I don’t claim to be a master chef. Hell, if there’s something I don’t think I’ll ever attempt until I’m rich and own a ton of useless kitchen gadgets, it would be pasta. And I know that fresh pasta is worlds better than any store-bought pasta, but it’s just so labor intensive.
When I was home, one of my Christmas presents was a cooking class at our local Italian restaurant. There, I got to see how to make gnocchi. Gnocchi is easily my favorite type of pasta because it’s made from potatoes, and boy do I love potatoes. Not only did I discover that this was incredibly simple to make, it also required not special tools. Well, there are some that are recommended, but you can get by without them.
I wanted to bring this recipe from Dallas back to Albany, but the real obstacle here is the fact that this had to be gluten-free. But, because the pasta dough doesn’t rely on the flour for texture, the substitution of gluten-free flour for regular flour was almost unnoticeable.
I had learned to do a standard potato gnocchi, but for this dish I wanted to try using sweet potatoes. Not only are sweet potatoes better for you, but they also pair very well with balsamic vinegar. So I started out with sweet potatoes and a couple of regular old russet potatoes.
Typically, you can just half the potatoes and throw them into the water, but I was a bit pressed for time so I chopped them up. Since I’ll have to remove the skins later, you can just peel them before chopping them and boiling them, or you can do what I had to do. I boiled these potatoes together in a pot of salted water for about 20 or 25 minutes. Then I drained them and threw them in a bowl. Using two forks, I got to work peeling the skins of the potatoes out. Since they just fall right off it’s pretty easy. Then using those same forks, I mashed up the potatoes into a rough mash.
Traditionally, this would require that you put the potato through something known as a potato ricer. And as the name suggests, it’s a tool that essentially makes bits of potatoes that resemble rice grains. Because I’m a poor college student, I don’t own anything as ludicrously specific as a potato ricer, so the double fork approach is a good enough substitute.
With the potatoes mashed, it’s time to add the rest of the wet ingredients. I whisked up an egg and added it in with some brown sugar, honey, salt, and pepper. This is everything that constitutes the wet part of the pasta. Mix this up and then it’s time for the flour.
How much flour you actually need will depend on any number of factors so I can only give out a rough estimate of how much is needed just for the pasta dough (not including all the flour you need for rolling it out and such). And I would assume that the amount of gluten-free flour and the amount of regular flour you would use will not be the same either. But I added the flour in half-cup intervals until I got my desired dough texture. And what kind of texture is that? When the dough stops clinging to my hands.
With the dough made, it’s time to make the gnocchi themselves. On a well-floured surface, I grabbed a handful of dough from my pile and rolled it out on my table. This is a fine art. Ever made Play-Doh snakes? Then you too can make gnocchi. It’s essentially Play-Doh at this point it just tastes a lot better. Roll them out with only the palm of your hands and try to use as little pressure as possible so you don’t crush them. I would say roll it out until your snakes have about a 1 inch diameter and you should be good to go. I like to line up three of them before I actually cut the gnocchi. This takes a little bit of time and patience, but once you can do one, you can do many.
In the cooking class, we used a dough scraper, which is another highly specific tool that I would only use slightly more than a potato ricer. So what do you use instead? A knife. I got a knife with a pretty broad blade (you’ll see why in a second) and cut the three snakes into little cubes of potato pasta.
After that, use your knife to kind of pick up the gnocchi and toss it in the flour. This will help them separate out a little bit and keep them from sticking to one another. Then you just keep taking chunks of dough bit-by-bit and keep making gnocchi out of them. And eventually you’ll have your own heaping pile-o’-gnocchi.
Mine looks pretty nice I think. Now technically you’re not supposed to stack them, it should be one layer to keep them from congealing. But honestly, unless you have tons of counter space (which I do not have), there’s no way you can actually do that. And all my gnocchi had to be restricted to this one baking sheet so I could move it out of the way and make room for other things.
The best part about fresh pasta? It takes so much less time to cook. After bringing a pot of water to a boil and adding in salt and a tablespoon of olive oil, I threw the gnocchi into the pot and let it boil for about 3 or 4 minutes. You’ll know they’re almost done when they float to the top and then you give them an extra minute so they’re nice and al dente.
Time for the sauce. Now I started off by lining up a few keep players that would elevate my balsamic brown-butter into something truly next level. With what exactly? Garlic, onions, rosemary, sage, and the rind of my Parmigiano Reggiano (parmesan cheese).
