The subtly sweet and nutty flavors of taro come alive when surrounded in browned butter and crispy sage leaves. Potato gnocchi feel equally at home in this wonderfully delicious sauce.
By Suzie Castello
Even after many years living in Brazil, I find some things never to stop feeling exotic to me. I’m still amazed at the way fruit blister forth from the trunk of a jaboticaba tree, I’m still brought to my knees by the perfume of a cashew fruit, and I still get weirded-out by the hairy strangeness of inhame, or as it is called in English, taro. Taro are furry little tubers common to the vegetable aisle in my local market. They are also quietly overrunning my garden. They look like bearded potatoes, red earth clinging to there ginger mien, that emit an earthiness of the netherworld from which they are uprooted. If potatoes come out of the ground easily and relatively clean, taro come out of the ground begrudgingly, looking like many long years of hermetic ranting. Is it any wonder that I used to be afraid of them? Anytime I saw them, I couldn’t help but think of the infant mandrakes upset by re-potting in Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. They could start shrieking at anytime. I feared that one day I’d reach in that big pile of furry tubers in the supermarket and lose a finger. To this day I still avoid the big ones.
A few years ago, I overcame my fear of taro. My daughter, tiny and fearless at the time, sensed no threat from them. “These potatoes are beardy, mommy!” She had bravely reached into furry stack to select two especially wizened characters to play two-old-fogies-talking-about-the-weather. At first I thought, “Lord, let all her fingers be there!” Then I replayed her words in my mind…”Did she say potato? Hey these are just potatoes. I know how to cook potatoes!” It was a revelation.
So started my experimentation with taro. I made taro mashies, taro soup, taro rosti, and taro dauphinois. I had to forgo twice-baked taro and taro skins for football games because of their fur, but they did bake up lovely over a shepherd’s pie and turn to slightly sweet, crisp delight when deep fried. Taro and I were becoming friends. Then I put them to the final potato test, at least in my family: gnocchi. We seem to have turned into a band of gnocchi snobs over the years, lead by the sensibilities of my now 12-year-old son. He’s gazed down his nose over many restaurant gnocchis and lorded over my numerous efforts to please in the kitchen, deeming the best recipe the one he saw Claude Troisgros make on TV about six years ago. My son has never forgotten watching Troisgros’s meaty hands forming the gnocchi while explaining in his thickly french-accented Portuguese that the recipe belonged to his Italian grandmother. My son even remembers the little song Troisgros sang on the show- “le gnocchi de la mémé…” So, Claude’s recipe became the basis for my gnocchi recipe which was the starting off point for the taro gnocchi.
Here is the link if you’d like to see Claude Troisgros’ grandmother’s potato gnocchi recipe. The page is in Portuguese.Print
Suzie Castello is an American writer living and raising a family in a small town in the mountains just outside Rio de Janeiro. She writes about finding ways to cook, with the regional ingredients, dishes that tell her life story, from childhood in the States to travels abroad, and anything new discovered along the way. She is also the Editor of Da Minha Cozinha, a Portuguese-language blog about honest home-cooking.