Sweet Potato Gnocchi, Sauced Four Ways


There is something highly therapeutic about making gnocchi. It's like playing with edible play dough as an adult. Generally, except for the particular aficionado, one of the many beauties of making these little potato dumplings is that the end result need not look perfect. Like snowflakes, invariably no two are quite alike. Thus, in teacher speak, it's the process not the product. Even better though, the product is undeniably delicious. Despite all of the above, I hadn't made gnocchi for about a decade, until just recently. It's one of those experiences that quickly fades and reinvents itself, until it looms like something difficult. Much as  the case with canning. Perhaps on some level it longs to be smooth and aspires to perfection akin to freshly rolled pasta, which intimidates me unless prepared with a proper pasta maker. I love gnocchi, however, and it began looming in my head this spring as a must-make, only this time I really wanted to make it with sweet potatoes.  Powerhouses of vitamins A and C, sweet potatoes are also rich in manganese, and are a good source of copper, fiber, potassium, and even  iron. Studies have shown that sweet potatoes contain unique root storage proteins that function as antioxidants as well, lending to the reputation of possessing healing properties. Mildly but unmistakably sweet, their creamy texture seemed a perfect fit for dumplings, like butternut squash makes a just-right fit for ravioli.

My friend Mary and I used a basic dumpling recipe tweaked from All Recipes, and got a little carried away, doubling it. Therefore, we had occasion to experiment with sauces, all below. This recipe makes a lot! Prepare for a flour cloud hovering over your counter space before you're done. It's absolutely worth it, though, and we've even drawn up a list of why. Here's our top 10, in random order:

1. It's a great excuse to play with your food.

2. Sweet potatoes are rock stars of nutrition.

3. Making a huge mess in the kitchen can be delicious stress relief.

4. They're tough to make perfect, but you can't really go wrong, either. They can be homey or elegant, with simple or sophisticated sauce.

5. Orange is a beautiful color that complements many sauce varieties, seasons, and moods.

6. They're nicely filling in small portions, and go great with a big side of leafy greens.

7.  You can freeze the dough.

8.  Each one is hand-made, with its own cute personality.

9. You know they're done when they float.

10. When they do float, you can't help but feel this cheerful little bubble rise into your chest. Or maybe that's just me. : )

Here's the recipe:

Sweet Potato Gnocchi

  • 2 (8 ounce) sweet potatoes
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour (be prepared to use more)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Bake sweet potatoes for 30 minutes, or until soft to the touch. Remove from the oven, and set aside to cool.
  2. Once the potatoes are cool enough to work with, remove the peels, and mash them, or press them through a ricer into a large bowl. Blend in the garlic, salt, nutmeg, and egg. Mix in the flour a little at a time until you have soft dough. Use more or less flour as needed.
  3. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. While you wait for the water, make the gnocchi. On a floured surface, roll the dough out in several long snakes, and cut into 1-inch sections. Drop the pieces into the boiling water, and allow them to cook until they float to the surface. Remove the floating pieces with a slotted spoon, and keep warm in a serving dish.

Here are the sauces we tried. I'm not a fan of things that are overtly buttery, so I didn't truly give the maple sage butter a chance, but everyone else liked it a lot.

Spinach Mushroom Sauce: heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook 1 minced clove garlic garlic until browned, about a minute or so. Add a cup sliced mushrooms and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 1/2 cup low sodium chicken broth and 1 tablespoon flour. Whisk flour into broth mixture, then add 2 cups torn spinach leaves, salt and pepper to taste; cook until spinach wilts.

Light Tomato and White Wine Sauce: Heat one tablespoon olive oil in a saucepan on medium-high. Add 2 cloves minced garlic, 1/2 cup diced onion, and a dash red pepper flakes and saute about 1 minute, until fragrant. Add 1/4 cup white wine and approximately 2 cups fresh tomatoes, peeled and diced, or a can crushed tomatoes. Simmer about 5 minutes.

Maple Brown Butter, Lemon and Sage Sauce: Heat 1/4 cup butter in over medium heat. When the butter has melted, add 1 tablespoon torn fresh sage leaves. Continue to cook, swirling the butter occasionally, until the foam subsides and the milk solids begin to brown. Remove the pan from the heat. Stir in a teaspoon cinnamon, two tablespoons maple syrup, and juice from a lemon wedge.

Not Really Sauce Sauce: Just drizzle with olive oil and top with fresh grated parmesan. Or, if you'd prefer to pass on the oil, heat with a little chicken broth before adding parmesan.

Photo credit: Flikr user Alexandra Moss