Our modest kitchen is full of appliances and tools – two electric ovens, a stand mixer, rice cooker, food processor, deep-fryer, immersion blender, espresso machine, whisks of all shapes and sizes, two rubber spatulas, countless mixing bowls – all the trappings of two home cooks eerily susceptible to retail layouts designed to entice the over-consumed consumer.
And yet, there are moments where I find myself coveting yet another tool to add to our well-populated cabinets. Like a pasta roller, for instance. Every time I decide to pay $6 for a pound of fresh pappardelle from the Santa Cruz Pasta Factory, or get seduced by neatly-shaped tortellini containing all manner of imaginative fillings on the pages of a magazine, I inevitably engage in a discussion with the Pragmatic Singaporean that lives deep in the recesses of Reason in my mind. The conversation goes something like this.
Me: Look at those gorgeous, thin strands of pasta. Instead of paying for them, I could just as well make it myself!
Pragmatic Singaporean (PS): Yes, you could. But how often would you do it?
Me: Once a month perhaps? I’d make a big batch and freeze it. We’d have fresh pasta on demand!
PS: Nice idea. But how many times do you need to churn out a batch of fresh pasta a year for it to be worth the cost?
PS: At $121.45 for a set of three rollers, you would need to make a pound of pasta at least 20 times a year. And that’s assuming you make regular pasta with no flavors. If you want to try your hand at raviolis and tortellinis, the number goes up to 26 times a year!! Are you up for that?
And that’s where it usually ends. As much as I enjoy making my own stocks, pie and tart crusts, ketchup and the occasional fruit compote, the prospect of home-made pasta still intimidates me, hence the inertia around forking out for a pasta roller that I may use more than twice in a year.
Which is why Gnocchi is the only type of pasta I have ventured to make to date. Sweet, adorable, filling gnocchi. Incredibly easy, incredibly satisfying.
In the spirit of Thanksgiving (aka, let’s see how many calories we can pile on in 24 hours!), I substituted sweet potatoes for regular baking potatoes in this version to be happily surprised by the result! They kept their structure perfectly during cooking, emerging soft, with a tender bite. Along with a happy orange sheen and golden slices of chanterelles, this was one meal to distract me from the grey and rainy weather that descended upon us over the weekend.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Chanterelles & Sage (adapted from Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking)
Each time I leaf through the pages of Marcella Hazan’s tome, I start to wonder if I wasn’t an Italian in a past life, given the almost instinctive response I have to the dishes laid out across 600 pages. If you had invest on one and only one book on Italian cooking, this would be it. Not only does Marcella give you a short course in anthropology about the different regional variations of a particular dish, cooking to her clear, well-written recipes is as close as having her in your kitchen, directing you every step of the way. Although most gnocchi recipes include an egg, I’ve omitted it here with no disastrous results. However, if you find that the potatoes you use produce gnocchi that falls apart during cooking, you may want to consider adding an egg in the mix to bind everything together.
For the gnocchi (makes about 6 servings):
1½ pounds sweet potatoes
2 cups all-purpose (or whole wheat) flour, plus additional for dusting
Preheat the oven to 350F. Scrub the potatoes and bake them, on a tray, for an hour. Leave to cool slightly before peeling and purée them through a food mill or potato ricer into a bowl.
Add the flour to the potatoes in half-cup increments, until the two cups are fully incorporated and you’re left with a smooth and slightly sticky mass. Flour your work surface and divide the dough into four parts, shaping each into a sausage-like roll, about an inch in diameter. As sweet potatoes tend to have a softer consistency than your regular brown potatoes, you will want to handle the dough gently and keep your hands and work surface floured at all times. Once the dough is shaped into a fairly thick roll, I like to thin them out by gently rolling them between my palms over my work surface.
Slice each roll into little pieces, each about ¾-inch long. Using a fork, its tines lightly dusted with flour, hold it parallel to the counter, with its concave end towards you.
Take one of the cut pieces of gnocchi and hold it against the tines of the fork with the index finger of your other hand and gently press the gnocchi into the curve. You should end up with a small square that’s indented on one side and ridged on the other, making it easier for sauces to cling each piece. Place each prepared gnocchi onto a baking tray lined with parchment or Silpat. Repeat the process until all the dough has been used.
You can either cook the gnocchi immediately or freeze the pieces on the baking tray for a few hours before portioning and packing them for future use.
To cook, with Chanterelles and Sage (2 servings):
8 ounces gnocchi, fresh or frozen
1 tablespoon coarse sea salt
2 quarts water
Half a stick of unsalted butter
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
4 ounces chanterelles, thickly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 stalks fresh sage, leaves plucked
Begin with the gnocchi. Add the salt to the water in a saucepan and bring it to a boil. When the water starts bubbling enthusiastically, add the gnocchi and leave to cook. Once they start to float to the surface, remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon or gently drain in a colander and set aside on a warm plate.
Melt the butter in a skillet over medium heat, then add the garlic and stir, 1-2 minutes. Add the chanterelles, stirring to evenly coat each slice in butter and garlic and turn the heat to medium high.
When the butter starts to turn a golden brown, add the sage, stir and leave for a minute, then season to taste with salt and pepper. Turn the heat off and add the gnocchi, mixing to coat each piece with sauce. Serve at once.