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Little treasures: gnocchi

It takes practice to master any of the many types of gnocchi, but the rewards are well worth the effort

 

Text Susan Jung / Photography Jonathan Wong / Styling Nellie Ming Lee

 

Gnocchi come in many shapes and sizes, can be made with a wide variety of ingredients and served with different types of sauces. Making them so they're light and delicate, rather than heavy, takes a little practice, but it's a skill worth mastering.

Sweet potato gnocchi with sage brown butter (pictured)
Buy sweet potatoes that are medium-sized to large.

1kg sweet potatoes
About 100 grams plain (all-purpose) flour, or as needed
2 large eggs, lightly whisked, at room temperature
20 grams freshly grated parmesan cheese, plus extra for sprinkling
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sage butter:
8-10 fresh sage leaves
60 grams unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Rinse the sweet potatoes then pierce them in several places with the tines of a fork. Put them on a baking tray and bake until the flesh is tender (about 45 minutes, depending on size). As soon as they're cool enough to handle, strip the skin from the flesh. Use a potato ricer or a food mill fitted with a coarse blade to purée the flesh (this is easiest to do when the potatoes are warm). Mix the purée with 100 grams of flour, the eggs, 20 grams of parmesan and some salt to taste. The dough should be malleable and just slightly sticky; if needed, add more flour.

Divide the dough into two pieces and cover one with cling-film so it doesn't dry out. On a lightly floured work surface, roll half the dough into a rope about 1cm in diameter. Cut the rope into 2cm pieces. Shape each piece into an oval, then press it over the tines of a fork, to create parallel indentations. Repeat with the remaining dough. If you're not ready to cook the gnocchi immediately, cover them with cling-film.

Bring a large pot of heavily salted water to the boil. Cook the gnocchi in batches: add them to the water and let them simmer until they float to the surface (about one minute). Use a large slotted ladle to scoop them from the water before placing them in a colander to drain. Blot them briefly on paper towels then place them in a baking dish that's just large enough to hold them in one layer.

Preheat the grill element of the oven. Tear the sage leaves into pieces. Melt the butter and cook it until it starts to brown and smell nutty, then add the sage leaves and heat them until they're wilted. Drizzle the sage brown butter over the gnocchi then sprinkle with grated parmesan and freshly ground black pepper. Put the pan under the grill and cook until the surface is bubbling and lightly browned. Serve immediately.

Spinach and ricotta gnocchi with tomato sauce
The recipes are based on the ones in Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking.

280 grams frozen chopped spinach, thawed
30 grams unsalted butter
30 grams finely minced onion
50 grams finely minced pancetta
180 grams ricotta cheese
2 large egg yolks
80 grams freshly grated parmesan, plus extra for sprinkling
A small pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
About 100 grams plain (all-purpose) flour
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the sauce:
80 grams unsalted butter
20 grams finely minced onion
20 grams finely minced carrot
20 grams finely minced celery
600 grams canned Italian plum tomatoes
Fine sea salt
120ml cream
Freshly grated parmesan, for sprinkling

Make the sauce so it can simmer while you're making the gnocchi. Heat the butter in a skillet, add the onion, carrot and celery, and cook over a low flame for several minutes. Add the tomatoes and a little salt, then cook, uncovered, over a very low flame for 45 minutes, stirring often. Purée the sauce by putting it through a food mill fitted with the finest disc. If the gnocchi aren't ready at this point, set the sauce aside and finish cooking it at the last minute.

Make the gnocchi. Squeeze as much liquid as possible from the spinach. Heat the butter in a skillet, add the onion and cook over a low flame until soft. Mix in the pancetta, then add the spinach and a sprinkling of salt and cook for about five minutes, stirring often. Scrape the mixture into a bowl and cool until tepid, then stir in the ricotta, egg yolks, parmesan and nutmeg. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add just enough flour so the mixture holds its shape when you roll it into a ball. Test the consistency of the mixture by shaping a little of it into small balls about 1cm in diameter. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil then reduce the heat so it's just below the simmer. Poach several of the gnocchi until they float to the surface; if they fall apart, stir more flour into the remaining mixture. When the consistency is correct, shape the mixture into balls, then poach them in batches. When they float to the surface, use a large slotted ladle to scoop them from the water. Drain them in a colander then blot them briefly on paper towels.

Pour the sauce into a wide skillet set over a medium flame. Stir in the cream then taste the sauce, adjusting the seasonings as needed. When the sauce comes to a simmer, add the gnocchi. Cook, stirring often, until the gnocchi are hot, then divide the ingredients between serving plates. Sprinkle with parmesan and serve immediately.

 

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This article is now closed to comments

susanjung
Hi Catherine, you can steam them, but don't boil them. If you bake them, you're letting them dry out somewhat in the heat of the oven.
Poke the sweet potatoes with a fork and then wrap them in aluminium foil before putting them in the steamer - the foil will prevent them from absorbing more moisture. Then as soon as they're soft, remove the foil then slice open the tops of the sweet potatoes, to let some of the moisture escape. You still might need to add more flour, though.
Hope this helps; if you have any more questions about the recipes, please feel free to e-mail me on susan.jung@scmp.com
Best regards,
susan
CatherineOhlLaw
I don't have an oven : can the recipe for sweet potato gnocchi be made with steamed/boiled sweet potatoes ?

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