This week, I lost my head. When I arrived at school for a cooking final, I realized I had forgotten my locker combination, and my uniform was inside the locker; I had to call security to cut the damn thing off. My phone disappeared in the black abyss of my car, and I had written it off for dead. My partner (whose favorite saying is "haste makes waste") had a second look around and found my phone under one of my car seats.
"You just need to slow down," she said. She's right.
It's finals week, I'm transitioning jobs, and it's been go, go, go. The only thing I cooked at home was a quiche when my aunt was visiting. I'm ashamed of how many drive-throughs I've frequented lately.
I wanted to get back to cooking for pure pleasure. I'm still in a rocky relationship with doughs (some like me, some don't), but I like gnocchi, and I think it likes me. It's a very physical endeavor - get ready to roll up your sleeves, pick dough from the webbing of your fingers and shake flour off your clothes.
I often find the process of cooking meditative, and although the shaping of gnocchi is repetitive, that's what I like about it. Those little repetitive motions are almost like mantras. I'm reminded that no matter how busy I get, making time to slow down can't be forgotten.
I came up with a sweet potato gnocchi recipe because sweet potato is one of my favorite foods, and a very nutritious one at that: sweet but low-glycemic, and especially dense in vitamins A and C. I incorporated spelt flour as well, an ancient grain related to wheat, which lends some nutty sweetness. I dug into a hot bowl of those little potato dumplings and took it slow. It was real nice.
Spelt Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Traditionally, gnocchi is made with dry, starchy potatoes like russets, which keep the texture light. Sweet potatoes and nutty spelt make for a denser product, but the light cilantro pesto adds a lot of herb flavor without much heaviness.
Makes about 90 gnocchi; about 6 servings.
- 1 pound sweet potato
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup sour cream
- 1-1/2 cups spelt flour
- 1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- fresh cracked pepper to taste
Bake sweet potato at 425 degrees for 50 minutes to 1 hour, depending on size and shape. In a large bowl, grate the potato with a box grater or put it through a ricer while it's still hot, but cool enough to handle. (If you're using a box grater, you can split the potato in half and use a towel to hold the skin side.)
In a small bowl, mix together the egg, sour cream and pepper.
Make a well in the sweet potatoes and put the egg mixture in the middle. Dust about a half cup of the flour over the mixture and use your knuckles to push the flour into the dough, working in about a half cup at a time. The dough should be pliable enough to give to the touch, but spring back up. You'll want the surface to feel dry (if it sticks, it's too wet; if it starts to feel tough, it's too dry). If the dough is too dry, work in an egg yolk or extra water; if it's too wet, add flour.
Cut the ball of dough into quarters; wrap each quarter in plastic wrap until ready to use.
Roll out the section of dough into a long rope on a floured surface (diameter depends on desired thickness of gnocchi - about a half inch is typical).
Cut into lengths about an inch long. You can shape them with a gnocchi board if you have one, or use your thumb to roll the gnocchi across the back of a fork (the convex side will end up with lines and there will be a small imprint on the concave side from your thumb). Put on a wax paper- or parchment-lined baking sheet until ready to cook.
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and cook gnocchi in small batches. In a few minutes, they'll pop to the surface - remove them 1 to 1-1/2 minutes after they pop up. Serve immediately, or shock in cold water, then drain, dry and sauté for a slightly crispier texture.
Dress with cilantro pesto and garnish with sour cream and lime wedges; or sauce as desired.
This is a variation on a traditional basil pesto. Once it's made, it's good for about a week in the fridge. Use as a standby for busy nights, or freeze it for long-term storage.
Makes about 1 pint.
- 1 bunch cilantro (about 2 cups, loosely packed)
- 4 scallions
- 1 clove garlic, coarsely chopped
- Brazil nuts, raw, coarsely chopped
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 cup olive oil
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place Brazil nut pieces on a dry sheet pan and roast until lightly toasted and golden, several minutes (time will vary depending on the size of your pieces - nuts burn easily, so check and stir every few minutes). Let cool.
Pulse all ingredients in food processor and add a half cup of the olive oil, gradually adding remaining oil until desired consistency is achieved.