Introducing Guest Blogger Laura Stromberg
I met Laura Stromberg a couple years ago when I was looking for a marketing co-chair for the Austin Jewish Book Fair. While we got to know each other while preparing for that event, our friendship has grown over the past few years. We spent more time together last year through a young leadership program sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League.
Since I started my blog this summer, Laura has been one of the most consistent and interesting commenters and I’ve been asking her to submit a guest blog for a while now. She even visited Péché with me and Betsy back in November. Below she shares her experience trying out an ambitious recipe for gnocchi over Thanksgiving.
As a child, I was sure it was my grandmothers – not the Italians – who’d invented gnocchi. Both my mom’s mom and my dad’s mom had mastered the art of rolling out their homemade dough, snake-like, on flour-dusted counter tops and cutting up the little raw pieces before spinning each one off the tines of a fork as if they’d been taught to do so right out of the womb.
They owned the process. Hours were spent making gnocchi for our large family to devour, and though they encouraged me to help, I bored easily when it didn’t come naturally. (Rolling a square of raw dough off the tines of a fork to give it that aesthetic boost is an art form requiring that a person be only one generation removed from Russia and possess thick upper arms; I’ve got one out of two.)
Fast-forward a couple of decades or three, and I’ve become a bit of a foodie. I can now appreciate not only the love but the skill that went into gnocchi-making. And I’m not as easily bored.
So this year, I found myself in Austin for Thanksgiving and decided to give it a go. I was inspired by a Giada de Laurentis recipe for sweet potato gnocchi – I figured the Italian dish was appropriately seasonal with the addition of the sweet potato, and my hosts agreed and said they looked forward to such a unique accompaniment to their turkey.
I followed the recipe to a T, but I found myself wrist-deep in some very sticky, unmanageable dough. The recipe had called for 1 and ¼ cups all purpose-flour. I’d already added an extra ¾ of a cup – for a grand total of 2 cups – and still, the dough was too sticky for me to roll out. I seriously considered dumping it all in the trash, but I’d spent so much time squishing baked sweet potatoes through a ricer and so much effort measuring everything out, that I decided to add another ¾ cup of flour. (Besides, the supermarkets were closed and my invitation called for me to be at Melissa and Brett’s house by 4pm. This was all I had.) Finally, the dough started to come together to a consistency I recognized from childhood. This … this, I could work with.
I cut the mound of dough with the side of my palm into three chunks, setting aside two and beginning to roll out the third into a long strip. I cut the strip down to one-inch squares and whipped out the fork. I tried rolling each square off the tines of the fork but the pretty little ridges that are supposed to form on the gnocchi just weren’t coming out right. It has something to do with putting just the right amount of pressure on the raw dough; you can’t overdo it or you squish the dough but not enough pressure and the tines don’t make a mark. So I set aside the fork – aesthetics were the least of my problems; these just needed to be edible! – and kept cutting the dough into squares. They’d be plain-looking gnocchi but perhaps they’d taste good after I drowned them in enough maple-cinnamon-sage brown butter.
It’s been a couple of months now, and I haven’t made these gnocchi again. The right occasion hasn’t come up, but if it does, I’d give them another shot. I’d love to be able, like my grandmothers, to make a batch of gnocchi without the need for a recipe. And I’d love to master that fork-tine thing. I’m not sure I’ll ever be the kind of Jewish bubbe who sits at a kitchen table for hours, kneading and rolling and cutting dough for unappreciative grandchildren. But stranger things have happened.