Saturday, February 8, 2014

Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi with Pecan Brown Butter Sauce

Sweet Potato Gnocchi ready for freezing.
Here’s another orange thing to eat.

My brother in Vermont writes that he and Peggy have been enjoying Yankee Magazine’s recipe for Sweet-Potato Gnocchi with Burnt Butter Sage Sauce.  I was especially drawn to the hazelnuts in the sauce and we love sweet potatoes in all forms.

I wanted to make a version that included ricotta cheese and could be either gluten free or made using regular wheat flour.  The one I came up with is a compilation that is light and pillowy served with finely chopped pecans in the butter sauce.  Guidance in developing this recipe came from Yankee Magazine, The Kitchn.com and italianfoodforever.com.  Try their recipes or this version as a main course or a great side to roasted pork tenderloin.

You'll notice I offer a different technique from the traditional "rolling a fork" method to form nice dents in the gnocchi that hold the sauce.  This dough is delicate and fell apart when I pressed with the back of a fork.  Dimpling the rope with the tip of your finger then cutting it into pieces created a really nice hollow for the sauce and was much easier for a novice to handle.  If you want to try the fork technique, add more flour to get a stiffer dough. 

Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sauce and Pecans
Yield 5-6 side servings, 2-3 main course servings

Ingredients
1 cup cooked sweet potato (bake a large extra one)
3/4 cup ricotta cheese (drained)
1 egg
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon freshly cracked pepper
2 cups GF flour plus extra for rolling

Method
  1. While the cooked sweet potato is still warm, peel off skin and mash it to release as much steam as possible.  If potato is very moist, place it in a wide skillet over medium heat and stir/flip for about 15 minutes to release steam.  Cool completely.  
  2. In a medium sized bowl, mix together sweet potato and drained ricotta cheese.  Stir in egg yolk, Parmesan cheese and salt. 
  3. Now add 1 ¼ cups of the flour and stir until fully incorporated into mixture.  
  4. Cover bowl and refrigerate at least 1 hour to allow flour to be fully absorbed.  
  5. Check dough.  It should be soft and not too tacky.  If it sticks to your fingers, add more flour, a¼ cup at a time until you can press your finger into the dough without pulling away large amounts of mixture.  The key to light gnocchi is to add just the right amount of flour to hold the dough together so you can work with it on our board but not so much that it overwhelms the sweet potato and ricotta and makes the dough heavy.  For these, I used the whole 2 cups and the result was still very light.  Refrigerate again.  
  6. When ready to make gnocchi, set a large pot of salted water over high heat.  Bring to a boil while you form gnocchi.  
  7. Cut away a handful of dough from the bowl and place on a well floured board.  Roll into a long rope, a little less than ½” thick.  With you tip of your finger, press into the rope of dough to form dimples.  Leave a small space between each dimple where you will slice to form individual gnocchi.  
  8. Use a butter knife to cut the rope into 1/2” pieces. Place formed gnocchi on wax paper on a baking sheet. (You can freeze them at this stage.  Freeze on the sheet then place individually frozen gnocchi in resealable freezer bags.)   
  9. When the gnocchi are formed and the water has reached the boiling point, lower the water heat to a simmer.  Simmer half the gnocchi at a time, about 2 minutes.  Gnocchi are done when they rise to the surface. 
  10. Remove with a slotted spoon to a colander to drain.  Simmer remaining gnocchi.  
While gnocchi simmers, make sauce (see suggested recipe below).  Place cooked gnocchi in sauce to coat completely.  Serve at once. 

 Pecan Brown Butter Sauce
Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi tastes wonderful with a butter and pecan sauce.  It also goes well with southwestern flavors.  Heat chopped tomatoes or salsa with some black beans and your gnocchi.  Serves as a hearty, protein-rich vegetarian meal. 

Ingredients for 4 servings
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/3 cup pecans, finely ground or chopped

Method
  1. Melt butter in a wide skillet over medium heat.  You may leave the butter as is and add the nuts and toss with the gnocchi or you can brown the butter for a deeper caramelized flavor.  
  2. To brown the butter, hold off placing the nuts in the pan and continue cooking the butter on medium heat.  It will foam a bit as the water in the butter evaporates and the butter will darken.  Do not let it burn by using too high a heat.
  3. As you see it start to turn brown lower the heat to simmer (or use lowest setting possible).  Keep an eye on the sauce to make sure it does not burn, just brown.  When it turns a few shades darker, the sauce is done. This is a fast process, just a few minutes. Remove skillet from heat.  Stir in nuts and gnocchi. Serve immediately.

Some variations
About halfway through mixing the gnocchi dough (before I added the flour), I noticed that the mixture could have been spooned into a well-oiled baking dish and baked into a light sweet potato-cheese mash.  One could also pipe or drop little mounds onto a oiled baking sheet to make little sweet potato puffs.  We love black pepper in sweet potatoes but you might like other spices like cinnamon, nutmeg or even ginger.

Thanks for a great idea, Matthew.