When I was 11 or 12, my mother deemed me old enough to make quick visits to the grocery store on my own. We lived in San Francisco at the time, on a dead end street where all the families knew each other. The neighborhood market was within view from our front door so my mother would send me out for whatever missing ingredient she needed. Getting to the store was the easy part.
To this day, one of my sisters still teases me about those first few errands. I was a painfully shy girl; I must have returned home with the wrong vegetable a couple of times before I mustered enough courage to ask a store clerk for assistance. Is that leafy globe a green cabbage or iceberg lettuce? Parsley or cilantro? Forget about telling mustard greens, collard greens and kale apart. I was hopeless. Thankfully, store clerks were always happy to help and my mother’s dishes were seldom compromised.
This past week, however, I was the victim of product mislabeling. I make the experience sound worse than it actually was but I was reminded of my first forays into the grocery store produce section. I thought I purchased purple yam, ube (ooh-beh), a popular Filipino root vegetable that is used in many desserts. I had my mind set on making one of those desserts until an online recipe search revealed that the tubers I brought home were in fact purple Okinawan sweet potatoes. Both have purple meat but their skins tend to differ in color. I was disappointed and promptly changed my cooking plans though I learned later via some of my Twitter friends and more research that both can be used interchangeably with good results.
Instead of making dessert, I embarked on another challenge: Gnocchi. Pronounced, nyoh-kee, I was never a big fan of the Italian dumplings. My experience with them always left me underwhelmed, leaving only an impression of something chewy and flavorless. That is until I finally tasted the way gnocchi were meant to be.
At Michael Chiarello’s Bottega earlier this year, I was introduced to soft, pillowy and tasty gnocchi. They needed little to no accompaniment from sauce and the best description I can offer for my experience was that the gnocchi melted in my mouth. They were slightly browned in olive oil, too. They were perfect.
It was this experience that I wanted to re-live with my first attempt at making gnocchi at home, and I’m pleased to say that I was extremely happy with the results. I substituted my purple sweet potatoes for regular potatoes and used less flour and egg yolks than called for in Mr. Chiarello’s recipe, so the natural sugary quality of the roasted sweet potatoes came through in the finished dumplings. The nuttiness of the Parmigiano-Reggiano added to the mixture was also a pleasant complementary note after the initial sweet taste. The gnocchi were soft, not gummy, and I might add, were also quite fun to make. I finally had the chance to use my gnocchi paddle. A couple of tries on the technique and the process took no time at all. Best of all, who could resist these pretty purple darlings?
The gnocchi can be used immediately or may be frozen for later use. As I mentioned, they’re also tasty prepared very simply. I had a taste of them slightly toasted in olive oil and I could have easily eaten my entire batch this way but I prepared something special with them this weekend. I’ll share with you on my next post.
Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi
* Recipe adapted from Michael Chiarello here.
- I used 1 pound purple sweet potatoes
- I used only 2 egg yolks instead of the 3-4 called for in the recipe
- Slightly less than 1/2 cup Parmigiano
- I used kosher salt
- I used less than one cup flour. I started by adding only 1/2 cup to the potatoes then sprinkled a bit more as I mixed the dough.
- Instead of using a potato ricer, I used my food mill.