Circus Peanuts a la Pomodoro

I worry when I try a new, rather complicated recipe, and it comes out perfectly. It’s the same when I bowl after a 10-year hiatus or when I play pool 2 beers in or take a standardized test. When my brain is in a lax state, filled with neither expectation nor ambition, I’m a poster child for that illusive “x-factor.” I am your biggest nightmare for a brief moment in history but I'm utterly stoppable. Because the second I exude an iota of cocky, I transform into a karmic fly strip. I lose my mojo. When I think back, to reconstruct that “it” that made me a magnificent cook, bowler, pool shark, mathlete, I’m pole axed.

Thankfully, getting older has taught me a few things. Well, my mother taught me a few things that I’ve only bothered implementing now that I’m older. One gem: mastery through patient practice. You see, my mother was great at many things. She insured her own success in all endeavors by meticulously stripping away all mystery from her chosen enterprise, be it marathoning, upholstery, Russian or gnocchi, through headstrong tautology. She didn't wait for those "x-factor" moments to creep up on her.

Take gnocchi, for example. My father ate bowls of congealed potato effluvia for weeks while my mother exorcised her demons from pounds of potatoes so that she might form one perfect gnocchi and see it emerge from her boiling pot whole. Yet, each time she thought she’d succeed, one look at the roiling pot would strip her of any illusion that she’d got it right, her perfect pillows having disbanded. She’d serve her disembodied gnocchi to my father and vowed to get it right next time. My poor father.

And she did get it right. She never made gnocchi again after but she did, indeed, get it beautifully right.

I am in those twilight stages of the gnocchi battle. I’ve managed to produce an exceptionally delicious sweet potato dumpling that pairs beautifully with a fresh tomato sauce. They just look like circus peanuts. I’d very much like to create something along the lines of a little pillow or a dainty oval bearing the gently striated marks of a fork’s tine. I’ve rolled, I’ve piped through a pastry bag, I’ve severed with a bench scraper. I still end up with circus peanuts.

Here’s my recipe. If you come up with a handy way of making these look great, give me a holler, although I am getting quite fond of the circus peanuts.

CIRCUS PEANUTS (Sweet Potato Gnocchi)

3 pounds sweet potato (or use pumpkin purée)
1 ½ cups flour plus a cup set aside for kneading on work surface
2 egg yolks
¾ cup Greek Yogurt (Fage is a great brand)
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cayenne
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
½ teaspoon paprika
pepper to taste

Peel, cube and boil sweet potatoes until fork tender. Transfer to a lined sheet pan and bake on 350° for 10 to 15 minutes to dry out a bit.

Mash sweet potatoes with a masher or a fork. Add yogurt, egg yolks, salt, cayenne, paprika, nutmeg and pepper. Stir with a wooden spoon until incorporated. Add flour, stir until you have a well incorporated paste-like dough. It will still be sticky. I’ve tried to pipe it out and boil at this stage but the gnocchi fall apart. To stop this from happening, I transfer the dough to a floured work surface and knead the gnocchi dough, adding more flour as needed, until the dough is firmer and stops sticking. Divide the dough in quarters. Roll out each quarter into a rope about ½ an inch thick. Using a knife or bench scraper, cut ½ in pieces and set aside. When you’re finished with each rope, cook the gnocchi in salted boiling water for about 5 to 7 minutes, they tend to rise to the top when done. Serve with a browned butter sage sauce or a slight coating of fresh pomodoro. Enjoy your circus peanuts.

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