Monday, March 8, 2010

How I learned to love sweet potatoes

Sweet potato gnocchi with sage and brown butter

Somewhere in my past, I got off to a bad start with sweet potatoes. This is no great surprise: after all, I got off to a bad start with a lot of vegetables. But unlike with most other vegetables, I only overcame that bad start recently--as in, a few months ago rather than a few years ago.

And it's silly, isn't it? I don't know if I ever actually tried many sweet potato dishes before before digging in my heels about them. I don't even know what it was (is?) I didn't (don't?) like about them. I just had it in my head that they were... you know... ick.


Well, all that's changed, and I have Wendy to thank for it. The recipe that changed my mind, a sweet potato gnocchi with sage and brown butter, was Wendy's contribution to the inaugural round of the Cross Country Cooking Parade (CCCP) recipe exchange. In the CCCP we each submit one savory and one sweet recipe, we make all eight of the recipes, and we share with each other our thoughts on the recipes and the results.

One of the ideas behind the CCCP is that we'll be encouraged to cook foods that we might be hesitant to try, and I'm thrilled that I'm already benefitting from it. These gnocchi have not only revived my faith in my gnocchi-making abilities, they've sold me on sweet potatoes. Even if this is the only sweet potato dish I ever make, I'll be perfectly content, because I'm not sure how anything else involving sweet potatoes is going to top it. That's probably due at least in part to the fact that they involve a sage brown butter sauce, but really, they made a convert out of me even before I tossed them in the butter.

From the top

I suppose they fall under the "time consuming" label, but to be honest, they didn't feel like a lot of work. The sweet potatoes can be roasted a little while ahead of time, and roasting them is no trouble at all if you already have the oven on for, say, baking yourself a buttery, flaky croissant for breakfast. (Seriously, remind me to gush about those croissants in another post and make you all green with envy.)

Once you're to the step of making up the dough, keep a light hand. The less you work the dough, the lighter and more pillowy the gnocchi will turn out, and the broader your smile will be when you finally sit down to eat them. (Or don't sit down, just eat them straight out of the pan in the middle of your kitchen. Who am I to judge?) In my experience--which, granted, has a sample size of only one--the dough is very soft and delicate, and sticky when bare, but not prone to absorbing additional flour. As a result, while you do need some extra flour while you're rolling and forming the gnocchi, you don't have to use a lot. One good dusting should be plenty.

Forming gnocchi

And speaking of plenty, a final note: the recipe calls for boiling the gnocchi for 10 seconds after they float to the top, and says that this should be about 5 minutes. Mine floated after 2 or 3, and, worried that they weren't done yet, I tried to let them cook the full 5 minutes. Big mistake--one that left me with a pot full of disintegrated gnocchi. If they float after 2 minutes, fine, that's plenty. Cook them for a further 10 seconds and get them out of the water. Then bathe them in brown butter and enjoy!


Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter

Adapted from Marcella Hazan and The New York Times
Makes 6 servings


  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, sifted, plus up to 1/2 cup for kneading
  • 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons minced fresh sage
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter


  1. Preheat the oven to 350F/175C. Poke a few holes in each sweet potato to let steam escape, then place them on a baking sheet. Bake them until they're tender, about 45 minutes.
  2. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel them and pass them through a ricer, or a food mill with a fine grate.
  3. Place the puree in a large bowl and add the flour, 2 tablespoons of the sage, the salt and pepper, and the cheese. Mix gently until just combined.
  4. Flour a work surface and scoop the dough out onto it. Dust the top and sides of the dough lightly with flour, and perhaps rub some flour between your hands so that they don't stick to the dough.
  5. Divide the dough into 6 equal pieces. Roll each piece under your palms so that it forms a long rope. [The original recipe says that the ropes should be about 1 inch wide and 20 inches long, but your mileage might vary.] Go ahead and sprinkle the dough with a bit of extra flour if it's sticking. Cut the rope into 1-inch segments, and roll each segment over the tines of a fork to form the characteristic indentations. (Use a gnocchi board if you're lucky enough to have one.) Collect the formed gnocchi on a baking sheet.
  6. When you've finished forming the gnocchi, bring a large pot of water to boiling and salt it generously. Drop several gnocchi into the boiling water (you'll need to work in batches so that you don't crowd the pot). Cook them for about 10 seconds after they rise to the surface. This could be only a couple of minutes, or up to five minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked gnocchi to a clean baking sheet, and cool completely.
  7. Place a large, heavy saucepan over medium-high heat and add the butter. Melt the butter and cook it, swirling occasionally, until the milk solids have turned a lovely chestnut color and smell nutty, about 5 minutes. If you plan to add fried sage leaves as a garnish, go ahead and fry them.
  8. Once the butter has browned, add the remaining chopped sage and turn off the heat. The mixture will bubble up, so don't be alarmed.
  9. Add the gnocchi to the sage butter, place over medium-high heat, and cook until the gnocchi are heated through, about 5-6 minutes. You might have to do this in batches, in which case it's useful to have the oven preheated to 300F/150C so that your earlier batches don't get cold. Divide the gnocchi and sauce among bowls, garnish with sage leaves (if desired), and serve.


