This time of year, the markets are full of fall root vegetables: beets, turnips, rutabaga, and my favorite, sweet potatoes. I love them roasted, mashed, french fried, or made into a pie. Here I use them to make gnocchi. Now these little babies take some work, but the results are really worth it. They keep well frozen, so you can make a big batch and store them away for a nice alternative to pasta when you want a quick meal. Sweet potatoes and yams have more moisture than regular potatoes, so instead of adding more flour I include a few russet potatoes. This keeps the texture of the gnocchi light and fluffy.
Fall is also a great time for wild mushrooms. Last year at the restaurant, I served these gnocchi with sauteed chanterelle mushrooms and roast chicken. The natural juices from the chicken dripping onto the gnocchi was all the sauce they needed. If you can’t get chanterelles, try a mix of other wild mushrooms such as hen of the woods, king oyster, or black trumpets. Criminis, portobellos, or shitakes, available in almost any supermarket, are also good.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Mushrooms
INGREDIENTS (serves 4-6 as an entree, serves more as a side dish):
for the gnocchi:
3 lbs. sweet potato or yams (about 3 to 4 pieces)
1-1/2 lbs. russet potato (about 2 pieces)
2-1/2 to 3 c. all purpose flour
6 egg yolks
4 Tbsp. kosher salt (use less if using table salt)
1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
extra flour for dusting
for the mushrooms and garnishes:
1 lb. mixed wild mushrooms
4 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 Tbsp. butter
1 Tbsp. fresh picked thyme or 1 tsp. dry
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh sage
salt and pepper to taste
Special equipment: ricer or food mill
1. Preheat oven to 400°F. Arrange the sweet potatoes and russet potatoes on a baking sheet and roast on the middle rack until tender, about 1 to 1-1/2 hours. You may need to turn them halfway through so they don’t scorch on the bottom. In the meantime, measure out the flour, separate your eggs, and mix just the salt and spices together. Set aside until the potatoes are ready.
2. While the potatoes are baking, you can also prepare your mushrooms. Truly wild mushrooms tend to be dirty and will need to be thoroughly washed. Black trumpets in particular, because of their trumpet shape, will have debris trapped inside that can only be removed by peeling them open before washing. Wash them as you would salad greens, by filling a large bowl or sink with cold water. Toss the mushrooms in the water, then leave them for a few minutes to allow any dirt to sink to the bottom. You may have to repeat this process once ore twice more. Arrange the mushrooms in a single layer on a tray lined with a clean dry kitchen towel and allow them to dry a bit before cooking.
3. To cook the mushrooms, coat a large skillet with vegetable oil and heat over high heat. Add only enough mushrooms so that they will make one layer in the skillet. Once the mushrooms have browned and cooked off most of their liquid, season with salt and pepper, and finish with a sprinkle of thyme and a pat of butter. Working in batches as needed, repeat until all the mushrooms are cooked. Set aside.
4. Once the potatoes are cooked, let them cool at room temperature. When they are cool enough to handle, but still warm, remove the skins and pass the flesh through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl. Make a well in the mixture and pour 1 cup of the flour over. Pour the egg yolks into the well and cover with one more cup of flour. Sprinkle the salt and spice mixture evenly over.
5. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix the dough by gathering the dry ingredients into the well, working from the center outwards until the mixture is uniform and smooth. Turn the mixture onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead briefly, adding more flour as needed until you have a soft but workable dough. Do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi will be too chewy.
6. Cut a piece of dough about the size of a golf ball, and making sure your work surface and hands are dusted with flour, roll it into a rod about 3/4″ in diameter. Cut into desired lengths and place on a floured baking sheet or tray. Repeat until all the dough is rolled and cut. At this stage, you can put the tray in the freezer and freeze the gnocchi raw, or cook them first.
7. To cook gnocchi, bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a rapid boil. Working in batches if needed, drop the gnocchi into the water and give it a good stir so they don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Once the gnocchi float to the surface, cook for a minute more then remove from the pot and either cool in a colander under cold running water, or on a large oiled baking sheet.
8. To serve, melt a couple tablespoons of butter in a large skillet and heat until it turns golden brown and take on a nutty aroma. Add first the gnocchi, then chopped sage to the pan, and crisp over medium heat until they are golden brown. Mix in the cooked mushroom mixture, heat through and serve.