We don’t have enough gnocchi, and we’re willing to bet that people who’ve had really good gnocchi — there are a lot of bad versions of gnocchi out there — readily agree. One of the main reasons we don’t have gnocchi more often isn’t because they’re somehow troublesome, as they aren’t; actually, it’s because we generally get red potatoes in our CSA share, and russets, being starchy and dry, are a better choice for potato gnocchi. Plus, we often forget that gnocchi can be made from something other than plain white potatoes. With that in mind, let’s scratch out a batch of savory sweet potato gnocchi.
We did look around on the Internet for recipes for gnocchi made from sweet potatoes, but we didn’t see anything that we didn’t already know. For example, we knew that, however you cook the sweet potatoes, make sure to, somehow, dry out the potato so it won’t add too much moisture. From there on, it’s an egg, flour, and salt. We did find the idea of adding a bit of nutmeg interesting, so we did that, but, otherwise, this is a 100% Scratchin’ It original, tested for tastiness by our crack staff.
All our eggs come from free-range hens, and, while you might not notice the difference in these gnocchi, choosing eggs from the best-cared-for hens is the right thing to do. For the flour, we didn’t specify the kind: we used a mix of white whole wheat and all-purpose, but, we think pretty much any flour will work. The amount of flour, however, depends on how much moisture is in your sweet potatoes, so we can give only an approximate amount. We do know that you should add the flour in smaller amounts, and, if possible, start testing the gnocchi early. Too much flour results in tough, rubbery gnocchi. Too little and the gnocchi fall apart. Just right, and your gnocchi are fluffy clouds of deliciousness.
Also, you’ll note that we don’t have a specific sauce to go along with these gnocchi. We did a mushroom sauce, similar to the one in Pappardelle with Mushrooms.
Procedure in detail:
Preheat oven to 375°F. You don’t really have to bake these sweet potatoes; we think that cooking them in the microwave will work, too. We just prefer the oven, as it helps dry out the potatoes.
Season sweet potatoes. Scrub the potatoes well, and rub with butter to start adding a bit of flavor. Place on a baking pan, and pierce in several places to prevent potatoes from splitting open explosively in the oven — once that happens, you’ll never forget to pierce the potatoes — and sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. This might not add much flavor, but it’ll add some, and it’s not any trouble, so why not?
Bake. Slide into the oven and bake until completely tender, about 40-50 minutes. Test by trying to slide a knife into the potato. If it slides in easily, the potatoes are done.
Split and cool. Remove from the oven and split open the potatoes to release the steam and allow them to start drying out. This is all to limit the amount of flour you’ll need to add later; less flour means a better texture in the gnocchi. Some people will even scoop out the flesh into a non-stick skillet and cook it to reduce the moisture content further. We didn’t.
Add seasonings. Scoop out the flesh from the potatoes and place in a medium-sized bowl. Add the sage, nutmeg, about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. You can also use other seasonings to match to your planned sauce. Gently stir and mash the potatoes and spices together, trying more to tear the potatoes apart, rather than a straight, all-out mashing attack.
Add egg. Add the egg, and, again, using more of a tearing, stirring technique, completely blend the egg into the mixture. It may seem as if the mixture has broken (egg not mixing into the potatoes), but give it time.
Add flour. Here’s the tricky part about making gnocchi. You need to add just enough flour to enable the dough to hold together, and not much more. Too much flour and you have rubbery gnocchi, too little and the gnocchi fall apart, just right and your gnocchi are perfect pillows of deliciousness. So, you need to add flour, mix, test a gnocchi, and repeat. We add about 1/3 cup of flour at a time, and gently mix it in. You’ll be close to the right amount of flour when the mixture starts to stick together. Even then, the dough will be sticky.
Test. To test, bring a small saucepan of salted water to a simmer. Pull off a small piece of dough and shape into a ball about 1/2 inch in diameter. Add to the simmering water. If it falls apart, you need to add more flour. Otherwise, let the gnocchi cook until it floats to the surface, remove with a slotted spoon, cool, and taste. If needed, you can add more seasonings to the dough.
Shape. Divide the dough into four pieces, and, working with a piece at a time on a floured surface, roll into a rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. Yep, just as when you were a child working with modeling clay. Cut the rope into pieces about 1/2 inch long. If you wish, you can roll the gnocchi on the back side of a fork to add ridges. We don’t do that, because we’ve heard gnocchi comes from the Italian word for knuckle, and, to us, it looks more like a knuckle if it doesn’t have ridges. As you shape each of the gnocchi, transfer to a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat, or parchment, or waxed paper.
Freeze. Once the baking sheet is full, transfer to the freezer and freeze solid. We like to do this with almost all delicate pasta, such as gnocchi or ravioli. It makes them a lot easier to handle when it’s time to cook them, plus, once they’re frozen, you can place the gnocchi that you don’t use in a freezer bag for another meal.
Simmer. Cooking gnocchi is pretty simple: just bring a large kettle of salted water to a simmer. A full boil might break apart the gnocchi, so use a simmer. Drop the gnocchi into the simmering water. They’ll sink. Simmer, stirring gently, until they float to the surface. Fish one out with a slotted spoon, and taste to ensure it’s cooked all the way through. If not, simmer for a minute or two longer.
While we don’t always get the lightest, tenderest, gnocchi (we’ve had perfect gnocchi at an Italian restaurant a few times), we can say that these gnocchi will best 90% of the gnocchi out there. We liked the addition of nutmeg — you don’t really taste it, but you can tell it’s there, if you know what we mean. The pairing of sweet potato and sage is nearly perfect, especially for fall. Consider making a baked casserole from the gnocchi for Thanksgiving. Four stars, because they are a bit of trouble.