From the Potato Festival at Sentry Hill Historic House, UK
Potatoes are starting to come in from the farm, and so I've been giggling about potatoes a lot recently.
Why are potatoes so damn funny, anyway?
Way back when I was an active linguistics major, a friend and I half-seriously started developing a phonetic theory of humor. Which is to say, determining which sounds produced by the human vocal tracts and which features of them were inherently funny. We compared oodles of words that made us giggle. We looked at beautiful sounding things, like cellar door, and inverted their qualities. We combined a number of funny features and found ourselves in a Swedish Chef routine. I don't remember everything about our inquiry and findings, but as far as I remember, it doesn't quite predict the humor of potato. It doesn't have any awkward consonant clusters, its vowels display one or fewer of the funny features (high, front, rounded). Still, again and again, it comes up as hilarious, context or no.
Cheryl Wheeler sings about potatoes to the tune of the Mexican Hat Dance
Maybe it's the humble simplicity of the potato. Maybe it's just that it's hard not to smile about potatoes, all or part of many classic comfort foods. Gnocchi is one such dish, an Italian pasta which often features...potatoes! I mean, seriously, does it get any more comfort food than that? (Answer: you fry onions in butter and put them on the potato pasta)
Potatoes, of course, are a relatively recent addition to European cuisine, not showing up on the scene until at least the 16th century, which makes their relative ubiquity throughout Europe and its cultural progeny all the more staggering.
As far as homemade pasta goes, this one is fairly easy. It doesn't beg for special equipment like a pasta roller, and doesn't entail the same kind of bicep-building battles as does a stiff semolina dough. They pair well with most deep fall flavors, but here we've pretty much kept it to butter, sage, leek and kale. Even from this, you can pare it down to butter, sage and black pepper and still be blissful.
Potato Gnocchi with Leek, Kale and Sage Buttervegetarian, optionally vegan/dairy-free
- The Gnocchi:
- 3-4 med. peeled potatoes (about a pound), boiled or roasted, then milled, riced or mashed
- 1 Tblsp. butter or olive oil
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 c. all-purpose flour (plus flour for dusting)
- 2 Tblsp. butter, olive oil or margarine (we are not kidding around)
- 1 leek, cut into long thickish strips about 5" long
- ¼ chopped fresh sage and/or tarragon (or to taste)
- 8-10 stems kale, destemmed and roughly torn
- ½ c. mushroom, veggie or chicken broth
- salt and pepper to taste
In any event, once you've reached the point of cooked and peeled, you want to put it through a ricer or food mill. You want a pretty smooth mashy texture. Work in the butter or oil and salt, then start working in the flour. Unlike most pasta dough, where you are trying to develop the gluten pretty strongly, you want to knead this just to the point of coming together into a ball.
Once you have incorporated all the flour, cut the dough into 4-5 sections and roll each into a snake about ¾" in diameter. Cut into ¾-1" sections. Flatten each slightly against the back of a fork with your thumb. At this point, you can boil them for prompt eating, or freeze them for later. If eating now,