I’m prone to think myself an expert on too wide an array of topics. Brian’s similarly afflicted, so in this way, and the fact that we’re both not the dollars and cents types, we’re a bad match. Or at least, he’s not the absolute yin to my yang. One way we both learned we knew much less than we had thought we did was moving to Virginia. In Brooklyn, artisan products and farm-fresh produce (that you buy from the farmer) are available almost any day of the week at one of the city’s Green Markets and also at local specialty shops like the Bedford Cheese Shop or the Meat Hook. Not only that, but because vendors range from Vermont to southern New Jersey, we enjoyed a particular food’s season longer as it stretched up the eastern seaboard. Here in a small city in central Virginia, vendors aren’t exactly flocking, so eating locally has a far more strictly defined meaning. That’s one of the main reasons we were thrilled to have signed up for a CSA. (Have you sent in your check yet?)
But learning your limits allows you to push against them. So I’ve been taking on some challenges lately. First up is gnocchi, something I’m totally not an expert at. I’ve made it a couple times, and have learned from the experience, but I’m no Italian grandmother. This is to say that this recipe is rustic and ad hoc to the hilt. It uses more flour than it should, and the gnocchi are shaggy. But the good news is they taste wonderful –– supremely earthy with a distinct freshness from the Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sun chokes). I dutifully boiled my little dumplings, pulling them out of the water just as they floated to the top. I then tossed the Jerusalem artichoke gnocchi with olive oil, and gave them a quick turn in the skillet. They were served up with a simple sauté of shallots, garlic, Tuscan kale, lemon, and Asiago. It all made for a very springtime-perfect feast, just right for the equinox.
for the gnocchi
2 pounds Jerusalem artichokes (8 – 10 medium), peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces
1 large egg, lightly beaten
3 – 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
sea salt for the boiling water
drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, plus more for pan frying
for the sautéed kale
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
1 large shallot, chopped
4 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, and diced
1 large bunch Tuscan kale, washed and cut into 1 inch ribbons
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon lemon zest
1/4 cup shaved Asiago
Set the Jerusalem artichoke pieces into a large pot and fill with cold water. Set over high heat; bring mixture to a boil, and continue cooking for 20 – 25 minutes, or until the Jerusalem artichokes are easily mashed with a fork.
Drain the Jerusalem artichokes and, when cool enough to handle, then send them through a ricer. (You can also just mash with a fork.)
Set the ricedJerusalem artichokes on a lightly floured work surface, make a well, add the egg. Then, sprinkle on the flour, 1 cup at a time, adding up to 3 cups. Use a pastry scraper to fold the flour into the mixture. Mixture will be fairly sticky. With a light touch, continue adding the remaining cup of flour, or just enough so that the dough stops sticking to your fingers. Once the dough is holding together, knead it lightly for a minute or so. Form into an oblong mound, and then use the pastry scraper or a knife to divide into 8 sections.
On a well-floured work surface, gently roll each section into a long, 3/4 inch thick tube. Use a sharp knife to cut off 1/2 inch sections, make a tiny indentation in the center with your fingertip, and then set on a lightly floured tray. Continue until all the gnocchi have been made.
Bring a large stock pot with plenty of water to a boil. Add enough sea salt that a drop of the water tastes like the sea. Gently lower several gnocchi at a time into the rapidly boiling water. As soon as the gnocchi float up to the top, remove from water with a slotted spoon and set aside. Drizzle cooked gnocchi with a bit of olive oil.
To pan fry the gnocchi, add a tablespoon on extra virgin olive oil to a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add several at time, and cook each side for 2 minutes. (They tend to stick to the pan, so add more olive oil as needed, be watchful, and nudge them continuously.)
Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil. When hot and shimmery, add the red pepper flakes, 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt, and black pepper. Add the shallots, and sauté until translucent. Next add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the kale, a bit at a time, along with a pinch of sea salt for each batch. Turn until kale has cooked down. Sprinkle in the vinegar and lemon zest. Turn heat to low, and cook for another 5 minutes or so.
Spoon over a handful of gnocchi and finish with the shaved Asiago and a drizzle of olive oil.