Some cheese you buy with have this hard waxy coating on the outside. It is edible, technically, but I don’t know many people that choose to eat it save my mother. Most people just throw it out. Naturally. But, the rind has a lot of the parmesan flavor of the cheese that you can use to your advantage. When I cooked the sauce, I threw this in there to give it more of the parmesan flavor in addition to the cheese I add later on. Plus, you’ll get some use out of the rind before throwing it away.
To begin, I begin as almost all my sauces begin: butter. Well, in this case it was margarine. I melted down a ½ stick of margarine (4 tablespoons) and threw in the minced garlic to start the process. I wanted to do the garlic first because I want it to really permeate the butter before I add in everything else.
Of course this is a brown butter sauce, so we need brown butter. After the butter begins to foam, I added in the whole rosemary and sage. The stems of the herbs have a lot of flavor you can take advantage of and I was too lazy to actually chop them up. I let the herbs and garlic fry up in the butter for several minutes, giving the butter time to brown up and reduce, exactly what we want here.
Then add in the onions and cook them until they’re translucent. Here you have two options. You can use regular onions like I have here, or you can use shallots. Because I needed my shallots for something else later, I decided to go with the onion approach.
After the onions were nice and translucent, I added in the balsamic vinegar and let that come to a slight boil. Once it did, I threw in my gnocchi and about a half cup of the water the pasta had been cooking in. Pour in the pasta water (which carries some of the gnocchi flavor) into the pan and bring this to a boil.
After it reduces down just a bit (maybe 5 minutes or so), remove from the heat and serve. You don’t want to be cooking this for a long time, otherwise your gnocchi will get overcooked and mealy.
There you have it, homemade pasta that is, in my opinion, rather easy. Because of all the different potatoes, there are so many different ways to make gnocchi and I’m sure all of them are delicious. This one is great because I love balsamic vinegar and I love when it’s paired with sweet potatoes. This can be made as an entire meal or you can serve it as a side dish like I did.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi in a Balsamic Brown-Butter
Prep time: 1.5 hours
Cook time: 30 minutes
- 4 medium sweet potatoes
- 2 medium russet potatoes
- 1 tbs brown sugar
- 1 tbs honey
- 1 egg, beaten
- 3 – 3 ½ cups gluten-free flour
- Salt and pepper
Balsamic Brown-Butter Sauce
- 4 tbs butter or margarine
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 sprigs of rosemary
- 3 stems of sage
- ½ medium onion, sliced
- 3 tbs balsamic vinegar
- ½ cup pasta water
- 1 Parmigiano Reggiano rind (optional)
- ¼ cup Parmigiano Reggiano
- Boil sweet potatoes and russet potatoes in salted water for 20-25 minutes
- Drain and place potatoes into a bowl, remove skins
- Mash potatoes with a fork
- Add brown sugar, honey, and egg and mix well
- Add flour a ½ cup at a time until a dough forms that does not stick to hands
- On a floured surface, roll out a portion of the dough with your palms until it forms a long log that is about 1 inch in diameter
- Repeat until you have about three logs in a row
- With a knife, cut the dough into squares and push them away from the rest of the dough to form individual gnocchi
- Toss gnocchi in flour and transfer to a baking sheet
- Repeat until all of the dough has been used up
- Bring a pot of salted water to a boil
- Add 1 tbs of olive oil to the water to keep the gnocchi from sticking to one another
- Boil gnocchi in batches for about 3 minutes each
- Remove from pot and set aside, reserve ½ cup of the pasta water
- Melt butter or margarine in a skillet, add garlic
- When the butter or margarine begins to foam, add in rosemary sprigs and sage stalks
- Fry for another 5-7 minutes or until the herbs are crisp
- Add in onion and saute until the onions are translucent
- Pour in balsamic vinaigrette and the rind of a block of parmigiano reggiano if on hand
- Cook for another couple of minutes (3-4 minutes) until the balsamic is slightly reduced
- Add in gnocchi and the pasta water and stir to coat the gnocchi in the sauce
- Let cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the liquid reduces to about half
- Stir in parmigiano reggiano cheese
- Serve immediately
*The gnocchi can be made ahead of time, before cooking, put the gnocchi in the freezer and save it for whenever you want to use it