  • Make-ahead: the gnocchi can be boiled up to 4 hours ahead, and kept at room temperature.
  • I haven't tried freezing these gnocchi, but based on this recipe I'm going to say go ahead and freeze them (prior to boiling) if you'd like to make them ahead of time and cook them later. Freeze them on a baking sheet, then transfer them to a zip-sealed plastic bag and freeze for up to 1 month. When you're ready to cook them, just dump them into the boiling water without thawing. They'll rise to the surface when they're done, just as with fresh gnocchi.
  • Wendy suggested, and I loved, a tart apple grated or cut into matchsticks and tossed with the gnocchi. I think it's a great variation.


(wife.) said...

aww, thanks for the shout-out! :-) I can't believe how incredibly perfect your gnocchi look...SO beautiful! I'm really, really glad you're on the sweet potato train now, if only with one foot. They're one of my all-time favorite foods!

sarah said...

yay! your gnocchi are SO gorgeous. and i'm so glad they helped (even partially) convert you from disliking sweet potatoes :)

Rose said...

Fantastic! I just made some from a very similar recipe. They are simply delicious, aren't they!?

Bee said...

Your gnocchi really are adorable. This falls under the category of: food that I would have never dreamed up. (The sweet potato does not get cooked in my kitchen very often. understatement)

Would you describe this as a starter, lunch, or dinner? Does it taste sweet?

Anne said...

Thanks, all! :) They turned out tidier-looking after boiling than before. Those ragged edges seemed to smooth out somewhat.

Bee, this was the very first time a sweet potato made any kind of appearance in my kitchen, and I think its first impression was a good one. It will be doing an encore, and soon.

I think the dish is rich enough that it's probably best served in modest portions. I can see it as a lunch with a green salad, or as a first course at dinner (alternatively, a substantial salad and then the gnocchi for a meal). It's rather sweet, comparable to butternut squash.

Aron said...

I'm not sure if I have ever wanted to eat raw gnocchi more.

Unknown said...

gnom gnom gnom...gli gnocchi sono molti belli! there's a good chance Jess and I may have a go with this recipe (though she may be subbing vegan butter for the real CCCP, eh? Any suspicious Russians in the group I need to keep an eye on for ya?

Anne said...

Mille grazie, fratello caro! I don't know the makeup of vegan butter you're using, so I don't know if it will give the same nutty flavor that regular brown butter has. To be on the safe side, you could use a mild olive oil instead of butter, and sprinkle the gnocchi with chopped toasted hazelnuts (or pine nuts, but I think hazelnuts would reproduce the flavors better).

No Russians here--we just thought it'd be amusing to use the same abbreviation. :) Still, I'll let you know if I need any backup and/or recon...

gfs said...

oh my word - this looks sooo delicious!

healthy lunch recipes said...

thats looks amazing......mmmmhhhhhh

anne said...

I just made these tonight--my first gnocchi ever, so I don't really know how they compare with the "regular" potato kind. My gnocchi-rolling skills improved with the second half of the dough, which I chilled--but they were a little disintegrated and not nearly as pretty as yours.

I thought they were delicious, especially with the sage butter, but it was hard to tell they were done. They bobbed to the surface almost immediately, then sank, then bobbed again, so my timing may have been off. Perhaps I cooked them a little too long? Maybe 3 minutes total?

Is there a reason there's no egg in the recipe? Other gnocchi recipes I've seen generally have egg as a binder.

Shayna D'Egidio said...

You mention nutmeg in the recipe but not again in the directions, is the assumption that it's added with the salt and pepper? Thanks!

Anne said...

Hi Shayna, yes, my mistake! Go ahead and add the nutmeg with the rest of the seasoning.

Anne, I'm afraid I don't have a good answer about the egg. It would be an interesting question to look up in one of Harold McGee's books!

Unknown said...

GREAT LOOKING gnocchi! This will be my first attempt. I was wondering if you or anyone following has used almond or coconut flour? After reading several articles on processed flour and the effects on the body, I'm going mostly paleo with little meat. Trying to find healthy alternatives and yours looks delicious!