Sometimes, inspiration strikes just when you need it and that’s exactly how this recipe was born. It was a cold, grey winter day and I craved potato gnocchi for comfort. Only I didn’t have any russet potatoes on hand. What I did have, however, was a nice big Jewel sweet potato. Pear shaped with dark orange skin, Jewel is labeled a sweet potato, although technically a yam…or not (it’s complicated lol). Anyway, they have orange pulp. Great, I thought, let’s make orange sweet potato gnocchi to brighten this dreary day.
For classic potato gnocchi, I use Russet potatoes because the flesh is dry and starchy, so less flour is needed to hold them together—meaning lighter, fluffier gnocchi. I either boil or bake them in their jackets until soft. Sweet potato or yam flesh has more moisture, so I decided to let the microwave do the cooking on the ‘baked potato’ setting in a fraction of the time. This did the trick to cook the potato perfectly and reduce the amount of moisture in its flesh. Inspired thought #1 worked like a charm!
The essential tool to use in gnocchi making is a potato ricer to pass cooked potato flesh through fine holes and produce an airy base to work with, instead of a compressed base that mashing produces. ‘Light’ and ‘fluffy’ are key goals when making gnocchi, like the comforting little pillows they are meant to be. The secret to achieve this is twofold: 1) add as little flour as needed to hold the gnocchi together; and 2) work the dough as little as possible to prevent glutens developing that make gnocchi tough. How did I do this, you ask? First I cut in just enough flour to the warm, riced potato with a bench scraper (the less handling the better) until well absorbed and a soft, crumbly mass formed. Then, for lack of a better word, I kneaded the dough oh-so delicately by gathering the moist crumbs with both hands and using a gentle squeezing, rocking, and rolling motion to create a soft, fairly compact dough that is a bit sticky inside. To be sure the dough has enough flour, I did a quick test by boiling a pinch of dough in a small pan of boiling water. It floated to the surface without disintegrating, so I knew there is was need to add more flour to the dough. What’s the saying…an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure? In the case of gnocchi, it’s all about the ratio of flour to potatoes.
The finished dough was a beautiful melon color that cheered me up already. Once cool, I rolled portions with both hands into long ropes and cut them with the blade of my bench scraper (such a handy tool) into 1-inch little pillows. Now came the the big decision…do I cook the gnocchi as little pillows (perfectly acceptable) or dimple them? They would taste good either way, but I wanted them to catch as much of the sauce as possible, so dimpling it was. I used the back of a cheese grater to gently roll each gnocco down while lightly pressing with my thumb. This created a dimple on one side and decorative dots on the other.
My work was done and all I needed to do was decide on a sauce to dress these gorgeous gnocchi once cooked. This is where divine intervention came in. I wanted something special to compliment the sweet, earthy flavor of the yam but what could it be? That’s when my inner cooking goddess whispered softly to me: “brown butter with the warm spices of sweet potato pie”. And so, as I always do…I listened to her and created the perfect sauce with brown butter, ginger, cinnamon, and cloves. Once I tossed the cooked gnocchi in this creamy, spice-flecked emulsion, they glistened like shiny orange jewels. The only thing better than admiring my gnocchi was eating them and when I did…the sun shone brightly from my plate. I hope you enjoy them too!
SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI WITH SPICED BROWN BUTTER
Gnocchi di Patate Dolci al Burro Nocciola Speziato
Copyright, 2023, Deborah Dal Fovo, All Rights Reserved. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
These bright orange gnocchi were an inspired creation on a grey winter day. Cooking the sweet potato in a microwave reduces some of its moisture, so less flour can be used, which is the key to light and fluffy gnocchi. Choose Jewel or Garnet sweet potatoes for their vivid orange pulp and rice immediately after cooking to work in the flour while still warm. I paired these colorful gnocchi gems with a brown butter and warm spice sauce created to compliment their flavor in a nod to sweet potato pie. This recipe can be doubled for more servings.
