The past few weeks have been weeks for teasing out new ideas in the kitchen. Cooking things that are inspired by odd flavor combinations and late spring bounty and new ingredients that I haven’t yet worked with before. Pulling them out, like tiny-tipped threads, until they go from something small and nebulous to something plated and garnished.
I wish I could claim this notion of pulling at creative inklings as my own, it rings so true to my cooking and writing process. But it’s inspired by Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love. Also author of a book on creativity, Big Magic, that’s made me believe a little more in myself as a creative type this season. An identity that, if you’ve been reading for a while now, you know I’ve struggled to assume. (As an aside, I highly recommend the book if you’re a sometimes dubious, often a little insecure, yet aspiring-for-a-more-creative-life-type yourself.)
Anyway, in Big Magic, Elizabeth talks about wrangling creative ideas – like grabbing a tiger’s tail, she says, and pulling it in close. Until it’s yours. And last week, I fell hard for an idea, a tiger tail, a thread that was actually the strangest amalgamation of threads that was really more of a thread braid born from social media.
Here’s how it went down: I noticed this strange little button on my microwave that had “potato” stamped on it in plain black print. And, like any rational modern day human, I tweeted about it. Edlyn and Sonja replied, assuring and promising me that potatoes can be heated in the microwave. Which, I admit, made me laugh, made me curious, made me feel a little guilty for thinking it was so strange in the first place. So I picked up two rough-skinned russet potatoes and set them on the counter until I was ready to experiment. You know, in the name of science.
A few days later, the potatoes still sitting in their place on my countertops untouched, I spotted ramps at Whole Foods. Before I continue, let me just tell you a truncated version of the saga that has been my search for ramps in Portland. Every time I’ve inquired, which I have for two straight springs now, I’ve been met with confused stares and responses like, “Ramps aren’t indigenous to these parts” and “What’s a ramp?” I’d given up and resigned to drooling over my east-coast friends’ creations with the tender, garlick-y allium, like Summer’s Ramp Quiche and Betty’s Whole Snapper with Ramps and Lemongrass. Yes, please, times one-hundred. I even whined a little to Kristan over our shared plate of Quail and Ramps at Sitka and Spruce just a few weeks ago: “I don’t understand. How can ramps be found in Seattle and not in Portland? This makes no sense!” She entertained my whines and cheered with me when I snapped some ramps that I’d found in the produce section a week ago. For something, for anything – the ramp thread was dangling in my face and I wasn’t letting it get away.
Then, and this is the final thread in this thread-braid-that-birthed-a-bowl, Jannie posted a gnocchi-process video to Facebook. I think I actually drooled a little as I stared at my newsfeed, watching painfully as she popped a single crispy, pan-seared gnocchi, the kind that looked all kinds of pillow-y on the inside and perfectly golden brown on the outside, into her mouth. And it brought me right back to the two lonely potatoes that were still sitting on my countertop, waiting for their fancy microwave bath, and the bunch of ramps that were resting in the bottom drawer of my refrigerator. Full circle thread pulling happening right here.
I told myself the next morning as I stood in my kitchen, two brown potatoes in either hand, “If this microwave potato thing works…” – and secretly I’m praying it does – “I’m going to go all out. Make myself some crispy pan-seared gnocchi and toss it all with a mess of bright, flavorful ramps.”
It did. And I did. And I’m now a huge proponent of microwaving potatoes for gnocchi, which it turns out keeps the moisture content super low for that perfect pillow-y interior. I’m also a fan of turning charred ramps into pesto for an unbelievably creamy, sweet garlicky green result. I like threads that end with pesto, especially when it tastes like this one.
- 1 large bunch, about 1 pound, of ramp leaves, white roots removed
- ½ cup of extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 small clove of garlic
- ¼ cup of roasted almonds
- ¼ cup of parmeggiano regianno
- zest of ½ lemon, plus 1 tablespoon of lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon of kosher salt, or ½ teaspoon of regular salt
- 1-2 pinches of red pepper flakes
- 2 russet potatoes, about 30 ounces
- 2-1/4 cups of all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 cup of loosely packed grated parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon of kosher salt, or 1 teaspoon of regular or sea salt
- 2 egg yolks
- 2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, for cooking gnocchi
- grated parmesan cheese, for garnish
- freshly cracked black pepper, for garnish
- Toss the ramp leaves with 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil. Cook either over a grill set to high or, if you prefer, in a large skillet over medium-high heat, until just wilted, about 3 minutes. Work in batches if necessary.
- Once ramps are just tender, add them to a large food processor along with garlic, almonds, parmesan cheese, lemon zest and juice, salt and red pepper. Pulse until well chopped. Slowly drizzle in olive oil until pesto forms and reaches your desired consistency. Taste and adjust lemon, salt, and pepper to suit your tastes, if desired. Set aside while you work on the gnocchi.
- Cook the potatoes until tender, preferably in a microwave (see above.) If using a microwave, be sure to pierce several times with a fork before heating. Allow potatoes to cool, then peel and grate the flesh (or us a potato ricer.) Set aside.
- In a large bowl, mix the flour, parmesan cheese, and salt. Add the potatoes and egg yolks and mix by hand until it starts to come together into a dough. Transfer to a clean surface and knead by hand until a smooth mass forms. I kneaded for about 5-7 minutes. Wrap the dough ball tightly in plastic wrap and allow to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Lightly flour a rimmed baking sheet. Set aside for the gnocchi.
- The dough should be fairly soft and elastic at this point. Pull off a small handful and wrap the dough ball again in plastic wrap so that it doesn't dry out while you shape the gnocchi. Roll the fistful of dough into a long log, about ½-inch in diameter and about 14-18-inches long (depending on your fist size!) If your dough is too sticky to roll, you can add a small amount of flour, sprinkling it along the log, but don't add too much or else it will weigh down the gnocchi. Then, using a dough cutter or sharp knife slice the log into several ½-inch pieces, placing the gnocchi on the floured baking sheet and making sure they do not touch one another. You may need to get a second baking sheet if they become too crowded. Continue rolling the dough into logs and cutting into gnocchi pieces.
- At this point, you can freeze the gnocchi on the baking sheets and then transfer to an airtight container for later use. Gnocchi will keep up to 2 weeks in the freezer like this. If you do freeze, cook frozen, do not thaw before hand.
- Once you're ready to cook the gnocchi (either fresh or frozen), heat a large pot of boiling water over high heat. Once boiling, reduce heat to a low boil, add salt, and cook gnocchi in gently boiling water until they float to the surface, about 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on paper towels.
- Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the gnocchi and cook, turning gently but frequently, until they've crisped and turned golden on the outside. If the oil dries up, you may need to add more, 1 tablespoon at a time. Toss with enough pesto to coat and serve immediately. Garnish with fresh parmesan, freshly cracked black pepper, and chive blossoms if desired.