On my first trip to Italy back in 2005, every drop of food that touched my tongue for that week and a half did
a little tap dance the Tarantella in my mouth. Don’t get me wrong, I loved most everything about Italy – the sexy women rocking stiletto heels despite lives that involve both cobblestone roads and scooters, wine with lunch, leather that feels like butter – what’s not to love, really? But the food… the food seems to punctuate every experience in Italy. I fell in love. Perhaps most of all with the petite potato pasta that in the states will make you feel like you’ve swallowed a bowling ball (beware, mine is really no exception), but in Italy is as light as a baby angel. Gnocchi.
I’m well aware I’m writing the Team Eats for our match up against Siena, but it was actually one night in Rome that I had the gnocchi to end all gnocchi. I was dining at Ristorante Due Colonne, a very small establishment on Via Dei Serpenti that is named for two huge columns, original to the building, that run right through the interior of the restaurant.
Interestingly (in a full-circle kind of way), I had found myself in this particular area of Rome because my boyfriend at the time was a futbol devotee and we had been hunting down a soccer shop nearby. In particular, one that was sympathetic to his Lazio leanings….gasp! Now believe me when I tell you that I am not unclean… there was not a moment in my life during which I was a Lazio fan. Cross my heart, hope to die, stick a needle in my eye. I’ve since found John, who I think is pretty swell in his own right, and who certainly brings a far superior calcio club to the table. I’ve fallen in love with the Old Lady, I’ve woken at the crack of dawn to meet our beloved ADP, I’ve donned a Juventus garter (a surprise for my husband) on my wedding day… you get the picture. It’s a full-fledged love affair. I digress.
Back to the gnocchi. Despite it’s shameful purpose, the little calcio foray that afternoon did at least lead me to Due Colonne and a special on the menu that day – sweet potato gnocchi. It remains the best gnocchi that I have ever eaten. I remember the side of my fork sliding through the airy little potato nugget and exposing the fiery red veins that ran through it. It’s been 8 years now that I have been intending to try my hand at recreating it. So, thanks Juventiknows, for giving me a little slice of cyberspace in which to share this recipe and moreover for the kick in the culo that I needed to give it a whirl.
Despite its introduction to my taste buds taking place in Rome, this dish seems to aptly suit Siena – a history-steeped, medieval, Tuscan hill-town that I’ve thus far, unfortunately, only been able to wave to from a train (hint, hint, Cascarano). Visiting Perugia (though, Umbrian) and Florence, however, has given me a decent taste of the region’s cuisine. Though nutty brown butter sauces, toasted pignoli nuts, and the sweet complexities of butternut squash, pumpkin, and sweet potato are regulars in dishes from of this region, the true star here is the crisp fried sage. The cool northern climate, amplified by the hilltop winds, sets the perfect stage for a hearty, warm, aromatic dish such as this. Perfect for a soulless (or so he tells me), pashmina-wrapped polentone like myself (too bad you can’t hear my sarcasm; I mean, we all know that my tall, lean, sophisticated, and exceedingly fashionable brethren from the north are pretty much the bee’s knees!).
No dish would be complete without its perfect adult beverage companion (frankly our marriage would not be complete without it either!). Siena lies in Chianti territory, a vast area in Tuscany that is divided into sub-territories of production. Chianti Classico comes to us from the land between Florence and Siena, where it has been produced for more than 2000 years. A wine such as this, born predominantly (80% if it’s the real deal) from the Sangiovese grape, stands up well to this rich buttery sauce and has a decent enough amount of tannins to balance the sweetness of the dish. (This whole paragraph sounds so wine-snobish. Wine knows no rules… drink what you like!)
Oh, and as it turns out, February is National Sweet Potato Month! Didn’t know… I’m just that good.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Difficulty: Not tough, but requires a bit of patience
Time: 60 min+ (you’re making pasta from scratch, what did you expect?)
1. If making puree from scratch: boil, bake, or microwave sweet potatoes (yams) until tender (if microwaving, pierce peeled potatoes all over with fork), remove skin, beat with hand mixer or puree in food processor. Tip: My puree did not seem sufficiently moist, so after a little digging in the fridge yielded some applesauce, I decided to add about a ⅓ cup. Seemed to do the trick, but what do I know. A bit of oil would work as well.
2. Mix in salt, nutmeg, and black pepper. In large mixing bowl, begin to add flour in ½ cup increments, folding into puree. As puree thickens to a more firm and elastic dough, begin to knead with hands. Divide dough into 4-6 equal sized balls. Dust flour on clean counter, and coat hands.
3. Roll out dough, one ball at a time into even length tubes. Cut into uniformly sized pieces (to insure they cook evenly).
4. Fork dough pieces for aesthetic effect. Tip: After rolling, you may find that the warmth of your hands has softened the dough. Putting the cylinders into the fridge for a bit will help to firm the dough up before cutting and boiling.
5. Cook gnocchi in salted, boiling water for 3-4 minutes (fresh pasta does not need long at all!) The gnocchi should float to the top when they are done.
6. Wash and thoroughly dry fresh sage. If sage is wet when it hits the oil you will have hot oil splashing everywhere! (I used the whole little bunch… maybe the leaves of 6-8 stems of sage.)
7. Coat small saute pan with olive oil, place over high heat. Drop sage leaves into hot oil for about 6 seconds per leaf and remove with slotted spoon. Set aside on paper towel to cool/dry. As sage cools it will become increasingly crispy.
8. In small amount of remaining sage infused oil, toast pine nuts over medium heat until lightly browned. Remove from hot pan to insure they stop browning. Nothing worse than burned pignoli nuts.
9. In small saucepan, melt 1 stick of butter. Allow butter to bubble and froth, darken slightly, and begin to release sweet and nutty aroma. Tip: I added 1 tsp of 100% pure Maple Syrup to give the sauce a little extra depth and sweetness. Maple Syrup straight from the beautiful Catskill Mountains of NY and made, in part, by my brother’s own hands.
10. When the gnocchi emerge from the boiling water, plate immediately so they do not stick together. Toss in butter sauce. Sprinkle each bowl with toasted pine nuts and crispy sage. Add shaved hard Italian cheese of your choice. We had a sheep’s milk cheese in the fridge that is out of this world, though I’m not even sure what it’s called. It’s one of those things that was slipped to me in a shady little plastic bag by my mother-in-law. You know… the good stuff.
Pour a glass of vino and enjoy!! Till next time, friends. Forza Juve!
Back by popular demand, TeamEATS is a culinary guide to cooking and consuming the opposition. Each week, we pick a recipe from the home cuisine of Juve’s upcoming adversary, put on the kitchen apron and… cook it and eat it. Buon Appetito!