August 25, 2009

Ñoquis de Batata y Albahaca–Sweet Potato and Basil Gnocchi


It's nearing the the end of the month again, and you know what that means in Argentina–time to turn your kitchen into a ñoqui-making factory!  If you haven't yet been charmed by Argentineans way of eating gnocchi every month, this might be your chance to embrace the 'Ñoquis del 29' tradition, because the gnocchi are out of this world–sweet potato and ricotta gnocchi with chopped fresh basil. 

All over the country on the 29th of every month, Argentineans eat gnocchi, whether gathered in restaurants with friends, or at home making them from scratch with family.  Monthly paychecks come at the beginning of the month, leaving funds for extravagant meals lean by month's end.  Thrifty Argentinean housewives started this tradition–it was both a time to have an inexpensive meal hoping for prosperity in the coming month and a time to celebrate a saint's day from their ancestral home–60% of Argentines have Italian roots, most from northern Italy (San Pantaleon, patron saint of Venice, was a doctor who treated poor patients in exchange for sharing a humble meal).  Money is placed under the plate as a symbol of more to come. 

When I taught my first class at Whole Foods last fall, I told participants of the gnocchi tradition and we all rolled out delicious gnocchi together.  One of the women in the class had a creative idea–could the gnocchi be made with sweet potato? 

This is the answer to that!  In this recipe, I traded out the regular white potatoes for sweet potatoes, and added in a bunch of chopped fresh basil.  I served it with a bechamel sauce–and let's just say it was worth the work–there is not a single gnocchi remaining in this house! 

This month, I propose an 'out of the box' approach to ñoquis del 29–this is a wonderful end-of-summer variation on a typical meal.  If you have any zucchini on hand, they would be an excellent side, sauteed in olive oil with a bit of garlic and sea salt.  Fresh late summer tomatoes can make a tasty, no-frills sauce instead of the bechamel.  Kids love to help rolling gnocchi, and the sweet potato is a great way to get in a stealth veggie.


Ñoquis del Batata y Albahaca

Sweet Potato and Basil Gnocchi

This recipe follows the same basic recipe as regular potato gnocchi, just substituting sweet potatoes for Yukon Gold and with the addition of fresh chopped basil.  The texture of the dough is a bit stickier/mushier than potato gnocchi because of the difference in starches, but the gnocchi turn out great.

2 sweet potatoes  


1 egg

1 cup fresh, good quality ricotta cheese

1 bunch fresh basil, chopped coarse

2-3 cups flour, plus more for dusting

Peel and chop the sweet potatoes into one inch dice, putting them in a medium stock pot with enough water to cover the potatoes with one inch of water.  Add a scant handful of salt.  Put the potatoes to boil until they are tender when pierced with a fork, but not mushy. Drain the potatoes.

Put the potatoes through a food mill or potato ricer.  In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, egg, ricotta and fresh chopped basil and mix well using your hands or a fork until a consistent dough is formed.  Be careful not to overmix. 

Add the flour a half cup at a time, mixing each time by hand until there is a soft, pliable dough.  The dough should not be sticky, and it should not be hard.  If it's too sticky or soft, the gnocchi will be mushy, but if there's too much flour, the gnocchi will be chewy and tough. It may be easier after the addition of a couple of cups of flour to turn the dough out onto a work area, and  dividing the dough into equal fourths, add more flour to each ball until the right consistency is reached. (This is the challenging part!)

Knead the dough a few times until uniform, and divide the dough in half .  Flour a work area, and roll the dough out into a long thin roll about 3/4 inch thick.  Cut these tubes of dough into sections about 1 inch long.  Meanwhile, bring a stock pot of water to a boil. 

There are a variety of ways to 'mark' the gnocchi-all just a style choice, since at this point, they are more or less done.  Here are some suggestions:  Mark an indentation in the center of each gnocchi with your index finger; or roll over the side of a cheese grater to make patterned indentations; or roll over the backside of a fork, or roll over the center of a wooden gnocchi tool.

At this point, the gnocchi can be frozen laid out on a baking sheet lined with wax paper.  After they are frozen, they can be stored in a freezer bag.   Frozen gnocchi are just put into the boiling water like the unfrozen ones.

Drop the gnocchi one at a time into the boiling water. They are cooked when they rise to the top.  Collect with a slotted spoon and transfer to a plate.  Serve with the sauce of your choice.  (Some nice choices are walnut Gorgonzola, tomato or white sauce.)

Salsa Blanca

Bechamel Sauce

1 tablespoon butter

1 clove garlic, crushed

1 1/2 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons flour

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more to taste

In a small saucepan, heat the butter over medium heat until melted.  Add in the garlic and saute until golden but not brown.  Add in the milk and salt, then whisk in the flour and raise the heat.  Bring the milk to a simmer and whisk continuously until the milk has thickened into a sauce.  Pour over gnocchi while hot, and serve.

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