It seems that every culture has some sort of dumplings. They are a hearty and inexpensive meal that can feed an entire family. And they are an incomparable comfort food. Some dumplings are made out of potatoes, cheese, breadcrumbs, or just flour. Others are filled with meat, fish, or sweets. And some are steamed, boiled, fried, or baked. There are countless names, all in different languages, for these dumplings. But the most well-known dumplings are gnocchi from Italy. They have becomes so popular that they can be found frozen or even dried in grocery stores all across the country.
It's easy to toss a bagful into a pot of boiling water. But I find them much more rewarding when I make them myself. They actually don't take as long as you would think. Once the potatoes are baked, the dough preparation is very quick. I make hundreds of gnocchi and freeze half for another meal. Freshly made gnocchi can be frozen on trays and then kept in resealable bags in the freezer for months. I never need to buy them anymore. The best thing about making gnocchi from scratch is that the recipe can be as creative as you want it to be.
This recipe, from Ron Suhanosky of Sfoglia restaurant, combines sweet potatoes with russet potatoes for very flavorful and pillowy gnocchi evocative of the season. They are then dressed in prunes cooked in sweet wine and a topping of crumbled amaretti cookies. It's the ultimate marriage of sweet and savory flavors. It makes for a perfect dinner-party appetizer or a family meal in itself. The recipe also works well with winter squash or pumpkins, simply switch out the sweet potatoes. Make sure to use a portion of russet potatoes; they keep the texture of the gnocchi just right. Once you start eating these little pillows of goodness, you won't be able to stop.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Drunken Prunes and Crushed Amaretti
Recipe adapted from Pasta Sfoglia by Ron and Colleen Suhanosky.
1-1/2 pounds sweet potatoes
1-1/2 pounds russet potatoes
1 large egg
1/4 cup pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 cups all-purpose flour
rice flour, for dusting
2 cups dried prunes, pitted and coarsely chopped
1 cup sweet red wine
2 tablespoons butter
6 amaretti cookies, crushed
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.
Pierce potatoes all over with a fork. Place on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until knife tender, about 1 hour. Let potatoes cool to the touch before peeling.
Pass potatoes through a ricer into a bowl. In another bowl, beat together egg, maple syrup, salt, and nutmeg.
Bring a large pot of liberally salted water to a boil.
Spread flour over work surface. Place potatoes on top. Make a well and pour in egg mixture. Using a dough scraper, keep folding up sides until dough comes together. Knead gently into a large rectangle. Cut into smaller manageable pieces, about 8. Dust work surface with rice flour. Roll each piece into a 1-inch wide snake. Slice into 1/2-inch gnocchi. Toss in rice flour and store on trays lined with parchment paper.
Add gnocchi in batches to boiling water. Cook until gnocchi float to the top, about 1 to 2 minutes. Lift out gnocchi using a slotted spoon or wire-mesh spider. Transfer to a platter.
Combine prunes and wine in a skillet set over medium heat. Simmer until bubbling and alcohol has evaporated, about 5 minutes. Add butter and cook until melted. Add about 1/4 cup of pasta water to loosen sauce. Pour sauce over gnocchi. Garnish with crushed amaretti. Serve immediately. Yield: 6 servings.