One Year! + Purple Potato Gnocchi & Pesto
Is there any word cuter than “gnocchi”?
Actually nearly as cute is– coincidentally– the word “dumplings.” Or maybe I just think the word “gnocchi” is cute because mini potato dumplings masquerading as pasta are, too.
I am in love with gnocchi. And I am sharing this recipe with you today because 1) it’s colorful, 2) it’s fancy, 3) and it turned out deliciously.
And because today is the day that Spontaneous Tomato turns one!
I can’t believe it’s been a whole year!
One year ago, yesterday, to be precise. It all started with a post about Pad See-Ew and Green Papaya Salad.
Looking back now, I can see that– without knowing anything about photography– my photos have definitely gotten better through experience. (Wish I could say the same thing for my wordiness…)
This has been a whirlwind year with countless (mostly) enjoyable hours spent in the kitchen. I’ve learned a lot. I’ve cooked even more than I otherwise would have. And I couldn’t have done it alone.
So I’m going to take this opportunity to share some of my first-blogiversary thoughts and thanks. Starting with the thanks:
- Thanks to my girlfriend for cooking with me, for baking us bread, for being open to trying new foods (except onions!), and for waiting around for half an hour at mealtimes while photos are taken and the food starts to get cold. This blog would not exist if she hadn’t convinced me to start it! ♥
- Thanks to my parents and siblings for all of the lovely kitchen accessories and dishes that I owe to them. Special thanks to my little sister and her boyfriend– who are both much more talented in the kitchen than I’ll ever be– for their cooking tips and recipes. (And happy 20th anniversary– today!– to my mom and step-dad!)
- Thanks to my friends for your generosity with food & recipe ideas, and for reading & commenting!
- Thanks to all of my new food-blogging friends for your encouraging comments, and for the endless inspiration I get from reading your beautiful cooking blogs.
- Last but not least, thank YOU for reading!
What I’ve learned in one year:
- Blogging takes a lot of time! (Or is it just me?) I spent most of this year posting just several times a month, and have only recently upped that to twice a week (on Mondays & Thursdays). So now it takes up even more of my time, but I love the momentum (and feedback and followers) I’ve gotten from posting more regularly!
- Take photos in natural light. I’ll try my best to do this from now on, which means I’ll need to make more of an effort to squeeze in my blog-cooking before the sun goes down. My kitchen has a skylight and swaths of sunlight in the mornings, but it’s taken me a lot of dissapointingly yellowed/shadowy photos to realize how much of a difference natural lighting makes.
- Don’t write too much. (Just kidding! I still haven’t learned this one yet… though I wish I had.)
- There are sooooooo many amazing food blogs out there, I can never hope to create one of the nicest ones; I can only hope that people read Spontaneous Tomato and enjoy it! (And if this blog occasionally inspires you to try out one of my recipes or wacky flavor combinations, even better!)
- I’ve taught myself how to cook many more (complicated) dishes. Knowing that I will be sharing my photos and recipes with all of you has inspired me to stretch the limits of my cooking. So, once again, thank you!
Coming up in Year Two:
- More curries! I love curry and can’t believe I’ve featured only one in my whole first year. How did that happen?
- More Japanese and Korean food! There are so many recipes that I’ve been dying to share, but I’ve gotten distracted and swayed by all the wonderful local (Santa Barbara, CA) fruits and vegetables that have me dropping everything to tailor recipes to them while they’re at their freshest.
- Some giveaways? That seems to be the food-bloggerly thing to do.
- Cocktails! I’ve posted exactly zero so far (wait, does Sangria count?), but they’re coming…
- Twice-a-week postings: I’ll keep up the Monday/Thursday updates for as long as I can (everyone needs a non-dissertation hobby while dissertating, right?).
- Better photos? I am excited to announce that my girlfriend gave me an early birthday present of a NEW CAMERA! (Specifically, a Canon Powershot G12.) My birthday’s in August, but she wanted it to arrive in time for my first blogiversary, so I guess that makes it a birthday present for me and for the blog. Now I just have to learn how to use it…
Lastly, I’d like to ask you a favor as Spontaneous Tomato heads into its second year… If you are reading this right now (check!) and enjoying it, please help me spread the word about this blog by sending the URL to 3 of your friends who like to eat! (I assume you all have at least three of those, if not 300.)