View a tutorial video of this recipe on my Instagram feed.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi: (makes about 45 gnocchi)
– 1½ pounds/580g Jewel or Garnet sweet potatoes (1 large potato), with skins
– 1 cup/120g Italian 00-flour or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
– Whole nutmeg to grate
– Kosher or fine sea salt
Warm Spice Brown Butter Sauce:
– 5 tablespoons/70g unsalted butter
– 1/16 teaspoon each of: ground cloves, cinnamon, ginger
– 1/4 cup/48g freshly grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano, plus more to garnish
– Kosher or sea salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– Potato ricer and bench scraper
Wash the potato under cold, running water to remove any soil then dry with a paper towel. Pierce the skin of the potato all around with the point of a paring knife. Place in a microwave and cook on the baked potato setting for 2 or 3 cycles, turning over between cycles, until cooked through and the center is easily pierced with the blade of a knife (about 12 minutes). If you don’t have a potato setting on your microwave, use the normal cook setting. And, if you don’t have a microwave, bake the potato on a bed of salt at 400°F/200°C for 45 to 50 minutes until it tests done as described above.
Cut the hot sweet potato vertically and open to reveal its bright orange flesh. Scoop out the soft center, scraping all flesh from the skin (about 12 ounces/340g), and place in a potato ricer. Press potato through ricer onto a clean work surface (preferably wood) and sprinkle with 1½ teaspoons salt and a grating of nutmeg to taste. Cut the spices into the potato with a bench scraper.
Sprinkle 3/4 of the flour over the potato, reserving the rest near workspace to use later. While the potato is still warm, use the bench scraper to cut the flour into it. Once a crumbly mass forms, gather it together with your hands and knead lightly by pressing together and rolling away from you, turning and folding dough over itself as needed. If the dough surface is too sticky to handle, dust it with a little reserved flour. The dough should be soft, compact, and slightly sticky inside. Knead dough as little as possible with just enough flour so the gnocchi hold together when cooked, without overworking (which develops glutens that make them tough). Perform a test by dropping a 1-inch ball of dough into a small pan of boiling water. If it rises to the surface intact, the dough is perfect. If it disintegrates in the water while cooking, add a little more flour to the dough and knead again.
Roll the finished ball of dough into a cylinder shape and move to one side of work surface then cut crosswise into 4 thick slices, separating slightly, and let cool. While dough is cooling, use the bench scraper to clean the work surface of all caked on dough then wash and dry your hands and the bench scraper.
Dust the work surface and your hands lightly with some of the reserved flour. Roll each piece of dough on the surface with the palms of your hands in a back and forth motion to form long, uniform ropes the thickness of your thumb. Use the bench scraper, dusted with flour, to cut the ropes into 1-inch/2.5mm gnocchi. Sprinkle lightly with reserved flour then use the bench scraper to lift and toss the gnocchi to coat and separate.
Once all the gnocchi are cut, cook as is or create the classic dimple on one side using either the tines of a fork, a ridged gnocchi board, or the backside of a flat cheese grater dusted with flour. To dimple, hold a gnocco between floured thumb and forefinger at the top of your tool then roll it down while pressing very lightly with thumb to form an indentation. Once you reach the bottom of the tool, release the gnocco and let it fall onto the work surface. When all gnocchi are dimpled, arrange them without touching on a baking sheet lined with a clean kitchen towel that has been lightly dusted with flour. Cook the gnocchi immediately or refrigerate uncovered for several hours.
To cook the gnocchi, fill a large, wide pot with 5 quarts water and bring to a boil over high heat. Add 2-tablespoons salt and, once water returns to a boil, drop about 2 dozen gnocchi into the boiling water, adjusting heat to a gentle, rolling boil. Cook gnocchi, stirring once, until they float to the surface, about 3 to 4 minutes.
While the gnocchi cook, prepare the sauce by melting butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the spices and cook until the butter turns a nutty brown color, swirling the pan to prevent burning. Add ½ cup gnocchi cooking water to the skillet and swirl the pan to create a creamy emulsion. Use a skimmer to lift cooked gnocchi from water and place in skillet while you cook the rest. Toss all the cooked gnocchi in the sauce to coat evenly then remove from heat, sprinkle with grated cheese and toss again, adding more cooking water if needed. Spoon the gnocchi onto warm plates and garnish with a light sprinkling of grated cheese.