Sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter

In Italy gnocchi is a Thursday business. I don’t really know where that originates from, but there’s a saying that goes “giovedì gnocchi”, which translates as “gnocchi on Thursday”. Like Thursday is the day dedicated to this kind of meal. Not just your regular pasta (a feature for any other day of the week): Thursday is for gnocchi. After experimenting this sweet potato gnocchi recipe (and failing it, I have to admit it), I think I know now why it’s giovedì gnocchi. It’s such a hassle that you need the whole weekend to recover! Just kidding, once I got the hang of it I was pretty happy with the result.

While there are various ways of making gnocchi, the most familiar version for me is a pretty simple recipe that consists of mashed boiled potatoes, flour and egg. You could just not follow any recipe and adjust the ingredients as the dough comes together, and that is how my godfather makes his gnocchi. I swear I have never seen him measure anything. He will just mash a humongous amount of potatoes, add some eggs from his very own chickens and just add flour until he reaches the right consistency. That’s one way of making gnocchi, but the yield can easily go out of control.

Or, you could follow a recipe. Maybe one that does not involve humongous quantities and several hours of kneading and rolling and cutting, too. My mom has one that caters to a much smaller party and that is my go-to way of making gnocchi. Yet, when I tried to sub the potato with sweet potato I learned that it didn’t really work the same and I needed to make some adjustments. Sweet potato is way wetter than regular potato, so on my first attempt the dough came out pretty sticky.

Sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter
Sticky dough and all, the outcome is rewarding

Now the thing about gnocchi is that once you made your dough you are supposed to divide it into smaller portions and roll each portion into sausages about 1,5 cm thick. Then you proceed to cut out each gnocco from that dough sausage. My first sweet potato gnocchi dough was too sticky to allow for this procedure, so I went on and added more flour until I felt like I got the right consistency. Wrong. While I could cut out the gnocchi the traditional way, once cooked my sweet potato gnocchi were just too hard. Lots of flour made the dough easy to handle but the outcome just did not have the right texture. Great taste, but you want your gnocchi soft. I want my gnocchi soft.

So I continued testing and I got to the right proportions to make this fine dish. Do expect some stickiness and forget about cutting out the gnocchi from a dough sausage. You gotta play hard with this gnocchi dough, but the outcome will really be worth it, I promise.

Sweet potato gnocchi recipe

  • 500 g sweet potatoes
  • 1 medium potato
  • 220 g flour
  • 1 small egg

Peel and chop the potato and sweet potato(es). Put them in a pot with water and set it on the stove. Bring to a boil and simmer until the potatoes are soft and cooked through. You need to be able to mash them, so let them cook until properly soft. drain and let cool once cooked. When the boiled potatoes reach room temperature, mash them. They can as well be just slightly warmer than room temp, but not hot. Even if you are able to handle them and knead them at a high temperature, you don’t want the heat from the potatoes to cook the egg.

Add the egg and the flour to the potato mash and work them all until it all comes together. As I said before, this will be a fairly sticky dough, so resist the temptation to use more flour. When your sticky orange dough is done, it is time to make the gnocchi. Generously dust an oven tray with flour and have it beside the dough. To form the gnocchi I like to use two spoons. With one I scoop up a small amount of dough, and with the help of the other I make it fall onto the floured surface of the oven tray. While there is no golden rule about the size, the goal is to make them all about the same size, so that they will cook evenly. I made mine about as big as a teaspoon, so scooped up 2/5 of the tablespoon.

Your scooped up gnocchi will not have a very appetizing appearance now. Once you scooped up and pushed down a batch of gnocchi, dust them with some more flour. Then pick up each one and gently work it with your hands to give it a smoother shape. I rolled them in my hands and slightly flattened them so that they would not look like balls but more like proper gnocchi with rounded edges. Let them sit on a floured surface until all the dough is used. I prefer to work in batches as you need to move them around from time to time or you risk that each gnocco will absorb the flour underneath and those evil dough balls will stick to the oven tray. So give your older batches some love as you continue working the rest of the dough, or you’ll regret it.

How to cook gnocchi

Set a large pot of water on the stove and bring it to boil. When it boils, add salt to taste and add the gnocchi – again in batches. Cooking time is pretty short, about 1-2 minutes from the moment they surface to the top. They will sink the very moment you pour them into the boiling water, so give them a stir to make sure none will stick to the bottom of the pot. When the whole batch has come to the surface it is time to drain them. Since you want to use the same water to cook the other batches, the best way is to scoop up the cooked gnocchi with a skimmer.

Now it’s time to add our lovely brown butter sauce. The thing about brown butter is the procedure rather than the ingredients. You just need the butter, really. And a good saucepan and some patience. The reward is immense. So for this recipe I decided to use salted butter, as I figured it would pair perfectly with the sweet note from the sweet potato in the gnocchi dough. Of course you can use unsalted butter, but I personally think salted butter really makes this dish totally awesome.

To make brown butter you need to use a saucepan with a thick bottom and possibly light on the inside (no teflon coating). The reason why you want it light is that this way you will be able to see when the butter actually browns, so you will know when to remove it from the heat. This is very important, as you want to stop heating it just before it actually burns, so you need to be very aware of what’s going on in the pan.  Ready for this challenge?

Sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter

Brown (salted) butter sauce

To make a portion of brown butter to go with your sweet potato gnocchi you will need:

  • 50 g salted butter

Add the butter to the pan and melt it over medium heat, moving it with a rubber spatula. After the butter has completely melted, you have to let it simmer until all the water in it evaporates. It can take about 5 minutes, always keep an eye on it and give it an occasional stir. When the water will evaporate you will see the protein (white) separate from the fat (yellow). The goal here is to get the floating protein parts to brown – the more you keep heating them, the darker they’ll turn. Since at this point the simmering butter will also have formed froth on the surface, it is important to stir it with your spatula so that you can actually see through the froth and check what’s going on on the bottom of the pan with the protein particles.

When you see that they have become light brown (hence the importance of a light saucepan), immediately remove from the heat and transfer the content to a porcelain bowl. Do not keep it in the pan, as that way it would continue cooking. You want to stop the butter from actually burning. Brown butter’s caramelized and nutty taste is exactly its charm. It really is a matter of seconds; half a minute more and it may already have a burnt aftertaste.

Pour this lovely brown butter sauce over the cooked gnocchi, toss to distribute and serve. You could serve these sweet potato gnocchi with any sauce of choice, but I think that salted butter – especially caramelized, brown – is just the best pick. So simple, yet such a perfect combination.

Sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter

The inspiration for these gnocchi came from a dish served at my friend Clelia’s wedding reception. The dinner featured “pumpkin gnocchi with caramelized butter”. I was pretty full at the wedding dinner but got a double portion of those. They were just so delicious. I needed a second serving of those in my life even if that meant there wouldn’t be room for the cake. (Just kidding, in my stomach there’s always room for cake.) I figured that sweet potato was close enough to pumpkin. Plus, after practicing making brown butter I realized that what they served as “caramelized butter” was pretty much that. So this is how one day I just got stubborn and came up with this delicious dish. Thanks for the inspiration Clelia!

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Sweet potato gnocchi with brown butter

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