Those of you who may catch the odd whisper, the odd squeak, so easily mistake my words for breezes rustling the dry reeds…But I’ve always been of a determined nature. Patient, they used to call me. I like to see a thing through to the end.
-Margaret Atwood (The Penelopiad)
Happy New Year, dear readers!
If you hadn’t already guessed it, I’m kind of a dork. Not even kind of; I’m a major dork. Case in point: I spent New Year’s Eve day making Butternut Squash Gnocchi (needless to say, amazing! The photographic lead-up to the recipe is below…Follow…and drool) with my grandparents and then had dinner (at 5:30 p.m.!) with them and my oldest friend in the world. After that, I drove back to my mom’s house and, after preparing a box of cookies for her to take a friend’s party and debating going myself, spent the rest of the evening drinking tea and watching Community with my brother. My self-acknowledged dorkiness, however, is something that I generally take pride in, especially as it’s something that allows me to a) do these kinds of things, b) name my electronic appliances without shame and c) give each year a slogan–a theme– that I try to live up to….and that usually ends up inadvertently producing the need for the next yearly theme.
To give you an idea of how this works, let’s take a look at the past few years. 2008 was the Year of Being Bold. I was bold all right. And, while being bold is good, bold people usually find themselves in some kind of silly trouble, usually of the unnecessarily dramatic variety since they cast aside the good reason of yonder for newfound foolishness….Oh well. You live, you learn. And, honestly, without some element of boldness, you will get nowhere in life.
Which led to 2009, the Year of Being Brilliant. I like to think of this as the time period when formerly bold individuals got smart, learned to differentiate between good bold and bad bold, and wised up to the problems that can come with overly (i.e. bad) bold behavior. We could also say that this was the year I learned discretion and other smart things, too.
2010 took things a step farther and was the Year of Keeping it Real, but with a dash of the whimsical. I suppose this might explain my eternal preference for Dostoevsky over Tolstoy. I like my Realism with a dash of the romantic. But that doesn’t mean that a likhoradka (brain fever, in the Dostoevskian sense) needs to accompany it.
My slogan for 2011, which I was asked about a few days ago by a dear individual who knows my weird habits and likes them (a thing almost beyond my comprehension), is the Year of Being Happily Satisfied, of forgetting about the numerous “shoulds” that plague us in life and, instead, thinking and being happy about the way things are. Yes, what this really boils down to is contentment, appreciation and acceptance. Naturally, all with a dash of self-improvement (clearly, stagnation is not allowed anywhere near my yearly themes; it’s all about transcendence…Dear lord, I either sound hopelessly new agey or more like a budding symbolist everyday) and lots of exciting new plans and happy ideas.
For example, in 2011, Dining with Dusty will be having a weekly/bi-weekly post about cocktails. I’ve already done some research and I’m quite excited about this! Who wouldn’t love a reason to try making more cocktails? Especially since I’ve always felt that San Francisco/Berkeley/Oakland lacked the kind of nice cocktail establishments that I was treated to as an undergraduate in New York City. Sometimes a lady has to take matters into her own hands. And that’s a fact.
On top of my personal writing, I’ll also finally be writing the good old D is for Dissertation, teaching-/student-free. I’m sure I’ll miss teaching, but, after 5 semesters straight of being in the classroom, a little break is in order. If not for my own personal sake, then for the sake of future Sologub scholarship! 🙂
Most importantly, instead of buying new books, I’m also going to try and read through the mountain of literary gems that I’ve accumulated over the years. I’ve never read Pnin (pathetic, especially since many say it’s Nabokov at his most tolerable). Or Song of Solomon (a favorite of many Morrison fans). Or any Dickens novel besides A Christmas Carol (which, frankly, isn’t even a real novel, but a novella). It’s time to change these things.
Yeah, I don’t really believe in resolutions. Or statements of denial. I’m more about the positive affirmations. And plans. I like making plans, especially ones that I know I can, with a little effort, keep. So, stay tuned in 2011: there will be cocktails, there will be bread, ice cream (the ice cream maker must be put to work!), Mexican desserts (yes, I caved and bought My Sweet Mexico, but only after receiving a gift card) and Greek cooking with dear old Vefa, not to mention travel!
But for now, there are gnocchi, delicious dumplings that can be made from potato, semolina, ricotta and even butternut squash. Butternut squash gnocchi are not only a little healthier (in my humble opinion), but are also quite pretty. Although, truth be told, any health benefit goes out the window once they’re covered in a sauce of browned butter with sage. And, as my brother suggested, with an alfredo sauce, these might be nothing short of super amazing. Oh well. The un-whimsical reality of the culinary world is that fat does often equal flavor. Maybe 2011 can also be the year of butter? 🙂
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
Yields 6 servings (although I’ll be giving you the original quantities, we doubled our recipe, so as to get more gnocchi for our labor. I recommend you do the same; this is not a recipe for the faint-hearted since it can take up to 4-5 hours, including prep time)
Ever so slightly adapted from Lidia Bastianich’s recipe in the October 2010 issue of Bon Appetit
For the gnocchi:
1 1-pound butternut squash
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled and quartered
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg, beaten to blend
1 1/2 teaspoons nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Additional grated Parmesan cheese
-Preheat oven to 400°F.
-Cut squash lengthwise (in half) and discard seeds.
-Place squash halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil.
-Roast until squash is very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours.
-Scoop flesh from squash into processor and puree until smooth.
-Transfer to medium saucepan; stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. -Cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree (reserve remaining squash for another use. Maybe a butternut squash soup?).
-In the meantime, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato (reserve remaining potato for another use. Everybody loves mashed potatoes! Why not add garlic ?)
-Mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl.
-Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth (*when it came to the flour, we didn’t really measure. We simply worked the dough, slowly adding flour and waiting until the mixture was well combined and able to be rolled. If dough is very sticky, you can add more flour by the tablespoonful).
-Before proceeding to the next step, line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment.
-Sprinkle parchment lightly with flour.
-Now, turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth.
-Cut dough into tiny, workable chunks and, one at a time, roll it into long, thin (1/2 inch) ropes.
-Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces.
-Working with 1 piece at a time, roll gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side.
-Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets.
-Repeat with remaining dough.
– Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour.
DO AHEAD Can be made 6 hours ahead. Keep chilled. Also, based on an experiment, it would seem that these gnocchi freeze nicely, so they could even be made well in advance.
-Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked).
-Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets.
For the brown butter sauce with sage:
-Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes.
-Add sage; stir 1 minute.
-Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7 minutes.
– Season with salt and pepper.
-Transfer to bowl.
-Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan.
-Serve with additional Parmesan.