Endless possibilities here. I had some trouble trying to think how I should celebrate. Spaghetti? Fusilli? Some lasagna? What about good ol’ wagon wheels and butter (one of my childhood favorites)? Do I make it myself or do we go out to celebrate? Some Buffalo Shrimp Pasta from Brick Alley Pub? Tour of Italy from the Olive Garden? Mac and Cheese from Sig’s? It was almost too broad a category to squeeze into an ideal celebration.
Pasta is technically a dish originally from Italy consisting of dough made from durum wheat and water, extruded or stamped into various shapes and typically cooked in boiling water. And yet, that simple combination has been bringing joy to the world for centuries. Pasta is celebration. It’s family parties, banquets, Sunday dinners. It’s the salad on the 4th of July, it’s the dish we make to bring to other’s for comfort, it’s the first meal we make for our boyfriend/girlfriend when we are trying to be a romantic. It’s everywhere and at every time in our life.
I grew up in a very pasta-heavy town which had a strong Italian population. My friends would have a pasta course for their Thanksgiving dinner not to mention a standing Sunday family dinner featuring Noni’s gravy and pasta. We even had a shop on Main Street called Mama Del’s (two doors down from my barber) that sold fresh made pasta. That’s it – that was their whole business (and some fantastic Italian ice too). I still regret that I was not a regular customer there. Can you imagine walking up the street, stopping in and grabbing some fettuccini that was just made fresh that morning, walking home and having it for dinner that night? Then again, Mama Del could have been some kind of gangster and her shop was just a front for some kind of gambling empire. I guess I’ll never know, but she did have great Italian ice.
I think I was inspired by Mama Del to make my own pasta today (although definitely not in her tradition). When scanning recipes, I remembered one that we had made from Food Network’s Giada De Laurentiis. It was for Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Maple Cinnamon Sage Brown Butter. I remember Lola loving it. It’s a great fall dinner with warm flavors like cinnamon, sage and maple syrup. It’s a bit involved, but in the end kind of easy to make. My only worry was that I would not be able to find the herbs, but thankfully, Clement’s had a nice supply of really fresh beautiful-smelling sage.
You bake the sweet potatoes first and then after they cool down, you make your dough from the scooped out potato, flour and ricotta cheese. After the dough comes together, you roll out ropes of the dough and then cut them into pieces and your gnocchi is made. You boil it for about five or six minutes and then when it’s done, you add it to the sauce which is fresh sage cooked in brown butter then some maple syrup and cinnamon added. It comes together nicely and although it looks light on the sauce, the butter really coats the gnocchi perfectly so you get the flavor of sweet potato and the butter sauce in every bite.
The sage is the surprise star of this dish. When it cooks in the butter, it crisps up and when you bite it, you get this really fresh flavor tempered by the sauce is has soaked up. It’s a subtle texture addition to the whole dish which is a welcomed surprise. The sweet potato and cinnamon are the strong flavors that come from the gnocchi which would be a little bland without the sauce, but with it, comes together in a flavor marriage made in heaven. The maple syrup is a nice subtle addition to the party too. It’s still one of Lola’s favorites.
I still have some regrets that I didn’t celebrate with the traditional pasta dish today with sauce and cheese. That’s kind of what I think of when I consider pasta. But I was able to make my own pasta for this recipe, which I suppose is a more fitting celebration. Plus it’s a meal that I know Lola loves, and it’s always good to surprise her with one of her favorites. No matter what, once again pasta proves to be one of those meals that warms our souls, fills our bellies and brings happy memories to the table. That’s why we celebrate pasta today and almost everyday, so we will keep the party going. I’m thinking there will be more pasta for us in the near future. There’s always more to celebrate.
Next Up: National Chocolate Cupcake Day