There are a few foods that seem to require being made by hand. They simply have the handmade goodness baked right into them and their imperfections are somehow an integral part of what makes them so special. For me, that list begins with berry pie and continues on to include many of my favorites. Gnocchi would definitely be among them, and the sweet potato version would be my sentimental favorite.
The reason is really quite simple. Sweet potato gnocchi was one of the first recipes that the whole family gathered in the farmhouse kitchen to make together. Several times each fall and winter, we would spend a Saturday in the kitchen together making pounds of these little orange pillows to keep in the freezer. During the years that our garden’s sweet potato harvest was plentiful, those days were frequent and we had a supply of homegrown and handmade sweet potato gnocchi to last all winter long.
Our children were young, but their small hands followed ours while rolling ropes of gnocchi dough until they were ready to section into pieces before pushing them down the ridged paddle and rolling them onto a sheet pan. By the time we were finishing filling tray after tray with gnocchi, we would be covered in the mess of the day’s work. The kids often had sweet potato dough mashed under each fingernail, smeared onto their foreheads, and pressed into every crevice of the table and slate tile floor. Cleaning up the kitchen and the kids sometimes took almost as long as making the gnocchi.
No matter the mess, I have such fond memories of those days. They ended with our family gathered around our farmhouse table enjoying a meal that was literally made with our hands. Every bite was a celebration of time spent together in the kitchen. There’s something warm and wonderful about that sort of memory, that type of meal, and knowing that we are continuing a tradition as old as this farmhouse by creating something nourishing for our family table together.
Years have passed, but we still enjoy this meal just as much today. My kitchen helpers have grown by leaps and bounds in every way including their gnocchi making prowess. They roll these gnocchi down the paddle with such ease now. The trays fill quickly with beautiful gnocchi and the mess is a mere hint of what it was years ago.
I’ve written about food memory so many times before. Most often, my childhood food memories involve my paternal grandmother’s homemade pies. The mere thought of them has the power to transport me back decades to her humble kitchen table. Food memories are so powerful, so intertwined into our remembrance of a time and place.
While I didn’t set out for this rustic recipe to become one of my children’s food memories, they certainly have. We speak of them often, peering back into the years gone by to revisit them. I hope that my children will continue to hold this food memory and many others we have cultivated very close to their hearts.
For me, these sweet potato gnocchi will always have a special place in my heart, a rich food memory that will be bound together by the mental images I have of us gathered together to make them in our farmhouse kitchen. I hope that you will create your own tradition and food memory by making them to share with your friends and family. I can promise that all who gather at your table to enjoy these gnocchi will remember them fondly for years to come.
You can certainly make this recipe without a gnocchi paddle. The ridges are meant to both make the gnocchi look beautiful and help them to hold on to their sauce. You can make them without the ridges without affecting their flavor. We have two gnocchi paddles at the farmhouse. One is an antique that we discovered at a local antique shop. The other is a new version we purchased from a kitchen shop. I’ve had so many readers ask me where they can find a paddle for making gnocchi and pasta that I’ve added one to our Amazon shop so that you can find one to add to your kitchen!
- 2 pounds raw sweet potatoes
- 15 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 Tablespoons brown sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt
- 2 1/2 cups All-purpose flour
- 3 Tablespoons butter
- 1 Tablespoon fresh sage, minced
- Parmesan cheese, grated for serving
- Wash the sweet potatoes and puncture all over with a fork. Place half of the potatoes on a microwave safe plate and microwave on high in 4 minute intervals until soft. Remove from the plate and set aside to cool. Repeat with the remaining sweet potatoes.
- Once the cooked sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, split each potato in half lengthwise. Using a spoon, scrape the flesh from the skin and place into a potato ricer. Rice the sweet potato into a large bowl. Repeat until all the sweet potatoes have been riced into the bowl. If you do not have access to a potato ricer, the cooked sweet potato flesh can be placed in the large bowl and mashed using a hand potato masher.
- Add ricotta cheese, brown sugar, and salt to the sweet potatoes and stir until well combined. Add 1 1/2 cups of the flour to the sweet potato mixture and stir until fully incorporated. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough forms a soft ball. The goal is to create a soft dough that comes together without being too dry. If needed, add more flour a bit at a time until the dough comes together. Take care not to overmix.
- Turn dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured surface. Divide the dough into 8 equally sized sections. Take one of the sweet potato dough sections and roll on a floured surface to form a rope with a 1 inch diameter. Using a knife or bench scraper, cut the rope into one inch long pieces.
- Traditionally, gnocchi are individually rolled on a gnocchi paddle or over a fork in order to create ridges that trap the sauce on each piece.You can also push each piece of gnocchi across the tines of a fork with your thumb.
- However, if you find this intimidating or simply don't have the time, don't despair. This step can be skipped and the gnocchi can simply be prepared once they are cut. While the appearance will differ slightly, the flavor will still be delicious.
- Place the gnocchi on a sheet pan lined with a piece of parchment, waxed paper, or freezer paper. Continue until all of the gnocchi have been shaped and cut. If you are planning to freeze some of the gnocchi, place them in a single layer on a tray lined with freezer paper. Freeze them for several hours until they are frozen solid. Transfer them to a freezer bag for long term storage.
- To prepare the gnocchi, place a large stockpot filled with water over high heat. Once the water comes to a simmer, add 1 Tablespoon of salt and allow the water to come to a full rolling boil. Reduce the heat slightly.
- Add the gnocchi in batches small enough to allow them to move freely in the salted boiling water without being crowded. The gnocchi will begin to float on the surface of the water as they cook. Continue to cook for approximately one minute before removing with a slotted spoon to a lightly oiled baking sheet to allow the gnocchi to dry slightly. Continue until all of the gnocchi have been cooked.
- Once the gnocchi have been boiled and are drying on the sheet pan, prepare the brown butter and sage. Add the butter to a large skillet over medium heat. After the butter melts, you will notice that the milk solids will begin to separate. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally to allow those solids to brown slightly. You will notice a slight change in color and aroma. Brown butter has a slightly nutty aroma which will signal that the solids have caramelized and that the brown butter has finished cooking.
- Reduce the heat to low and add the minced sage, swirling the pan or stirring to combine. Begin adding the boiled gnocchi to the pan in small additions, tossing gently to coat them in the brown butter without damaging the tender gnocchi. Continue adding gnocchi to the pan until they have all been added.
- Warm the gnocchi briefly, moving them gently to prevent sticking and to ensure that they are all coated with the brown butter and sage. Transfer the warm gnocchi to plates and garnish with grated Parmesan cheese before serving. Enjoy!
- Taste for seasoning, adding salt and pepper to taste. Add the cooked gnocchi to the pan and gently stir to coat. Serve immediately, garnishing with grated Parmesan.