Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Rustic Pine Nut Sauce

This recipe screams Autumn. Creamy, dense sweet potato dumplings are tossed in a chunky medley of lightly toasted pine nuts and bread crumbs. This is perfect for a rainy/snowy day. Serve with a crusty sourdough bread and you have a recipe for bliss.

Making gnocchi from scratch is an art. So, make the Rustic Pine Nut Sauce first so you can concentrate on the gnocchi. The sauce heats up well and is also amazing on a variety of other pastas (try bow ties with shavings of cheddar or gouda cheese!). It comes together in just 30 minutes, but it does require attention for most of those minutes.

First, saute the onion and garlic in a whole bunch of olive oil. It will feel like the onion and garlic are drowning in oil: that's ok. You'll need that extra oil when you add the pine nuts and bread crumbs, plus the oil will be seasoned with onion and garlic! When the pine nuts and bread crumbs are nicely toasted (I actually like them a little on the burnt side), add the wine, capers, and canned tomatoes. Stir in a good amount of fresh basil at the very end of the cooking.

There are few things that smell as good as this sauce!

Then, make the gnocchi. Gnocchi are the Italian's version of potato dumplings. Gnocchi can also be made from parsnips, but I prefer sweet potatoes because they add a more interesting flavor than plain potatoes. The best part of gnocchi is the texture. The texture is also the trickiest part.

First, cook the sweet potatoes. I like to peel, coarsely chop and boil until tender. Mash until smooth. Because I serve these with a rustic sauce, I just use a fork to mash them; the few lumps of potato add wonderful character to the gnocchi.

The tricky part is adding the flour. The ideal dough uses the minimum amount of flour, which aids in the rich, dense texture of the gnocchi. Start with adding one cup of flour and stirring it in well. Add additional flour until the dough is somewhat manageable. Potato gnocchi will have a much more manageable dough than sweet potato dough. You will need to cover your hands in flour to prevent the sweet potato dough from sticking.

To know if you've added enough flour, drop a small amount of dough in boiling water. When the gnocchi rises to the top, take it out. The gnocchi should keep it's shape well. Taste it. If it is not stiff enough for your liking, add a little more flour.

When the dough has the right amount of flour, scoop about a cup of it onto a well-floured surface.

Generously sprinkle the dough with flour and gently shape it into a long log that is about 1 inch wide and 1 inch tall. This dough is fragile, so treat it with a gentle hand.

Cut the log into 1 inch long pieces. I like to use the side of a fork to do this. Some people roll gnocchi over the prongs of the fork to create ridges, which help in picking up the sauce. However, this dough is very soft, so the divots made with your fingers in the shaping process serves this purpose.

Drop the gnocchi into boiling water and begin shaping more gnocchi while those cook. By the time you are finished shaping the next batch, the first batch will be done (they rise to the top). Scoop them out with a slotted spoon and toss with sauce so they don't stick together.

Gnocchi are best served warm and they cool off quickly, so serve as soon as you can. Sweet Potato Gnocchi actually warm up pretty well, too (unlike regular potato gnocchi). 

Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Serves 4, inspired by How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 1/2 - 3 cups flour
  1. Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover in water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat slightly and continue to cook until soft, about 15 minutes. Drain well. Using a fork, mash until smooth. (If desired, the sweet potatoes can be refrigerated or frozen in this state until you are ready to make the gnocchi. If frozen, thaw thoroughly before continuing.)
  2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. 
  3. Stir salt, pepper, nutmeg, and cheese into the potatoes. Stir in 1 cup of flour. Then, add more flour (in about 1/2 cup increments) until the potatoes are slightly less sticky.
  4. Break off a small amount (about a quarter-size) of dough and drop into the boiling water. If the dough stays together, you have enough flour. If not, add more flour and test again.
  5. Plop about 1 cup of dough on a well-floured surface. Dust with flour and gently form into a 1 inch tall and 1 inch wide log of dough. Cut the dough into 1 inch lengths and place each of the pieces into the boiling water. 
  6. When the gnocchi rise to the surface, they are finished. Scoop them out using a slotted spoon and toss with sauce. When serving, sprinkle top with grated parmesan cheese and more black pepper.
Rustic Pine Nut Sauce
Serves 4, inspired by How to Cook Everything Vegetarian by Mark Bittman

1/4 cup olive oil
1 small red onion, chopped
2 tablespoon garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup pine nuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup bread crumbs (I used Panko)
1 cup canned tomatoes (about 1/2 of a 15 ounce can)
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1/4 cup red wine (or vegetable stock)
1/2 cup fresh basil, chopped
  1. Heat oil in a skillet (preferably cast iron) over medium-high heat. Add the onion, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 2 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium and continue cooking for about 10 minutes, or until the onion is golden and very soft.
  2. Add the pine nuts and bread crumbs, stirring well to coat in the oil. Cook for 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomatoes and cook for about 3 minutes more.
  3. Stir in the capers and red wine. Bring to a boil and cook for just a minute or two, until the wine has flavored the sauce thoroughly.
  4. Stir in the basil and adjust the seasonings. Serve.

Labels: , ,