’ll be able to work on. It needs to be a fairly big space, because you’re about to do some rolling. Cut the dough into four or five vertical slices. Take each hunk and roll it between your hands and the work surface as though you’re making Play-Doh snakes. Then, cut it into little rounds. Mine were about an inch long and maybe half an inch thick? Just make them look like gnocchi. If you want to get really fancy, like if you’re trying to convince a 22 year old artist you are in fact wifey material he could give up his wanderlust for, roll them down the back of a fork for the ridges.

Cook them in a large pot of salted, boiling water until they float. Once they float, give them one extra minute and then scoop them out with a strainer or slotted spoon.

Now- don’t get flustered, but you’re actually going to do something else while the gnocchi cook. Have a sauté pan getting nice and hot. As soon as you dump in your pasta to the pot, put about a quarter cup of butter in the pan. Also add a few leaves of sage, which you can bruise with the back of your knife to help them release flavour. Brown the butter, which means watch it very carefully until the milk solids and the oily part start to turn brown. Let it get golden, but don’t let it go much past that. The sage leaves will crisp up beautifully as well.

When your gnocchi are plated, scoop out your brown butter sauce onto the pasta. Top with salt, pepper, the sage leaves, and a really great freshly shaved parmesan or reggiano. Very simple flavours, but it is an amazingly delicious fall meal. Just save it for a day when you feel like being in the kitchen!

Thank you to this recipe, which gave some great tips on how to ensure the gnocchi are fluffy and delicious.