Note: This post is mostly just ramblings/reflections about my family, so feel free to skip it if you want.
Every year, Dad’s side gets together roughly a week after the new year’s to celebrate Christmas. Dad is one of nine kids, so coordinating any reunions can be a bit tricky. Quite a while back, they decided that non-holiday days would work out best. When I was very young and Grandma Rose was still living on the farm, everyone would gather there for everything. Now a days, the only time all of the Czecks gather at the farm is for the mass that is said every year for our deceased relatives. When Grandma moved to Royalton, all of our gatherings moved with her and took place in the social room in her apartment building. Then when she moved to assisted living, we started going to a diner in Rice. We’ve kept going there even after she passed (except for one Christmas where we went to my aunt & uncle’s). Sunday, we went for another Czeck Fest Reunion.
At one point I was looking around the room and mentally going over what each of my cousins, aunts, and uncles did for a living. This was prompted by my cousin Jon bringing his girlfriend to her first family gathering. Several of my uncles have owned grocery stores, one was high up in the meat department in a fairly large local grocery chain, and my dad took over the family farm. A large percentage of this generation hunt, fish or both. I have over thirty first-cousins, and I fall somewhere near the lower third in age, so there are quite a few that I barely know, much less could recognize on the street. So this is a compilation of those that I do know what they do. A decent portion of this generation is also involved in food in some fashion. At least one (possibly two) of my cousins work for a food wholesaler, one owns three locally well-known high-end candy stores (http://www.thechocolateox.com/), her brother is a sous chef out in Michigan at a five star restaurant (which I just found out he was a chef), one of her other brothers owns a butcher shop (http://anokameats.com/), one is currently studying food science, and my little sis is taking over from dad. A smaller, but not insignificant, portion of my cousins hunt and/or fish. This isn’t even counting all of the cooking, smoking, sausage making, etc., that they do for fun.
All of this came as a little bit of a shock to me for several reasons. First, never really thought about it because it’s just what every one did. More importantly, I never added it up in this type of category. Although it should come as no surprise. About six years ago, one of my distant cousins (from a different branch) compiled a genealogy of the Czecks dating back to Andreas Czech (b. 1724) in Silesia, Prussia. I’m the 8th generation in this patrilineal line. All of these men were either butchers or farmers. Guess it’s in the blood.
I think that’s enough rambling for now. As a visual treat, because I won’t share the candy, I’ll leave you with a picture of some candy that Loriese handed out.
Potato dumplings or kluski or gnocchi, depending on where you are, can be very airy or denser than lead. I’ve had both, unfortunately it’s been mostly the latter. Sorry Mom, they taste great, but they are little rocks. So when I found a recipe for “Light-as-Air Potato Gnocchi” in the Sept-Oct issue of Cook’s Illustrated, I was intrigued. The ones that my mom makes uses raw potatoes and the CI recipe that I found uses cooked potatoes which may be one of the reasons. They are actually many variables that can cause denseness in this whole process. Which is remarkable considering how few ingredients are present. Basically it all depends on technique and choosing the right version of an ingredient. The average moisture content of different potatoes will affect how it reacts with the flour. The type of flour will affect the final taste, as I found out. The amount of kneading will also affect the texture. Even how you cook and mash the potatoes is a factor. The ratio of potato and flour is the biggest, and most important, component. Like I said, a lot of variables. Just in the interest of full disclosure, I learned most of this by reading the article before the recipe and not through personal experimentation. Someday I’ll get to that point.
Like always, I’m typing the recipe as I did it. Which, as always, pretty closely follows the original recipe.
Potato Gnocchi with Browned Butter and Sage
- 2 lbs russet potatoes
- 1 lg egg, lightly beaten
- 4 oz AP unbleached flour, plus some for the counter
- 1tsp plus 1 Tbs salt
- 4 Tbs butter, cut into 4 pieces
- 1 small shallot, minced
- 1 tsp dried rubbed sage
- 1 1/2 tsp lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp salt
Adjust the oven rack to middle position and heat to 450 degrees. Poke each potato several times with a paring knife. Microwave the potatoes on high until the ends are slightly soft. About 10 to 13 minutes. Flip the ‘taters about halfway through. Transfer the potatoes directly to the oven and bake until a knife glides easily through. Around 20 minutes. After the potatoes are done, hold it in a towel and peel the skins off with a paring knife. Mash the potatoes immediately (preferably through a ricer), and place them onto a baking sheet. Gently spread into an even layer and let cool for 5 minutes.
Transfer 16 oz of the potatoes to a mixing bowl and gently mix in the egg.
Sprinkle the flour and 1 teaspoon of salt onto the mixture and gently combine with a fork until no pockets of dry flour are left. Press the mixture into a rough ball and transfer to a lightly floured counter.
Gently knead until it is smooth, but slightly sticky, about 1 minute. Line 2 baking sheets with wax paper and dust with flour. Cut the dough into 8 pieces and gently roll each one out into a 1/2″ rope on a floured counter. Cut each rope into 3/4″ pieces.
Roll each piece across the back of a fork to get the traditional grooves in the gnocchi. If the dough sticks at any point in this whole process add some flour to the various surfaces.
To make the sauce, melt the butter in a 12″ skillet over med-hi heat, swirling occasionally, until the butter is browned and emits a nutty aroma. About 1 1/2 minutes. Off the heat, add the shallot and sage stirring until the shallot is fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the lemon juice and the salt. Cover to keep warm.
Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot and add 1 Tbs of salt. Using the wax paper as a sling, gently lower the gnocchi from one pan into the water and cook until firm and just cooked through. About 90 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the cooked gnocchi to the the sauce. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi. Gently toss the dumplings with the sauce and serve.
For this supper, I was using the gnocchi as a side dish for the walleye that my family and I caught on Lake of the Woods this last August. I know. It’s okay to be jealous. I just did a cornmeal crust on the fish and fried it in a little olive oil. Nothing fancy, just tasty. Since we haven’t had brussel sprouts in quite a while, I figured that would be a nice veg to throw into the mix. These I just steamed and dressed with some butter, salt, and pepper.
There is only one minor thing I would change for this whole meal. I would use bleached AP flour instead of the unbleached because the unbleached masked the potato flavor a little by adding a distinct wheat taste. It wasn’t a bad combination, I just would prefer a stronger potato flavor in potato dumplings.