Sometimes you just win at dinner. By win, I mean you make something so excellent and exciting and special, you can’t help but brag. Cue this week’s feature: sweet potato gnocchi with a brown butter balsamic sage sauce. A little more time-consuming and high-maintenance than simply opening a box of “Easy Mac?” Sure. Worth it? Undoubtedly. I have two chef-friends in Italy who would back me up on this…fresh pasta is the BEST.
I decided, partially by popular demand, that this was worth a share and so the recipe is below. If you’re a kitchen novice, this is a good opportunity to learn a few skills–namely how to brown butter properly and an introduction to fresh pasta making.
Let’s start with the gnocchi. You’ll need:
- Three sweet potatoes, washed and pierced multiple times with a fork.
- A cup of freshly grated parmesan reggiano
- 13 ounces fresh ricotta cheese, strained for an hour in a fine mesh sieve
- A half teaspoon of maple syrup
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- pinch of nutmeg
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2-3 cups of all purpose flour
1. Roast the scrubbed and pierced sweet potatoes (no oven explosions please!) until very tender. Remove from the oven and set aside for 10-15 minutes, until cool enough to handle.
2. Scoop the flesh from the sweet potato into a large bowl and discard the skin. Thoroughly mash/puree/rice/eviscerate the potatoes until super smooth.
3. Add the strained (we are trying to minimize excess moisture!) ricotta cheese to the sweet potatoes and mix thoroughly
4. Add the Parmesan, maple syrup, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt and mix again
5. Now comes the flour. Since the goal is to form dough, but maintain the fluffy-pillowy nature of the gnocchi, which means using the flour only to the extent it’s necessary. Doing this part right will distinguish your gnocchi from bricks of chunky paste. You need to incorporate flour with your sweet potato etc. gradually, thoroughly, and sparingly. We are looking for the bare minimum when it comes to the amount of flour we add. To accomplish this, add the flour by the 1/2 cup and mix well inbetween each addition. When a dough forms (just a tad bit sticky but malleable) you’re done. For my gnocchi, it took about 2.3 cups of flour…Once you hit the 2 cup mark, it’s time to add flour in even smaller increments.
Next we go from dough to gnocchi!
6. Thoroughly flour a cookie sheet, your work surface, your hands, and by this point…all of your kitchen/clothing.
7. Separate the dough into 6 equally-sized balls. Place on of these balls on your work surface.
8. Place one piece of dough in front of you and pat it into a rough oblong-shape. Using both hands, in a smooth back-and-forth motion and with very light downward pressure, roll the dough into a rope about a 1/2 inch thick, flouring the dough if necessary as you roll to keep it from sticking. (When you first begin making gnocchi, it might be easier to cut each oblong-piece of dough in half to roll it.)
9. Slice the rope into 1/2-inch-thick rounds. Do your best to keep the size consistent as you slice. Sprinkle the little gnocchi babies lightly with flour and roll each piece quickly between your palms into a small, rough, ball. You can flour the dough/your hands to prevent sticking.
The next step may feel excessive but keep in mind, the ridges in gnocchi help the pasta absorb and hold sauce!
10. Take a fork and hold the tines so the concave part faces up. Press each ball of dough with you thumb lightly against the tines of the fork as you roll it downward toward the tips of the tines. As the dough wraps around the tip of your thumb, it will form into a dumpling aka gnocchi aka heaven. Set each one on the floured baking sheet.
Gnocchi need to be either made right away or frozen. Set aside what you’re going to make that day, and freeze the rest.
Now to make the sauce….Brown butter balsamic sage sauce!
Before you begin this step, start boiling a large pot of water!
You’ll need one stick of butter (1/2 cup), give or take, 1/4 cup of chopped sage leaves, 2.5 tablespoons of balsamic vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1/4 pepper.
- Heat a metal (any saucepan will do as long as it isn’t black) saucepan on medium heat. Cut the butter into equally sized pieces and melt them in the pan…
- As the butter melts, keep stirring so that it melts evenly. By cutting the butter into even pieces and stirring constantly, you ensure that no milk solids brown before the rest of the butter melts and result in burnt butter (not delicious)
- After about 40 seconds, the butter will bubble and foam–good! This is the water evaporating, which means the milk solids will be left behind to brown and get delicious. KEEP STIRRING
As the foam subsides, you should be able to see the butter changing, and the milk solids turning brown. Keep stirring and watching intently
- Take the pan off the heat when it starts to turn golden-brown…it continues to cook after it’s been removed from the heat, which is why people frequently blacken their brown butter
After a minute, add the chopped sage and wait until it cooks a bit
Add the balsamic, salt, and pepper. Stir and ta-da! You’re nearly done…
At this point, you should have a pot of boiling water. Add your gnocchi and do not crowd the pot…better to make two batches rather than create a giant sticky pasta mess. They are cooked when they float to the top, which takes about two minutes with fresh pasta! Remove with a slotted spoon and toss with the sauce.
You could always add crispy fried pancetta and ribbons of parmesan on top…this is supposed to be decadent! Either way, I’m sure you’ll be entirely happy with the result! Happy eating!