Now, back to the food! I read (hundreds of) other food blogs, so I know that what’s traditional on one’s First Blogiversary is some kind of cake. A simple slice of cake or a single cupcake, front and center, with one glowing candle.
I’m not much of a baker, though, so my first adventure in pasta-from-scratch (even if it is the straightforward and forgiving gnocchi) is about as fancy and celebratory as I get.
I’ve been dreaming (once, literally) of making creamy orange gnocchi from sweet potatoes. But that will have to wait until another day. When my girlfriend brought home a sack of organic purple potatoes in her bike basket, I knew just what to do.
As detailed in the recipe below, I used a fork to smash up the baked potatoes, since I don’t own a potato ricer. That worked well, but I would mash them up a little finer next time; you can see there were still little clumps of unmashed potato in my gnocchi dough. These clumps kind of split apart the dough as I was rolling it out into a rope, so if that happens to you, no worries! Just pinch the dough back together, like playdough. They still stuck together well.
More importantly, they still tasted great. Just the right slightly dense, yet also airy, chewy pasta texture. And the light, summery, no-cook pesto topping more than made up for the dose of heat my apartment got earlier from baking the potatoes.
This colorful feast prompted me to write a Facebook status update: “Instead of going to a yoga class last night I made my own gnocchi (for the first time!). Opposite effect on my body; same awesome feeling of accomplishment.”
Basic Basil Pesto
Modified from “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison.
(Makes about 1 cup)
~ 1-2 garlic cloves
~ 3 Tbsp. pine nuts (optionally toasted)
~ pinch of salt
~ 3 cups basil leaves, loosely packed with stems removed
~ 1/3 cup olive oil
~ fresh lemon juice, to taste
~ 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan (I use a mix of Parmesan and asiago)
How to make it:
1. Use a food processor to blend the garlic, pine nuts, and salt until finely chopped.
2. Add the basil and olive oil and blend until smooth. Optionally blend in the lemon juice (which will keep it brighter green) and/or the cheese.
3. Serve over pasta or spread on sandwiches.
Purple Potato Gnocchi
Modified from “Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone” by Deborah Madison.
(Makes about 100 gnocchi dumplings; serves 4-6)
~ 5 medium purple potatoes (about 2 pounds)
~ 1 cup flour (or more, if needed)
~ 1 tsp. salt
How to make it:
1. Pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. Wash and dry the potatoes. Pierce each potato several times with a fork. Wrap each potato in tin foil and bake for 40-50 minutes, or until tender when a knife is inserted.
2. Peel the potatoes while still hot. You can do this by first nicking the skin with a vegetable peeler or a knife; it should then peel away easily, but be careful not to burn your fingers! (I held the potato still with my other hand using tin foil, since it was too hot to hold onto for very long.)
3. “Rice” the potatoes with a fork or a potato masher. (In her cookbook, Deborah Madison specifies that a food mill or potato ricer be used so that the potatoes remain “light and fluffy.” You can achieve this fluffiness by mashing each potato against the side of the bowl, instead of against any other potatoes.)
4. Let cool for 15 minutes, then sprinkle in the flour and salt. Gently work the dough with your hands until smooth. (If it seems sticky, add a bit more flour, but don’t knead or overwork it.)
5. Grab a handful of the dough and roll it into a thin rope (about 1/2 inch thick). Cut the rope diagonally into little pieces (about 3/4 inch long). Optionally dent one side with a fork. Set them on a baking sheet, either coated with parchment paper or very lightly dusted with flour. Cover with a towel and refrigerate for up to a few hours if you aren’t ready to cook them.
6. Bring a wide skillet of water to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Meanwhile, drizzle a bit of olive oil into a serving dish or the bowls where you will place the cooked gnocchi. Add a batch of 10-15 gnocchi to the simmering water, and cook until they rise to the top (about 1 minute), then count an additional 10 seconds. Lift the gnocchi out with a strainer or slotted spoon, and place in the serving dish.
Serve warm with fresh tomatoes and pesto, or with tomato sauce, creamy gorgonzola sauce, or simply butter or olive oil with fresh ground black pepper.