We have a confession to make. After eight enjoyable but increasingly long years in Brooklyn we jumped ship over the summer to the suburbs. We didn’t deliberately hide it, we just didn’t make a big deal of it on our blog. Okay, so there is definitely some weird foodie cachet to living in a big city known for its culinary diversity that we may have been slightly concerned about losing by moving to the “food desert” of the suburbs, if for nothing else than invites to foodie parties we never attended and offerings of freebie samples we rarely covered. And, given that a good proportion of our content focuses on some of the incredible diversity of the New York dining scene, it’s only reasonable for us to have been a little apprehensive about finding that elsewhere.
The saying goes that “there is no zealot like the former addict”, and while we can freely admit that we once subscribed to the belief that Brooklyn is one of the greatest places for food in the country and that, by comparison, there was very little of gastronomic interest in that strange netherworld of highways and sub-divisions between the farm and the city, we now believe this to have been the result of Stockholm syndrome. A peculiar phenomenon of prisoners in long term captivity under which they not only begin to sympathize with their captors but often seek to convince themselves that they deserve nothing better than their current lot, for us, the mantra of “this place is awesome!”, became inverted into the question “if this place is so awesome, why aren’t we happier here?”
It took us a couple of years of drudgery, but since resolving that city life wasn’t feasible in the long term, we found ourselves accidentally stumbling across enough great Mexican grocers and terrific Indian supermarkets in the most unlikely of strip-malls to know that the terrifying tales of sneering urban hipsters, aghast at the prospect of people being forced to shop in supermarkets and suffer the ignominy of having to, gasp!, drive there and back, neither phased us anymore nor accurately portrayed suburban reality.
It’s tempting to say that for all our snobbery about unfettered access to the newest and hippest restaurants and the freshest and most diverse markets, like most city folk, even those who consider themselves into food, in the latter two years we, principally due to the rigors of carting an unwilling child around, rarely left our neighborhood in search of new victuals. Prior to that, perhaps because we always knew that we weren’t going to be staying in New York forever, we did our very best to absorb as much of it as we could – enjoying some wonderful and fascinating meals over the years – but when the advantages of Brooklyn life became inaccessible, the disadvantages of it became impossible to ignore.
Interestingly, and to throw out another old chestnut, a change really is as good as a rest, because while there is certainly rather less diversity on one’s doorstep in suburbia, recent trips to a local Persian restaurant, Carl Venezia’s pork store and a pub serving real cask conditioned, hand-pulled ales have renewed our ardor for seeking out the good stuff. And while we still have only limited time to explore our new area’s gastronomic offerings, in all honesty, outings of that variety are far more enjoyable in the company of a toddler than schlepping out to Jackson Heights, Queens, on the subway for Colombian or Egyptian food, even if they don’t have quite the same exotic ring.
Above all, we can say that we are deliriously happy with our new status as home owners. We would never have imagined we could buy anything half as beautiful or historic, and given the absurd real estate prices, it’s a stone-cold certainty that we never would have afforded even half as much in Brooklyn. Now that we’re settling in to our new home and new environment, and our son has got used to fresh air, and is becoming less agoraphobic at the sight of open spaces featuring tall trees, we’re starting to get back to some sort of cooking schedule in our new kitchen.
We haven’t yet managed to find the time to pass an entire weekend making sausage or even make any mince pies for Christmas, and perhaps compared to some of our earlier exploits, this recipe may seem tame, but some handmade butternut squash gnocchi made mid-week offered a reassuring return to the old groove that we’re excited to be back in. Beyond that, the fascinating challenge of planning, redeveloping and paying for the kitchen we have yearned for the majority of our adult lives looms on the horizon. It’ll take us a while, but the enormous advantage of owning rather then renting is that any investment we make will be solely for our benefit, constituting a paradigm shift from a combined forty years of feathering the nests of neglectful and rapacious landlords since we last inhabited a place we called home.
Butternut Squash Ricotta Gnocchi with Sweet Sausage and Sage (serves 2-4)
1 large butternut squash
1 large floury potato, peeled and cut into 2 inch chunks
1 x 16-ounce tub whole milk ricotta
1-2 large eggs
1+ cups plain flour
1-2 teaspoons kosher salt
2-4 links sweet Italian sausage
1/2 glass dry white wine (optional)
6-10 sage leaves
1/2 stick (4 tablespoons)
freshly ground black pepper
crumbled goat cheese (we had one flavored with honey, but any regular soft goat cheese will be fine)
1 large butternut squash, cut into 2 inch cubes and roasted at 350 degrees F. until very soft and toasty looking, about 25 minutes.
When cool, scrape squash flesh off skin into a bowl and reserve.In plenty of boiling water, boil the potato chunks and cook until soft and mashable.
Remove potato from water, and allow to cool enough for handling. Then using the large side of a box grater, grate potato onto a sheet pan. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and allow to cool.
In a large mixing bowl, place grated potato, squash flesh, 1 egg, 1/2 tub of ricotta and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Combine into a wet mixture and begin adding flour. Depending on the squash, the potato and the amount of liquid in your ricotta, you’ll need more or less flour to bring it together into a dough that resembles cookie dough in texture – soft but holding together and not wet.
Then on a well floured cutting board, cut dough into chunks and roll each chunk into a long sausage about the width of your thickest finger. Cut inch long gnocchi from the dough sausage and transfer to a floured cookie sheet, sprinkling gnocchi with flour. Continue until all dough is used up.
Allow them to set up for 10-15 minutes. In the meantime, empty your Italian sausage out of its casing into a separate bowl and combine with the white wine. Mash it all together with your fingers until sausage starts to be less sticky.
In a large saucepan over medium heat, melt 1 tablespoon of the unsalted butter and add sausage. Cook, prodding carefully with a spatula to separate sausage to resemble ground/minced beef, until nicely browned and crispy on the outside, and has rendered plenty of delicious fat.
With a slotted spoon, remove crumbled sausage to a plate and add one more tablespoon of butter to the pan and allow to brown gently. Add sage leaves and cook until softened and aromatic.
In a large pot, bring plenty of salted water to the boil, and cook your gnocchi until they all float to the surface, 1-4 minutes depending on how many you cook at once.
Return the sausage to the saucepan with butter and sage, and add one ladle of gnocchi water. Increase heat on saucepan and with a slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi into saucepan.Toss in the final two tablespoons of butter. Coat gnocchi well with sauce and when satisfied, kill heat, and season robustly with black pepper.
Serve immediately sprinkled liberally with crumbled goat cheese.