Stranger on a Train & Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

Over the holidays, I watched or sort of watched more than a few movies. By sort of watching, I mean I was multitasking. Anyway, one film in particular comes to mind. I’m not sure what I was doing but it probably included wrapping presents, baking a flourless chocolate cake and setting the table while vacuuming up pine needles. Except for one wonderful line, I don’t remember a thing about the movie. Delivered with just the right amount of indignation, a pretty blond woman responded to a cheery fellow’s questions with “That’s not something I’d tell a stranger on a train.”

It stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder, “What would I tell a stranger on a train?” I stopped what I was doing, found a scrap of paper and wrote it down – in red magic marker. Then went back to baking and decorating or whatever I was doing. Until today. This morning, I sat down at my desk with a story in my head and ready to write. Fumbling through the flotsam and jetsam for lip balm, I found that scrap of paper. (Now, a newly scrawled note with what would have been today’s topic sits amongst the pens and pencils, cables, flash drives and dogeared scraps that surround my laptop.)

Maybe it’s just me but the whole idea of a conversation with a stranger on a train is intriguing. Especially when it’s a stranger that you’ll probably never ever see again. So … what would you tell a stranger on a train? And what’s off limits or too much information?

Would you stick to the top of mind? The newest, biggest thing in your life like the sweet, little dog who just became the latest addition to your family. Of course, you’ll want to cover any and every detail of her adorableness. After all, she is without a doubt the world’s very best dog.

Then again, the everyday stuff might serve you better. Take for instance, the manager who drives you crazy on a daily basis. A stranger is the perfect target for a good long vent. Whether the boss is a micromanager or a drama queen, your fellow passenger will be thrilled to hear all the awful stuff you put up with. After all, everyone knows that you are more than the perfect employee; you are a saint.

Or, perhaps … a cozy compartment might be just the place for a confession. We all have secrets; some deeper and darker. What might you share? Did you sleep with a married man? Or are you the married man who did the cheating? Maybe you bullied the kid who sat behind you in middle school or scarfed that last piece of cake when no one was looking – and blamed it on your little brother.

An hour is generally plenty of time to share a favorite story. Why not skip the here and now and tell a tale that has been burnished by time, telling and retelling? Regale your seatmate with a glimpse into the life of your remarkable grandfather or childhood adventures on Pleasant Lake.

If you are so inclined, you could also lie. You could weave a tale about your engagement to Brad Pitt. So what if the closest you’ve come to marrying the two-time sexiest man alive was spotting him (or someone who looked a lot like him) on a hike in the Hollywood hills. Perhaps you’d rather share the details of your visit to Washington. The one that ended with you sitting next to Justin Trudeau at a fabulous White House dinner.

Or tell nothing, nothing at all. Maybe you’d hide behind a book and keep your stories, secrets and lies to yourself. At least for another day.

Wishing you many good stories in the new year and bon appétit!

Cheesy Sweet Potato Gnocchi

If train travel isn’t in your immediate future, maybe you’ll share your tall tales, confessions, stories and lies during a cozy dinner with family and friends. Enjoy!

Makes about 2 pounds (6-8 servings)

  • 1 large (1-1 1/2 pounds) sweet potato
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
  • 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 or more cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Put the rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees.

Prick the sweet potato with a sharp knife, set on a baking sheet lined with foil or parchment paper and bake at 425 degrees until soft, about 1 hour.

Meanwhile, put the ricotta and egg in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and Pecorino Romano cheeses, sprinkle with thyme and paprika, season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and stir to combine.

As soon it is cool enough to handle, halve the sweet potato, scoop the flesh into a large bowl and mash it with a fork. Add the cheeses and egg mixture and stir to combine.

1/2 cup at a time, stir in the flour until a soft, sticky dough forms. Gently knead the dough on a well-floured surface.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls. Working on a well-floured surface, roll the dough balls into ropes about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the ropes into 3/4-inch pieces. Place the gnocchi on baking sheets lined with parchment or wax paper.

Can be made a few hours ahead, covered and refrigerated until ready to cook. Or freeze on the baking sheet, transfer to a container, cover and store in the freezer. Do not defrost before cooking.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi, simmer until they rise to the surface and then continue simmering for 2 minutes.

Serve the gnocchi tossed with roasted or sautéed vegetables or your favorite sauce and a sprinkle of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and/or Pecorino Romano cheese.

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What would you tell a stranger on a train? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2020

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