~post by Julie
I’m a long time fan of the vegan culinary works of Isa Chandra Moskowitz. Her blog, The Post Punk Kitchen, and cookbooks (specifically Appetite for Reduction, and of course the classic, Veganomicon) were a revelation when I discovered I had to stop eating dairy. Her Easy Breezy Cheezy Sauce saved my life. And I’m telling you, you have not experienced mac and cheese, vegan or otherwise, until you wolf down a bowl of her Chipotle Mac ‘n Cheese with Brussels Sprouts. And so it was with baited breath (and a rumbling stomach) that I awaited her latest cookbook, Isa Does It: Amazingly Easy, Wildly Delicious Vegan Recipes for Every Day of the Week.
Ladies and gentlemen, please meet my new vegan bible. I must have paged through this book cover-to-cover at least three times before settling on which dish I’d try first. I was happy to come upon some favorites from the blog (Pesto Risotto; variations on the Mac ‘n Cheese) and was stopped in my salivating tracks by recipes for things like Rosemary Chocolate Chip Cookies and Roasted Butternut Alfredo. Ugh, it was a difficult decision.
I’ve been cooking vegan for a while and was up for a challenge, so ultimately I settled on what has been a long standing nemesis in my kitchen: gnocchi. Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Seared Brussels Sprouts & Tarragon Cream, to be precise.
Once upon a time, in a kitchen far, far away, a friend and I attempted gnocchi in an epic explosion of Thanksgiving-style feasting. We made the dough, we boiled the water, we covered ourselves, the cats and the entire kitchen in flour, and then we watched as our darling little balls of potato goodness fell apart into a goopy, slippery, inedible mess. In short, I have lived life up until now standing on this bedrock truth: gnocchi is freaking hard to make.
But you know that kitchen, those cats, it was all a long time ago. I’m older now. Wiser. I drink (slightly) less wine while cooking. And so I took on Isa’s gnocchi.
First things first: bake yourself a yam! Poke that sucker full of hole and just put it right on the oven rack. Done and done.
While the yam baked, we got to work on the tarragon cream sauce. I’m a big fan of tarragon. You can buy it fresh at the supermarket (I picked up a bunch at Central Market). Slightly bitter and reminiscent of anise, tarragon’s flavor is distinctive and all its own. The sauce calls for blended cashews, which brings us to Isa’s #1 tip in this new book (and what has become something of a catchphrase in my household): Always Be Soaking. So long as you’re soaking cashews in your fridge, you’re never more than a few steps away from having a knock-out, nourishing vegan dish.
After we pureed the cashews and vegetable broth in the food processor, we seared the Brussels Sprouts. Maybe it’s Paul Qui, maybe I’m just finally growing up, maybe this year is a particularly good year for the little green guys, but Brussel Sprouts have started to work their way into my kitchen more and more often in 2013. And why not? Look at them. They’re gorgeous.
Once the Sprouts were seared we set them aside and turned our attention back to the gnocchi. The sweet potato was tender and cooled. We scooped out its bright orange insides (glory be, what a color) and I made the dough. And Maser totally helped.
There’s always at least one mishap for me when I’m following a recipe (forgetting the casserole dish when cooking from The Casserole Queens Cookbook; being a Yankee when attempting recipes from Homesick Texan), and this time it was the forgotten miso. All of six ingredients go into the dough (including salt and olive oil), so it was a pretty big oversight on my part. We took a chance and went ahead without it, anticipating that its role in the final product had more to do with texture than flavor.
Isa, in her vow to “keep it easy”, allows you to roll the gnocchi into balls and not worry about adding the decorative ridges. But I did not come to this dish in any attitude of going easy on the gnocchi. I rolled those puppies on the tines of a fork, oh yes I did. And look!
At that point, just before we boiled the pretty little potato pillows, it was time to bring the sauce together. We removed the Sprouts from the pan, sauteed the onion, garlic, tarragon and other seasonings, added wine, poured in liquefied cashews, cooked it up and added the Brussels Sprouts.
We probably could have waited a little while longer before cooking the sauce. We wound up adding a few more tablespoons of veggie broth to keep it nice and creamy while we waited for the gnocchi to boil up to the surface of the pot.
I’m happy to say that the sweet potato gnocchi was PERFECT. (Even without the miso.) Light, slightly sweet, totally satisfying, it was accompanied quite well by the chewy Sprouts and the subtle flavor of the cream sauce. It was with a heavy heart that I ate the final serving of this meal for lunch two days later. But it was okay, I had the confidence of my triumph over a kitchen nemesis-turned-friend to comfort me. (Not to mention the comfort of Maser, who would like you to know he totally approves this blog post and this cookbook.)
(PS – since the gnocchi I’ve also made the Farro & Fennel Salad, substituting quinoa for farro. In fact, I just ate it for lunch. Roasted fennel for the win! And all of my Thanskgiving dishes this year are coming out of this book. Isa, you’ve done it again! Thank you.)
Copies of Isa Does It are available on our shelves and via bookpeople.com. If there’s a vegan in your life, you need to buy her a copy of this cookbook for the holidays. Seriously. Don’t even think twice. It’s THE BEST!