A good friend of mine frequents a certain awful fast-food chain as often as twice a week, and when I asked him why, he answered that it's cheap and convenient, and that since he's a student, "cheap" and "convenient" are requisites for a meal. I understood his motives, but I've always hated this argument for eating tasteless and questionably sourced substitutions for food. I firmly believe that it's cheaper, easier and more fulfilling to cook good food for yourself, just as long as your kitchen is stocked with a few basic ingredients and tools. As such, I was determined to demonstrate this to my friend. So I invited him over for dinner the other night to do just that.
I thought I'd use the potato to prove my point, mainly because it's one of the cheapest, most basic and versatile ingredients out there. It can be a meal in and of itself or a wonderful complement to one. It's tasty boiled or fried, mashed or roasted, and it happens to be the base for one of my favorite dishes of all time: gnocchi. I figured the delicate little Italian dumplings would be the ideal meal to change my friend's mind.
I was a gnocchi novice, having never made it before -- but I was excited for the opportunity. I searched for recipes and was pleasantly surprised that everything I needed was already stashed in my kitchen. I had potatoes from White Mountain Farms (where they also happen to grow some killer quinoa), flour, an egg and some salt. I decided on a simple presentation, using butter, fresh rosemary from my backyard and goat cheese. I needed a beer to accentuate my case though, so I ran out and got a sixer of Avery's Karma Ale, a seasonal Belgian pale ale that's simple, malty and good. I thought its name was fitting, too, seeing as how I think it's bad karma to support fast food.
The gnocchi were plump, light and satisfying. The butter and rosemary provided a sweet and savory background, while the goat cheese gave it a tangy bite, and the quaffable Karma was the perfect companion, its sweet maltiness mirroring the sweetness of the dish and its subtle Belgian esters pairing well with the herbal notes. It was a winning retort to the fast-food argument, and hopefully it made an impression on my misguided friend.
Here's the recipe:
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2 large potatoes, rinsed and scrubbed 1 large egg (from what I've read and tasted, I recommend Grant Family Farms) 3 cups flour 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary 1/2 cup goat cheese, grated, Haystack's Queso de Mano in this case) Fresh ground pepper to taste Salt to taste
1. Peel and boil potatoes in a large pot of salted water until they're just soft enough to pierce with a knife -- and the skins are still intact. 2. Drain the potatoes and set them aside until they're just cool enough to handle. 3. Bring another large pot of water to a boil and set a bowl of ice water next to it. 4. Using a ricer, mash the potatoes until somewhat smooth, or run them through a food mill, and spread them out on a clean surface. Let them cool completely. 5. Place potatoes in a bowl, add the flour and mix well. 6. Form a well in the bowl and add the egg and a pinch of salt to the middle. 7. Using a fork, slowly mix in the egg. 8. Once the dough forms a single mass, knead for 3 to 4 minutes, adding more flour if necessary, until it's dry to the touch. 9. Cut the dough in half and roll each half into strips about 1/2-inch in diameter. 10. Cut strips into 1-inch pieces. 11. Drop pieces into boiling water and once they float to the surface (1 to 2 minutes), transfer them to the ice water. 12. In a large nonstick skillet, over medium heat, melt the butter. 13. Toss in the gnocchi and rosemary and cook until the gnocchi are slightly golden. 14. In a large mixing bowl, gently toss the gnocchi, cheese and black pepper until the cheese melts.