On the Road to Emmaus

The road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35). It has been a story that I have had on my mind for a while now, and I am still not quite sure what to make of it.

Here is the text:

13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”

They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas,asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”

19 “What things?” he asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”

25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.

28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.

30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. 32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”

33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread.

It is Sunday. Passover is over. And a lot has transpired in the past 72 hours. So these two disciples of Jesus, one name Cleopas, the other remaining nameless, start the seven mile journey back to their home. They are despondent, grief stricken, and terribly confused, trying to make sense of all that they had just witnessed, especially the fact that Jesus, whom they thought was the long awaited Messiah of Israel was now dead, although they had heard rumblings that Jesus’ tomb was empty and women were told by angels that he was alive.

In the midst of trying to comfort one another, Jesus appears, yet they do not recognize him (In many of the post-resurrection appearances people were kept from recognizing Jesus.). Jesus plays dumb and asks what the two of them were discussing.

Luke tells us in verse 27, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in the all the Scriptures concerning himself.”

For the entire seven mile journey (probably around two to three hours of time) Jesus explains all of the Jewish scriptures (or the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi) to these two disciples on how everything points to Jesus and the fact that he came to suffer. I don’t know about you, but the Old Testament can be confusing and hard to understand at times, so to have the Word himself explain the word would be amazing. If there is any sermon or teaching of Jesus to be included in the Gospels, I want this one.

But the weird thing is, it is not included. And what is even stranger for me is that Cleopas and the other disciple do not realize it is Jesus explaining all of Scripture to them. When the two disciples finally reach their home, they convince Jesus to stay with them as it is almost night.

Finally we reach the climax of the story: “When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:30-31)

First, the words that Luke uses to tell this story are almost the exact words that he used when Jesus instituted the Eucharist just a few days before: “And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). We do not know if Cleopas and the other disciple were with Jesus on that night, but Luke obviously wants us as readers to recall the Lord’s Supper in this instance.

Second, the disciples only come to recognize Jesus when he breaks bread, not during his teaching. When they report to the Eleven Apostles what had happened, they tell the Eleven “how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread” (Luke 24:35). But after Jesus disappears from their sight, they also realize that there was power and authority in his teaching: “They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:32).

This is the reason that this story perplexes me so much: the disciples recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread not during the sermon. In the Evangelical tradition that I am part of, a high emphasis (I might argue too high of emphasis) is placed on the preached word. Everything about Sunday revolves and centers around this passive activity. But in this story, the disciples fail to recognize Jesus through his teaching, which causes me to pause and reflect, “If Jesus’ teaching failed to open disciples’ eyes, what effect will my teaching have?”

However, we have to take into account the disciples’ words to each other in verse 32 after Jesus disappeared – Jesus’ teaching obviously did something to them – so I am in no way trying to divorce Word from Eucharist. The two go hand-in-hand. Without the Word, the Eucharist is devoid of all meaning; without the Eucharist, the Word is abstracted from the everyday routine of life. As Eugene Peterson writes, “Holy Scripture is an orientation in largeness and coherence. Holy Scripture rescues us from out-of-breath stutters of distracted and amnesiac journalists who think they are keeping us in touch with what is important…. Christian practice in matters of spiritual formation goes badly astray when it attempts to construct or organize ways of spirituality apart from the ordinariness of life. And there is nothing more ordinary than a meal” (Living the Resurrection, pp 62, 71).

And maybe that is why Luke includes this story: Even as we now live life post-resurrection, life is still very full of pain, confusion and bewilderment, which is why we need the Word to orient us to God’s cohesive love and plan for the world and the Eucharist to ground us, reminding us that our resurrection life is formed through the ordinary and everyday.

Homemade Potato Gnocchi

With an abundance of homemade Italian sausage and Rick, my father-in-law, in town for the week, Claire suggested that I should make gnocchi again. And realizing that I could still get some heirloom tomatoes from the farmers’ market on Wednesday, gnocchi with an Italian sausage-fresh tomato sauce sounded just about perfect. Not to mention the fact that Fall weather is definitely here in Park City with chilly evenings, making heartier dinners ideal.

Given that the ingredient list for potato gnocchi consists of cheap pantry staples: Russet potatoes, AP flour, eggs, salt, and parmesan cheese (if desired), why is homemade gnocchi not made by more home cooks? For one, the process is rather time intensive – it is at least a one to two hour process, not including the time it takes to bake the potatoes (at least an hour). That is why when I make them, I make a batch big enough to ensure that Claire and I have at least a couple of meals (the gnocchi freeze well).

But more importantly, making gnocchi strikes fear into many a home cook. But any good recipe, or any activity in life, takes time and practice to develop. I admit that the first few times I had to make gnocchi, at work no less for paying guests, I was nervous, but I soon got over my slight fear, knowing a few basic principles: 1) the goal is light fluffy gnocchi that practically melt in your mouth; 2) moisture is not your friend; 3) don’t over work your dough.

Some recipes instruct you to boil the potatoes, but the problem with this is that by cooking them in water, you are actually introducing more moisture into the potatoes instead of drawing out the moisture. This is why I prefer baking the potatoes. Prick the potatoes all over with a fork which will help release steam. Shortly after the potatoes are done roasting, you will want to peel them with a small sharp knife, being careful not to burn or cut yourself (a kitchen towel aids in the not burning part; caution and practice in the not cutting).

