The Healthful Hedonist: Comfort Food for the 21st Century
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
THE HEALTHFUL HEDONIST: COMFORT FOOD FOR THE 21ST CENTURY
Simple. Savory. Sustainable.
Wednesdays on Mama Cooks.
Middle of the night and suddenly I'm awake.
My thoughts turn to gnocchi.
Did I really buy sweet potatoes earlier in the day to make into homemade gnocchi? I must have been lulled into a foolish optimism by the sunny New England daytime because now, in the dark, I know better. I sigh, roll over, and try to put thoughts of impossible cooking projects out of my mind. I'll talk it all over with Jesse in the morning.
Jesse Z. Cool is a cookbook author and restaurateur from California who's been all about great food her whole life. For Jesse, eating well is a family tradition dating back to her grandparents. She's made sustainability a key part of her career for more than three decades. Three decades ago I was eating cold hot dogs and raw hamburger straight from the packages. It's not an unhappy memory.
Anyway, not only does Jesse have the best name, she lives up to it. I was lucky enough to grab a few minutes on the phone with her recently, and as I admitted my hesitation – okay, my fear of making gnocchi (on a weeknight, no less) – Jesse soothed me, gave me some great tips, and finally gave in and said I didn't even have to mark the gnocchi with a fork. I could just cut the ropes of dough into pieces and cook them. Relief washed through me and I was ready to roll. Literally.
Before we got off the phone, talk turned to raising chickens as it so often does these days, and Jesse sent me this link to chicken tractors. It's tempting – those urban coops are adorable – and I think of all the gnocchi I could make, but we're not at raising chickens. At least, not yet. Instead, I bought the egg I used in this dish from a wonderful farmer who deserves every penny she gets and more.
NB: Jesse says to make sure the dough is sticky. You can add flour as you roll it out, but use as little as possible, just so it holds together. This will result in tender, soft, ethereal gnocchi. Once again, if I can do it – and despite my dark midnight doubts, it turns out I can – you can too.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
from Simply Organic by Jesse Ziff Cool
Cost Breakdown for four people – about $3.50
Sweet potatoes: $2
Flour: 50 cents
2 eggs: 50 cents
Herbs and olive oil: 50 cents
Serves four (they're small servings but the gnocchi is rich and cries out to be served with a salad and bread)
2 medium-large sweet potatoes (about 1 pounds; of course you can use russets instead)
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
to 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- Pierce the potatoes with a knife a few times, then bake (or. ahem, microwave) until very soft. Set aside until cool enough to handle.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Cut the potatoes in half, scoop out the flesh, and discard the skins. Push the flesh through a potato ricer or mash thoroughly with a fork and transfer to a large bowl. Stir in the egg and salt.
- Add the flour, cup at a time, blending just until the dough holds together. Pinch off 1 teaspoon of the dough and roll into a ball on a floured surface. Drop into the boiling water. If the piece falls apart, add more flour to the dough, 2 tablespoons at a time. Repeat the cooking test, adding more flour if necessary, until the gnocchi holds together and floats to the surface.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board or counter. Divide the dough into five pieces and roll each into a inch rope. Be sure to roll the ropes in flour to keep from sticking (the dough should be super-sticky; add just enough flour that you can roll it out). cut each rope into inch pieces. Lightly press each piece with a floured fork or thumb and make a slight indentation. If not cooking right away, place on a baking pan, cover, and refrigerate or freeze until ready to cook. You can also double the recipe and freeze half for another day.
- To cook the gnocchi, add salt to the boiling water and drop the gnocchi in. cook until they rise to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander.
Note: I happened to have some fresh thyme in the fridge so I mixed it into the dough, topping the gnocchi only with a drizzle of olive oil and some grated Romano cheese.