Sweet potato gnocchi

Sweet potato gnocchi, simmering

It's easy to get attached to a dish before you've even tasted it. An idea strikes you and you think about it for days. You write the idea down instead of working, to see how it looks on paper. Perhaps some mustard vinaigrette to round off the sweetness of the beetroot? Damn that's good, if I finish these summaries in the next 20 minutes I can still get to the shops to pick up some dill. You tidy up the kitchen bench — you require a clean workspace to create magic. You work meticulously, even bothering to make the horizontal cuts in the shallot for a perfect dice. The cooking smells are amazing. You plate up like you're sending it to Gordon Ramsay's pass. If you're a food blogger, you take a photo framing the food slightly off center. You can zoom in more than that, so you do.

By this stage it almost doesn't matter what the food tastes like, you've already had your fun. But you've got to eat. The food has the advantage of two days of convincing yourself it will taste like mana from heaven, but the disadvantage of high expectations. You taste it and it's great. Well done, you.

Unfortunately it doesn't always work out that way, and my sweet potato gnocchi was one such example. Damn sweet potato. Too sweet for savoury dishes, and not sweet enough for desserts. Mushy and sticky rather than creamy. Slightly fibrous. I don't get it, why does everyone like sweet potatoes? Why did I make sweet potato gnocchi? What did I think it would taste like? Well, no man is an island, and this man's favourite taster happens to love sweet potato and specially requested it. This is the same taster to who was kind enough to eat the whole bowl when I made my first (undercooked) risotto. I had to give something back. I even had myself convinced I would love it.

Sweet potato gnocchi with bacon and sage

For the gnocchi:

  • 400g sweet potatoes
  • 100-150g plain flour
  • 1 egg, whisked lightly to combine
  • Salt

For the sauce:

  • 1 rasher bacon, chopped to a medium dice
  • 5 leaves of fresh sage
  • Black pepper
  • Salt
  • Pecorino

Roast the sweet potatoes in a hot oven until they are completely cooked through. I always roast rather than boil my potatoes for gnocchi, as it gets rid of a lot of moisture. Moisture is the enemy of gnocchi — more moisture means adding more flour to make a workable dough, and that leads to gluey gnocchi.

Once roasted, halve the sweet potatoes and scoop out the flesh. Pass this through a potato ricer and spread out on your work surface. Salt it to taste then top with the egg and half of the flour. Chop these together with a cleaver or pastry cutter to combine. Chopping the mixture together avoids working the dough too much, which again will prevent gluey gnocchi. In fact let's just go ahead and say that every tip is to prevent gluey gnocchi. Marcella Hazan would clip me behind the ears with her rolling pin for this, but in my opinion egg is a necessary evil. You will need to add a little more flour if your mixture contains egg, but if used judiciously it gives the gnocchi just the slightest bite without them being too heavy. In the future I may reconsider eggs with this kind of gnocchi, the sweet potato are sticky and wet enough as it is.

If the mixture is still too sticky to work with, add the rest of the flour gradually until you've got something acceptable. Keep in mind my finished dough was still pretty wet, as the photo hopefully captures.

Sweet potato gnocchi dough

Divide up the mixture and roll it into 2 cm tubes. Chop these at even intervals and give each one a little indentation with your thumb. If it's a special occasion you can shape them less lazily than myself, however you'll have to consult your local Italian grandmother (or wait for me to write about potato gnocchi) for instructions. Add the gnocchi to boiling salted water and remove to a tray with a slotted spoon once they float to the top. From this point they can be held in the fridge for a day, or frozen. The frozen gnocchi can used straight from the freezer: either add them to a pan of olive oil to crisp up, or reheat them in a pan with your sauce.

The sauce I made with these was very simple. Fry your bacon in a dry until almost finished, then tear up the sage leaves and add them to the pan. Cook this for 1 minute in the bacon and bacon fat, then add the gnocchi and cream to the pan. Simmer this on a high heat to reduce the cream to coat the gnocchi, then season with salt and pepper. Serve in warmed bowls with grated pecorino. I told you it was easy.

Sweet potato gnocchi with bacon and sage

Shortly after the above photo was taken, the gnocchi was covered in cheese. The verdict? Eh. The sauce was excellent. If I got drunk and decided to make these again, I would serve them with this sauce. The gnocchi however was heavy and sticky. There's a reason why you should use floury potatoes for gnocchi, and unfortunately sweet potatoes with their high sugar and water content just aren't ideal. Even without flour, plain sweet potato purée can be a bit on the sticky side, and they require a lot of flour to make a dough. With the right technique — and obviously the traditional potato gnocchi technique isn't suitable — I'm not ruling out making gnocchi with sweet potatoes, but it will need some more experimentation to get right.

But the sauce, yeah, try it. Tossed with fettucini and some small chunks of sautéed sweet potato, and you could be on a winner.

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