I love all shades of purple. In clothes, stationary, eye shadow and especially food. My hanai grandmother also shares this same sentiment for purple and every time I travel to her, we never fail to remind each other that we share a favorite color. But really, we share more than that. We both love books, pretty pens, and thrift shopping.
I am connected to my hanai grandparents through my father who immigrated to Hawaii in October of 1974 from Hong Kong. My grandparents, now retired librarians, had taught the English courses that my father attended when he was off work and he remained close to them even when he left for California in April of 1978 for better economic opportunities. They kept in touch by letter correspondence and when I was old enough to write, the responsibility was passed on to me. For more than twenty years, I addressed them as Uncle and Auntie, a term most Hawaiians call the elders whether they're related, but as they moved onto their retirement years - we went with Grandma and Grandpa. So this is the quintessential hanai relationship, one where through fate you become bonded as a family rather than through blood or legal ties. I've always been very fond of my grandma, feeling in many ways, that she's the calmer version of who I'd like to be. She also isn't the type of Asian grandmother, as she declared recently, that asks me questions because she wants to tell everyone else at the retirement home. She asks because we are family.
I came across the Hawaiian sweet potato many years ago while in Hawaii. I first saw it incorporated into a pie when I went to a lunch at my grandparent's retirement home in Hawaii Kai. They had staked out their usual table in the dining area near the lanai (where there's a breeze and enough room to put my grandma's walker) and I had a clear view of the cart rolling out of the kitchen with the soft purple hued pies - all sliced and ready to be served to the residents.
I still remember seeing the slices of pie being pushed on the cart from table to table and all the seniors being so blasé towards this spectacular color (on a pie!)...but for me...I have since been dreaming of all the different ways I can incorporate purple onto my plate.
Many years ago, I found frozen ube (Filipino purple sweet yam) at Sun Foods in Brooklyn Center, MN. I had mixed the ube with heavy whipping cream and sugar into a mousse as a cupcake filling. It was a surprise to those who ate it and found the sweet lavender colored cream in the middle!
This week at Central Market in Houston, TX I found Hawaiian sweet potatoes for $1.98 per pound. I have been meaning to make these soft lavender gnocchi (just for a visual treat!), but knew that if I wanted to embark on this journey that I would have to dedicate a whole afternoon to this endeavor and make a huge batch so it's worth my while. So, armed with my verde green Pyrex Cinderlla mixing bowl (#444) and a bit of determination...I finally did it!
I loved seeing the colors of purple change during the entire process - right from when you pierce the sweet potato with a fork till when you sprinkle the final little bit of flour to keep the gnocchi rope from sticking to the surface. Very reminiscent of the Hawaiian sunset. The second sunset that is, as a dear friend of mine put it - the one after the sun actually sets - when you can see the colors of the clouds changing from orange to a medley of pink, blue and purple.
I don't know when I'll be back in Hawaii again to wander around the the farmer's market on Keeaumoku and simultaneously have access to a kitchen with all the right utensils for this kind of project. In the meantime, I'll be day dreaming about the sun and as I head into the heart of the Midwestern winter, I'll defrost some of the gnocchi I hid in the freezer for a quiet evening meal. My way of sneaking the aloha into a cold, but Hawaiian, Minnesota night.
Hawaiian Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Butter Sage Sauce
- 2 pounds of Hawaiian Sweet Potato
- 2 TBSP of creamed honey (or a sugar of your choice)
- 8 ounces of ricotta cheese
- 2 1/4 cup of flour (approximate)
- 2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
For the Sauce
- 1 stick of butter
- salt and pepper to taste
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 6-10 sage leaves, chopped
Line large baking sheet with aluminum foil. Pierce sweet potatoes with a fork and then set on the baking sheet; bake at 350°F for about 50 minutes. Cut in half and cool. Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash; transfer 3 cups to large bowl. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add creamed honey, 2 tsp salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.
Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into dough chunks. Form each chunk into a long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if it sticks to the surface. Cut each rope into one inch pieces. Indent each piece with the twines of a fork.
Bring large pot of water to boil; add 2 tablespoons salt and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, about 6 minutes. Transfer gnocchi to clean baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cool completely.
For the sauce, melt butter in heavy large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook until butter solids are golden brown, stir pan occasionally, about 5 minutes.
Add chopped sage and cinnamon (mixture will zizzle). Turn off heat. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Transfer some sage butter into a pourable container. Add half of gnocchi into the pan. Sauté until gnocchi are heated through, about 6 minutes. Repeat with remaining sage butter and gnocchi.