I’d like to make a stand here, in honor of my Unabashed Love of January. I feel like there is an undue sense of derision towards these dreary 31 days; derision that might not be completely warranted. I’ll admit, it’s not a very hip month, full as it is with diets and budgets and decongestant tablets. But it has its charms, even if they’re sometimes tough to notice. January is a month that tends to start with a hangover and end with a cold. As every weekend passes, the amount of football on TV dwindles. Basketball still has months to go before anything exciting starts to happen (but then again, does it ever?). The only holiday worth looking forward to is Valentines Day, a polarizing holiday if there ever was one (blech, so polarizing, so annoying). Stores are full of sales but everybody’s too broke to partake, the weather is at its most obnoxious no matter what climate you live in, and Spring seems like a million years away. Knowing all this, I still love January. I love that less cash in pockets means more shared bottles of wine on friend’s couches. I love that these gray, bleak 31 days give me the time I need to slowly shrug away the year just ended, and start getting acclimated to the new one. Did you know that in ancient, pre-Roman calendar days, January and February weren’t even considered important enough to be given the distinction of actual dates? Everybody just sort of sat around after Christmas and waited for Winter to end, as each short and gloomy day slid into the next, keeping an eye out for the start of Spring. That may sound like a depressing waste of time to some, but personally, I love the idea. Bring back Ancient Calendar, I say! Bring back a good excuse for me to huddle inside my apartment with the stove on, Netflix a-roaring and my thoughts taking time to gather. In the spirit of this gloomy little halfway month, last week I hunkered down in my shoebox apartment and made what is basically a Gnocchi Mash-up, a gnocchi that isn’t gnocchi but isn’t gnudi either. What on earth are gnocchi and gnudi, you say? Gnocchi is a type of potato dumpling, made simply with mashed potato, flour and egg and cooked in sauce or boiled like pasta. It’s a rustic, Italian peasant sort of dish. Gnudi, on the other hand, is gnocchi’s hot younger sister, made with ricotta and flour instead of potatoes, flour and egg, but it’s rustic and filling all the same. Both are embarrassingly simple and the utmost in comfort food. To make my own, I roasted and mashed sweet potatoes and combined them with ricotta, and then declared myself a January genius.
Topped with browned butter and some frozen peas that had been waiting patiently in the freezer since summertime, the sweet potato gnocchi made for a dish that couldn’t have been better for a night in, watching Netflix and easing into this whole 2013 thing. We’re halfway to Spring, guys, so enjoy it while you can.
sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi
2 large sweet potatoes, about 1.5 pounds 1 cup fresh ricotta cheese 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1 ½ cups unbleached all-purpose white flour, plus more for rolling 1 large egg ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt, plus more for sprinkling 3 tablespoons butter 1/2 cup shelled English peas grated parmesan cheese – as much as your heart desires. (mine desires a lot) ___ Heat the oven to 400*F. Prick the sweet potatoes all over with a fork, then drizzle them with olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Roast the sweet potatoes for 20 minutes or until completely cooked through. Remove from the oven set aside until cool enough to handle. Once cooled, slice open and scrape the insides away from the skins. Discard the skins and mash the sweet potato using a ricer or potato masher, until no lumps remain. In a large bowl, mix together the egg, ricotta, ½ teaspoon salt and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the sweet potatoes and combine. Add the flour a little at a time (you may not need all of it). It’s best to mix with your hands, gently- you don’t want to disturb the gluten in the flour or overmix the potatoes, or else the gnudi will become too gummy and boil up hard. Add the flour until the gnocchi dough is smooth and not longer sticky. Shape it into a ball and let it sit for about 5 minutes. Pull off sections of the gnocchi dough and roll each section into a thick rope, about the width of your middle finger. Slice the rope into sections about an inch long, then gently press down on each piece with the tines of a fork to create light crosshatch indentations. Repeat until all the dough has been formed into gnocchi pieces. If you’d like to freeze some of the gnocchi, now is a good time. Separate out what you want to be frozen onto a baking sheet, leaving a bit of space around each piece. Freeze the pieces on the baking sheet for about 10 minutes, then transfer into a container or ziplock bag. The gnocchi will keep for a couple of months in a tightly closed container or freezer bag. For the gnocchi that is to be cooked, boil a pot of water with a large pinch (about 3 fingers sized) of salt thrown in. Once the water comes to a rolling boil, add the gnocchi, working in batches. The gnocchi will start to float to the surface once they are cooked- let them float on the surface of the water for another minute or so before removing them with a handheld strainer and letting them drain. While the gnocchi is cooking and draining, heat the butter in a small saucepan until foamy and just starting to brown. Whisk the butter vigorously as it browns even more, and as soon as it turns the color of a dark amber, remove the butter from the heat. Continue whisking for another minute or so once it is off the heat, incorporating the browned bits of butter fats back into the butter. You’ll know it’s ready once it has a nutty smell and flavor. Without cleaning the pan used to cook the butter, place it back on the burner and turn the heat to low. Add the peas and let them cook in the residual butter, about three minutes, until they have just started to soften and are lightly coated with butter. Sprinkle a little salt in, if desired. Toss the gnocchi , peas and butter together and serve with a generous sprinkle of grated parmesan cheese.