After you peel the hot potatoes, you will want to pass them through a food mill or a ricer. Or if you are like me and do not own either one of these, grate the potatoes on a box grater, again using some caution as the potatoes are still hot. Just be careful to also avoid any large lumps. Once the potatoes are mashed, spread them out on a clean surface to cool briefly, around five minutes.

Now comes the tricky part: incorporating the flour and egg into the mixture. Luckily for you and me, America’s Test Kitchen solved that problem for us. In their recipe, they found that for every pound (about 3 cups) of mashed potato, you want to use four ounces (3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon) of flour. This allows you to add the flour all at once and knead once, preventing the formation of too much gluten, which will lead to heavy, chewy gnocchi. Mix and knead the dough until it is smooth but still rather tacky.

Once the dough is formed, flatten it out into a disk. Cut a small strip off (a bench scraper works great), and roll it into about a one half inch thick rope. Using a bench scraper (a knife or a pizza cutter will also work), slice the rope into about three quarter inch pieces. At this point you can leave them alone, or you can roll them along the back of a fork to make the indentations, traditionally associated with gnocchi. If you choose to do this, make sure your fingers are floured and the gnocchi so that they will not stick to the fork. Transfer the raw, formed gnocchi to a rimmed baking sheet dusted with flour, dusting the gnocchi with more flour, again to ensure that they will not stick. Cover and refrigerate until you are ready to use.

You will want to cook the gnocchi in a large pot of heavily salted water (as salty as the sea). The gnocchi will float to the surface after a minute or so, and after another 30 seconds to a minute, they are done. Because the gnocchi are so delicate it is best not drain them in a colander as they will fall apart; rather use a slotted spoon to retrieve them from the water. I like to immediately sauté them in some butter in order to crisp them ever so slightly. I will then add the sauce to the pan.

I may be going out on a limb here, but I guarantee you that with a little practice you will be making gnocchi that will beat anything you can get at the store or most Italian restaurants not helmed by a truly great Italian chef.

Potato Gnocchi

(The recipe on-line has more pictures and instructions to help you along in the process.)

From America’s Test Kitchen Season 12: Gnocchi and Panzanella

WHY THIS RECIPE WORKS:

The method for making gnocchi is simple: Knead the mashed potatoes into a dough with a minimum of flour; shape; and boil for a minute. And yet the potential pitfalls are numerous (lumpy mashed potatoes, too much or too little flour, a heavy hand when kneading, and bland flavor). We wanted a foolproof recipe for impossibly light gnocchi with unmistakable potato flavor. Baking russets after parcooking them in the microwave produced intensely flavored potatoes—an excellent start to our gnocchi base. To avoid lumps, which can cause gnocchi to break apart during cooking, we turned to a ricer for a smooth, supple mash. While many recipes offer a range of flour, which ups the chances of overworking the dough (and producing leaden gnocchi), we used an exact amount based on the ratio of potato to flour so that our gnocchi dough was mixed as little as possible. And we found that an egg, while not traditional, tenderized our gnocchi further, delivering delicate pillowlike dumplings.

 Serves 2 to 3 as a main dish, or 4 to 6 as an appetizer

For the most accurate measurements, weigh the potatoes and flour. After processing, you may have slightly more than the 3 cups (16 ounces) of potatoes recquired for this recipe. Discard any extra or set aside for another use. Besides the browned butter sauce, try our Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, Parmesan Sauce with Pancetta and Walnuts, and Porcini Mushroom Broth (related).

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 pounds russet potatoes
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 ounces) all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1 teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon salt

INSTRUCTIONS

1. FOR THE GNOCCHI: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 450 degrees. Poke each potato 8 times with paring knife over entire surface. Microwave potatoes until slightly softened at ends, about 10 minutes, flipping potatoes halfway through cooking. Transfer potatoes directly to oven rack and bake until skewer glides easily through flesh and potatoes yield to gentle pressure, 18 to 20 minutes.

2. Holding each potato with potholder or kitchen towel, peel with paring knife. Process potatoes through ricer or food mill onto rimmed baking sheet. Gently spread potatoes into even layer and let cool for 5 minutes.

3. Transfer 3 cups (16 ounces) warm potatoes to bowl. Using fork, gently stir in egg until just combined. Sprinkle flour and 1 teaspoon salt over potato mixture. Using fork, gently combine until no pockets of dry flour remain. Press mixture into rough ball, transfer to lightly floured counter, and gently knead until smooth but slightly sticky, about 1 minute, lightly dusting counter with flour as needed to prevent sticking.

4. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and dust liberally with flour. Cut dough into 8 pieces. Lightly dust counter with flour. Gently roll piece of dough into ½-inch-thick rope, dusting with flour to prevent sticking. Cut rope into ¾-inch lengths. Holding fork with tines facing down in 1 hand, press each dough piece cut side down against tines with thumb of other hand to create indentation. Roll dough down tines to form ridges on sides. If dough sticks, dust thumb or fork with flour. Transfer formed gnocchi to sheets and repeat with remaining dough.

5. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot. Add remaining 1 tablespoon salt. Using parchment paper as sling, gently lower gnocchi from 1 sheet into water and cook until firm and just cooked through, about 90 seconds (gnocchi should float to surface after about 1 minute). Using slotted spoon, transfer cooked gnocchi to skillet with sauce. Repeat with remaining gnocchi. Gently toss gnocchi with sauce and serve.