It’s been a disconcerting week to say the least. While I’ve been fortunate enough to not have been directly affected by Sandy’s devastation, the stories, the news, and the updates from friends have been a reminder of how delicate everything really is. Not to mention that my 917-based phone has been on the fritz ever since the start of this week, so every time I go to dial, it’s proof that the east coast is still getting back on its feet.
It’s times like this that I look upon my affected friends and family and wish there wasn’t so many thousands of miles separating us. That I could console them, help them get their lives back on track, and, if nothing else, serve them a warm meal. It’s times like this when a good dose of comfort food is in order.
Comfort food preferences are as personal as it gets as they’re deep rooted in our past and, largely connected to our family’s heritage. For me, the ultimate comfort food is gnocchi. That’s because the comfort not only comes in those pillows of soft baked potato but in the making of the dish as well — the mixing, rolling, cutting, and shaping, which is a choreography that’s intrinsically cathartic.
I didn’t grow up eating this style of gnocchi — we were quite the traditionalists — but for the last few years this Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Balsamic-Brown Butter Sauce has been a cold weather staple. So, though I can’t be with my many friends affected back east, in my heart this is the dish I’d offer them. Along with a hug, a big glass of red wine, and the security that I’ll always be there for them.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brown Butter-Balsamic Sauce
- Makes: 8 to 10 servings (about 150 pieces)
- Total Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
- Hands-On Time: 10 minutes
- For the gnocchi:
- 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (yams), halved lengthwise
- 1/2 pound Russet potatoes, halved lengthwise
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- Kosher Salt and Freshly Ground Black Pepper
- 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
- 1 egg, lightly beaten
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups all purpose or white whole wheat flour
- For the sauce:
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 12 to 15 fresh sage leaves
- 2 shallots, quartered and thinly sliced
- 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
- Freshly shaved parmesan, for garnish
- Freshly ground black pepper, for garnish
- For the gnocchi:
Heat an oven to 425°F and arrange a rack in the middle. Drizzle potatoes with olive oil, season with a few good pinches of salt and a few cranks of pepper, place on a rimmed baking sheet, cut-side down, and roast until fork tender, about 30 minutes.
Set aside until cool enough to handle. Scoop flesh out of skins then pass flesh through a potato ricer (or mash with back of a fork) and stir in cheese, egg, honey, and sat. Mix in flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, until soft dough forms. Taste and add additional salt, as needed. You’ve added flour when you touch the back of the dough and it is damp but not sticking to you hand.
Turn dough out onto floured surface and shape into a square. Divide into 16 equal pieces. Rolling between palms and floured work surface, form each piece into a rope (about 1/2 inch in diameter), sprinkling with flour as needed if sticky. However, don’t add too much additional flour as too much will make for heavy gnocchi. Cut each rope into 1/2 -inch pieces. Stop here or, as desired, use your thumb, roll each piece down over tines of a fork to indent.
Bring large pot of heavily salted water to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Working in batches, simmer gnocchi until tender, about 5 minutes. Using a slotted spoon or spider, transfer gnocchi to clean rimmed baking sheet. Reserve 1/2 cups of pasta cooking water and drain the rest.
- For the sauce:
This is enough sauce for half of the gnocchi. If you want to cook off all the gnocchi, go ahead and double the recipe. Just a note that I’d recommend you make this sauce through twice as doing twice this amount in one pan would be unwieldy.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Once it foams, add sage and cook until crisp and fragrant. Remove sage to a plate and return frying pan to stove. Add shallot and, watching it carefully and stirring often, allow the milk solids begin to brown and the butter becomes fragrant and nutty. Scrape along the bottom to prevent the solids from sticking and burning.
When the butter is brown, immediately remove from heat, and carefully stir in the vinegar (it may sting your eyes). Stir in pasta and 1/2 cup of the reserved pasta water, return to heat, and cook until just coated in the sauce. Add a lot of freshly ground black pepper, taste for seasoning and finish with additional pasta water, salt, black pepper, the crisp sage, and freshly shaved parmesan.