So. I made this gnocchi on TV today. Wait. Let me rephrase that. I attempted to demonstrate how to make this gnocchi dough on TV today. What I actually did was just kind of mush my hands around in a pile of egg yolk, ricotta, and sweet potato. Six minutes is, apparently, a lot shorter than it seems. I did, however, succeed in making a very brilliant mess. The mess, a real sticky, floury one, it was tops. So don’t do that at home! Do what I say to do below instead. Then you will have beautiful, fluffy pillows of lightly spiced goodness. That said, it was such fun, a learning experience if you will, and next time I’m going to fully embrace TV magic and come with everything already made. Everything. And there will be a next time. And that next time will be a dadgum pie. I will vanquish the short cooking demo TV segment with pie, you’ll see.
After I was off camera I proceeded to finish making my dough in a calm fashion. I wasn’t about to let perfectly good homemade ricotta and local sweet potatoes and egg go to waste. Them’s, as they say, good eatin’. I know gnocchi can have a reputation as a bit of a bear to work with, but I assure you this dough is exceedingly simple. (So simple, in fact, I delusionally thought I could do it in a few minutes my first time on camera…)
All it takes is a sense of touch. Think with your fingers. You don’t want your dough too sticky to handle nor do you want to add too much flour. So just add flour bit by bit, I usually start with half a cup and add 1/4 cup at a time after that up to 1 1/4 cups total. So just add it until your gnocchi is a workable, soft play-dough-like consistency. Adding too much flour will make your gnocchi tough, so easy does it. The excellent thing about this is once you’ve made your gnocchi and lined them all up on your baking sheet like little soldiers you can freeze them (on the sheet tray to prevent sticking) and then toss them all in a ziplock in the freezer and keep them for up to 3 months. Which means that nothing stands between you and impromptu homemade gnocchi but a pot of boiling water, about 3 minutes, and deciding what to put with them. And I’m here to help with that last part. Figs! Buttermilk mornay (aka cheese sauce)! Pancetta (aka bacon)! If this seems odd, just trust me. It’ll be real good, baby. You’ll see.
We eat a lot of sweet potatoes when they abound at the market, specifically, we eat a lot of baked sweet potatoes. Butter, salt, and little else. But even for sweet potato enthusiasts such as ourselves (I think the high levels of potassium excite us…), baked sweet potatoes night after night can get boring. Herein lies the solution.
The other great thing about these gnocchi are how affordable they are. I don’t usually go on about how quick, cheap, and convenient things are (though these are all of those things). I think that sort of mindset and language reduces your meals to a love affair in the red light district. Even still, the beautiful thing about shopping at the market and using raw ingredients instead of preprepared ones is that you do save money in cutting out the middle man. Added bonus, you get a far better tasting product and your money goes to your community. Wins abound.
Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi with Buttermilk Mornay Sauce, Fresh Figs, & Pancetta
Velvety is a food word, a food word that one arguably should eschew. That, unfortunately, just isn’t practical in this situation. These are, for sure, velvety. The sauce is velvety. Hell, the figs are velvety. The crispy pancetta adds just the right amount of crunch to offset it. And the flavor profile is a well orchestrated team effort. The lightly spiced gnocchi are creamy and ever so slightly sweet as are the figs while the buttermilk mornay chimes in with tangy, salty notes which are further punctuated by the pancetta, and all of it is brightened with an herbaceous bite from either chives or sage. A peppery green like watercress or arugula would be good here too. This is nonna meets grand-mère meets grandma, an Italian classic in a French sauce with Southern flavors. In short, no matter where you are or hail from, this is comfort food for fall.
2 lbs sweet potatoes
1 large egg yolk
2/3 cup whole milk ricotta (Drained if using store bought, but I make my own using this recipe.)
1-1 ½ cups all purpose flour
pinch freshly grated nutmeg
¼ tsp cinnamon
For Mornay Sauce:
2 Tbsp butter
3 Tbsp all purpose flour
2 cups buttermilk
fresh grated nutmeg
¼ tsp salt
2 oz grated gruyere cheese (about ½ cup, packed)
12 figs, quartered
6 slices pancetta, fried crispy and crumbled
fresh chives, chopped fine (sage is also good here)
To make gnocchi:
Prick potatoes all over with a fork and steam in microwave wrapped in damp paper towels until tender all the way through when pierced & fully cooked. Rotate half way through cooking, about 3-5 minutes per side for medium sized potatoes. Alternately, roast in a 400° F oven about 50-60 minutes.
While potatoes are still hot, handling with towels, slice in half. Scoop flesh out and press through a potato ricer into a rectangle (not a pile). Alternately you can use a food mill or box grater to shred the potatoes. Let cool until about room temperature. (Note: the potatoes are riced hot and into a rectangle to maximize their release of steam because the less moisture in your potatoes the less flour you will need to add resulting in lighter gnocchi. Also, I do not salt my gnocchi as salt draws in moisture, making for mushy gnocchi. Rather, I generously salt the cooking water. The more you know…)
Drizzle potatoes with egg yolk, crumble the ricotta on top, and sprinkle ½ cup of flour on top. Using a bench scraper or spatula, cut the flour, yolk, and ricotta into the potatoes using a chopping motion until beginning to become incorporated. Then start using the bench scraper to fold the mixture together. Sprinkle with an additional ¼ cup of flour, and chop/fold it in. At this point I switch to using my hands, lightly floured.
Gather the dough into a ball. If the dough is still too sticky to do this, work in up to an additional ¼ cup flour. Pat dough into a disc. If disc is too sticky, sprinkle with another ¼ cup flour. Work in flour, if needed, until just not too sticky to handle. Form dough into a compact log and let rest 5 minutes.
Cut log into 8 individual segments. Lightly flour work surface. Roll one segment out at a time into 1” thick logs. Cut logs into individual pieces, about 1”. To create grooves, the gnocchi can be rolled on a gnocchi board or the tines of the fork. This step is optional. Place formed gnocchi on a parchment lined baking sheet. Refrigerate until ready to cook if cooking soon, otherwise the gnocchi can be frozen on the sheet tray and then placed into a ziplock bag and kept in the freezer up to 3 months. To cook frozen gnocchi just put directly from freezer into boiling water just as with fresh gnocchi, do not thaw.
To make sauce:
Melt 2 tbsp butter over low heat. Stir in 3 Tbsp flour. Bring roux to a bubble on medium low and let cook about two minutes, careful not to brown. Meanwhile warm buttermilk slowly and ¼ tsp salt until just warm. Do not get it too hot or it will curdle, just warm it gently. Whisking constantly slowly pour warm buttermilk into roux. Bring to a boil over medium high heat and whisk constantly until thickened. Remove from heat, stir in fresh nutmeg & cayenne to taste. Stir in cheese until fully melted. Taste and adjust seasoning if desired. Sauce can be kept warm over a simmering water bath, stirring occasionally to prevent skin from forming or it can be just set aside, uncovered, if using shortly. Again, stir to prevent skin.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add gnocchi. Give them a gentle stir after a few seconds to prevent sticking. Cook about 2 minutes or until they float to the top. Remove, draining well, with a slotted spoon or spider. Toss gently with mornay sauce, pancetta, and figs. Sprinkle with chives and serve immediately.