Once upon a time I subscribed to a cooking magazine. I paid the low annual price and collected my issue every month – soon I had a stack of 12, some of which I had barely thumbed through. When it came time to renew, I looked at my largely-unread stack and thought about the trees, about the space…why destroy the world and die buried under a collapsed tower of glossy print paper – just to save a few bucks on each issue? I could buy them at the newsstand if I really wanted an issue and – best of all – the recipes were available online for free with ratings and reviews, so I wasn’t missing anything.
And then, Monday: the announcement that Conde Nast is shuttering yet another of its flagship publications – this time, Gourmet magazine. I had just, on a whim, purchased the newsstand issue on Saturday – at an airport, no less. Forget saving fossil fuel or trees or money. I blew it all 1000 times over. And now the guilt, because I had many times used the mag’s recipes (via the website epicurious.com) for free. I didn’t appreciate Gourmet enough to show it with my wallet and now I, nay, the whole world would suffer.
Ok, a bit dramatic, I know. I had already planned to make this sweet-potato gnocchi with sage and brown butter before I knew that Gourmet would be no more, but now the recipe became more significant – a celebration and a goodbye to an old friend.
I gathered my ingredients and you’ll notice that there’s a big bunch of kale in there. I had been intrigued about roasted kale after hearing Lynne Rossetto Kasper describe it and then reading about it as part of Michael Pollan’s industrial organic meal in The Omnivore’s Dilemma. When I saw this gorgeous stuff at YDFM, I scooped it up. With all the butter, potato, and flour in my gnocchi, I knew we’d need a green vegetable for this meal.
It’s easy to see why this particular variety is called ‘dinosaur kale’:
Doesn’t it look like the skin of a brontosaurus? Well, truthfully, I don’t think we have any idea what dinosaur skin really looked like – but isn’t this what you imagine it was like? Luckily, this green leaf is nothing like the leathery skin of a pre-historic beast; it’s crisp, strong but tender, and sensuous to touch.
Before roasting the kale, I began making the gnocchi. I purchased a potato ricer – a long-wished-for toy that I was happy to have an excuse to buy – for this recipe and I offer that it is crucial to the task. It gives the potato a lightness that leaves these dumplings pillowy and fluffy, not dense and heavy. And it’s so fun to use! Between pressing the cooked potato through the ricer and seeing is come out of the sides in bright orange and white string, to rolling out “snakes” of dough and cutting them into bits, then rolling those along the tines of a fork, I felt fully returned to days when squeezing, shaping, and manipulating play-dough was about as good as it got.
I could not find fresh chestnuts, as the original recipe called for, so I substituted walnuts. In the end, the gnocchi came out light and airy with a lovely orange color and sweetness imparted by the sweet potato. This dish is nonetheless very rich – it doesn’t take much of pasta, brown butter, and nuts to leave you feeling full and satisfied. Though we ate this for dinner, I was reminded that I prefer dishes like these as a small plate or appetizer. This makes perfect sense as pasta is not a main dish in Italy, but rather is served in a small portion as the primi course of the meal.