Sunday, April 19, 2015

Well, hello, little flower

Coinciding almost exactly with the birth of my niece, the garden is starting to flower.... It's my favorite time of year.

I know! I'm an aunt!!! Can't wait to meet our newest family member.

I wonder when I can bring over some of my homegrown strawberries. Hopefully soon. I mean, you don't need teeth to eat 'em. (Squirrels, if you're reading this, back off: no taking berries from a baby!)

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The sweet life

Though I knew a gluten-induced backache would result, I could not resist the chance to make a batch of sweet potato gnocchi with my cousin's family while visiting Charlottesville for a few days. Lord, do I adore gnocchi. The tender, pillowy deliciousness.... Ohhhh....

The recipe is actually one that my lovely Foodprints intern, Emily, passed along recently. (I am not too proud a supervisor to turn down the offer of a taste when offered during our lunch break, and after that I simply *had* to try making it myself.) It didn't sound too complicated, but gnocchi are notoriously finicky and labor intensive, what with the boiling and mashing, and most experienced cooks know that there is a very thin line between light & delicious vs. dense & floury pasta.

Thankfully, Jenna was game, and young Lukas even helped to grate the cheese (and make some cookies, a few of which made it to dessert). Cousin Laith helped with the dishes and pouring me a glass of wine -- always welcome contributions. It was a great group recipe, and easier than we'd feared. Nice when things work out that way, eh?

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
It's adapted from this recipe, but with less microwaving and pointless ricotta straining.... (Oh, we did strain the ricotta for 2 hours, which yielded a total of about 4 drops of liquid. Not worth it, but it gave me a chance to slow-roast the spuds.) The irresistible brown butter, sage, and balsamic sauce remains intact, however.


2 lbs sweet potatoes (about 2 medium) 
1 (12-oz.) container fresh ricotta
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

8 TBSP (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 handful of loosely packed fresh sage leaves (got some in your garden??)
3 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
Additional parmesan cheese, for serving


Preheat oven to 400F. Scrub and dry the sweet potatoes, then prick them all over with a fork. Place the sweet potatoes on a foil-lined cookie sheet and roast until fork-tender (about 1 hour). Cool, then peel and mash potatoes.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and dust it with flour. You'll want this near your work surface when you start making the gnocchi.

Transfer 3 cups of the mashed sweet potatoes to a large bowl. Add the ricotta, stirring until thoroughly combined, then stir in 1 cup parmesan cheese and 2 tsp salt.

Start adding the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, mixing with your hands until a soft dough forms. Shape the dough into a large ball.

Lightly flour your work surface and divide the dough into six equal portions. Take one portion and gently roll and stretch it on your work surface or between your hands until it's about 20 inches in length (about the length of a standard cookie sheet).

Cut the dough into 1-inch pieces to form each gnocchi (each "rope" should yield about 20 gnocchi). Using the back of a fork, press each gnocchi into the tines to form indentations (which will soak up the delicious sauce you're about to make), then transfer them to the floured baking sheet. Repeat the rolling and cutting process with the remaining five pieces of dough.

Prior to cooking the gnocchi, make the brown butter sauce... Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Cook the butter until the foam subsides and it begins to turn a golden brown color, about 3 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the sage leaves, allowing them to cook for 1 minute. Remove the brown butter from the heat and stir in the balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper.

When you're ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add a portion of the gnocchi to the boiling water, stir, and then let the gnocchi cook until they float back up to the top, about 1 minute.

Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon to a serving bowl. Repeat the cooking process with the remaining gnocchi and toss your delicious little orange morsels with the prepared brown butter sauce. Garnish with Parmesan cheese and serve.

Note: uncooked gnocchi will keep in the fridge for a few days, or in the freezer for a few months. If you can resist eating them all that first meal, that is.

Oh those? Well, since we were having a glutenous extravaganza, I figured I might as well make some ice cream sandwiches -- featuring cinnamon ice cream from nearby Kirt's Ice Cream and freshly baked chocolate chip oatmeal cookies -- for dessert. Not a bad way to end a wonderful visit with family and friends!