Sunday, March 7, 2010

Warm white bean and kale salad w/ sweet potato gnocchi: Awkwardly satisfying

I put it off as long as I can.

“It’s fine!” I tell myself. “The roots are hardly visible at all! And its not stringy – it’s long and luxurious!”

The charade holds up for a few days. I avoid direct eye contact with mirrors. I blow dry it with my eyes closed. I focus on other things – my makeup, my clothes, my fingernails – anything that can compensate for the ramshackle state of my hair.

“I can go two more weeks.” I think with defiance.

But then it happens. I go to the restroom at work, and then, as I’m washing my hands, I see it.

“Dear Lord!” I gasp in horror. “I’m Samara!”

“Seven days,” A voice hisses in my head.

I know what I have to do. I return to my desk and make the call.

“Can I schedule a hair appointment for Saturday?” I ask, secretly hoping the receptionist will say “no” and I can avoid it for another week.

“Of course! Is 3 pm okay?” She trills back.

“Yes.” I grumble. “3 pm is perfect.”

And it is the perfect time. I can eat lunch before, run errands, carry on with my regular Saturday routine like I’m not about to enter into my social nightmare.

Most people love getting their haircut – look forward to it even. But going to my hairdresser in Orange County is a near excruciating experience for me. As soon as I walk into the red and white hipster space with its indie art and Converse-wearing clientele, I regress back into the socially inept teenager I was in high school.

"I don’t belong here," I think.

I’m in pink; they’re in black. My hair is blonde and subtly layered; theirs is dark and choppy. They ask if I want a beer; I request water.

It’s the quintessential case of square peg in round hole.

My nerves affectively rattled by all the precariousness, I lose my ability to make small talk and spend the entire hour and a half burying my face in a book – most likely some kind of chick lit that only further undermines my ability to “blend in.”

Yet even when I make an effort -- wear a flannel shirt (from Anthropologie, no less), my J. Crew loafers and carry a scuffed-up, leather messenger bag, I still feel decidedly awkward and out of place. I can’t seem to bridge the chasm between me, a blonde bubbly ball of snarky girlishness, and my hair salon, an epicenter of indie style and chillness.

I am not chill.

And I’m never going to be chill.

Even so, I keep going back to the hair salon. Not because I’m a glutton for social punishment and am feeling nostalgic for high school, but because I love the way my hairstylist cuts and colors my hair. No matter how painful the process, the end result works – much like the crazy dish I made for dinner on Friday night.

Early in the day, I got it into my head that I wanted to combine sweet potato gnocchi (made with ricotta) with a warm salad of white beans and kale.

Again, a square peg and a round hole.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. So I made the gnocchi (a trying process that will not soon be repeated). I sautéed the kale and fried the white beans. And then I forced everything together with a warm dressing made with apple cider, apple cider vinegar and Dijon mustard.

It seemed disharmonious, like a little kid’s experiment in the kitchen, but ultimately, the dish kind of, sort of worked. The addition of toasted hazelnuts and roasted shallots further enriched the complexity of the plate, but pleasantly so. I finished my dinner with a sheepish smile on my face. Nothing belonged. The dish was awkward any way I photographed it. But, in the end, it tasted good.

And sometimes that’s all that matters.

Warm white bean and kale salad w/ sweet potato gnocchi

Inspired by recipes from 101 Cookbooks and Epicurious
Serves 1

½ bunch of green kale, stems removed and finely chopped
½ cup Cannellini beans
1 large shallot, thin sliced
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, chopped and toasted
¼ cup apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
8 sweet potato gnocchi (see below)
½ teaspoon rosemary, minced
3 tablespoons white wine
Parmesan cheese (optional)
Butter, olive oil
Salt, pepper to taste

Prepare gnocchi. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roast shallots in baking dish until tender and almost-crispy (approximately 30 minutes). Meanwhile, wash kale well, remove the stems and chop finely.

Combine apple cider, apple cider vinegar in a small saucepan. Simmer together until slightly reduced (approximately 5 minutes). Add the mustard, season with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil over medium-heat in medium-sized frying pan. Add cannelini beans and stir-fry until browned and slightly crispy (approximately 3-4 minutes). Remove from skillet. Add kale and white wine, simmering together until wine evaporates and kale starts to wilt. Remove the kale.

Heat combination of olive oil and butter over medium-heat in frying pan. When sizzling, add the potato gnocchi and rosemary. Saute until browned on all sides. Add the kale, beans and roasted shallots to the pan. Add the apple cider sauce, and stir until combined. Serve immediately. Top with hazelnuts and optional parmesan cheese.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Adapted from recipe on Epicurious

1-pound red-skinned sweet potatoes
6-ounces ricotta cheese (I used part skim)
½ cup Parmesan cheese
1 tablespoon golden brown sugar
1 ½ cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Prick sweet potatoes with a fork and bake until very tender (approximately 45 minutes). Scrape sweet potato flesh into medium bowl and mash. Add ricotta cheese; blend well. Add Parmesan cheese, brown sugar, 2 teaspoons salt, and nutmeg; mash to blend. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms.

Epicurious instructions:

Turn dough out onto floured surface; divide into 3 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into 20-inch-long rope (about 1 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. Cut each rope into 20 pieces. Roll each piece over tines of fork to indent.

What actually happened:

When dough was too sticky to roll into equal pieces, I opted to scoop up gnocchi batter by the teaspoon, and then roll it into individual balls. It was a very humbling (and messy) process.

Bring large pot of water to boil; salt well and return to boil. Working in batches, boil gnocchi until tender, 3-4 minutes. Remove, and then do what you will with them, just like I did what I willed with the poor little gnocchi I made on Friday night.


Esi said...

You know, there are plenty of salons in LA, right? :p You are funny. Glad this combo ended up working for you.

Marie said...

Kale salads make my heart skip a beat (yet I've never made one at home, go figure).

Jenn said...

I got my hair cut last week, too. Chopped off a good maybe 5-6 inches. My head feels a little lighter. hehehe... I need to make gnocchi again. The sweet potato version is something I don't think I've tried yet.

Diana said...

Esi - I know, but I like the way he cuts my hair! He has magic hands!

Marie - Mine too! Shocking that this is actually the first time I've cooked with kale at home!

Jenn - I don't know that I'm going to be ready to make gnocchi again for a long long while!

Ashley said...

Glad you found a way to make this work!

Gastronomer said...

This combination doesn't sound crazy at all. In fact, it sounds downright delectable. May I please request this for my 29th birthday? ;-)

Anna A. said...

Kale may just be my new favorite dark leafy green. Plus 1 for TALF. But really everything about this dish screams delicious-ness. Can't wait to see the new doo!

Diana said...

Ashley - Just call me Tim Gunn with a frying pan.

Cathy - We'll see... there could be something even more delightful in your future! (Not: not pig ears)

Anna - Now that I've discovered how easy it is to prepare, I may just become the green kale monster! I think it would pair well with my quinoa queen crown.

Kung Food Panda said...

Kale is something I just love, and I love gnocchi too. Would love to try it sometime ;)

Bianca said...

First of all, your lead in post about the haircut was highly amusing, simply because we're ALL been there...especially in LA (am I right?) I'm actually leaving to get a haircut in an hour at a salon that's thankfully down to earth. Also I'm glad the gnocchi was a success! Sometimes you just gotta try something out to see if you like it!

Diana said...

Danny - You love kale? I love it! You are full of surprises, panda boy!

Bianca - I'm so glad I'm not the only one who feels this way! It seems like everyone else is having a grand old time chatting away at the hair salon.