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sweet potato gnocchi with savory pear champagne sauce and cranberry chutney

December 17, 2010

This summer, I (Amanda) made the 101 Cookbooks recipe for gnocchi with peach champagne sauce.  It was delicious, but you can’t get good peaches in the fall and winter.  So one day during a particularly boring law class, I daydreamed about a fall version of the dish.  And my co-adventurer Emily of course went along with it.  As long as it doesn’t involve peeling an orange or eating small woodland creatures, she’s game for pretty much any food adventure.

The autumnal sweetness of the sweet potato gnocchi is paired with a surprisingly savory sauce of roasted pears and champagne (or your favorite Baptist-friendly alternative to champagne).   To pump up the complexity of the dish like they do on that Top Chef show we both love, we also topped it with some of our cranberry chutney.   It basically tasts like what I imagine an Italian version of a Thanksgiving meal would taste like.  Although actually I’ve been in Italy on Thanksgiving before, and all I had was some Italian restaurant’s bad interpretation of American Thanksgiving food.   Trust me, this gnocchi is better than the yam dishes I had on that day.   At least, I think they were yams. . . .

This is not a hard dish to make, but it involves a few steps that require a lot of waiting around – kind of like bread-making, an activity of which I am also a devotee.   So plan to make this when you have a good chunk of time and other stuff to do around the house (cleaning, homework, other boring stuff) that you can do between cooking steps.

A note on substituting for the champagne in the sauce – I’ve tried it, at least when I made the peach gnocchi from 101cookbooks the first time and didn’t want to invest in champagne until I knew if I liked the recipe.   I googled “substitute for champagne” and went with ginger ale.  Major mistake.  It’s just too sweet, and it really affects the results – although since I hadn’t had the real version of the dish yet, I still liked it.   I’d try something else – like non-alcoholic white wine, if they make such a thing, or sparkling grape juice with a couple of tablespoons of white wine vinegar.   Alternatively, you could go a different route and use a light chicken broth, maybe mixed with one of the sweeter champagne substitutes.   If you find something that works for you, let us know!!

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Savory Pear Champagne Sauce
Inspired by 101 Cookbooks


  • 2 1/2 lb sweet potatoes
  • 3 egg yolks
  • rounded 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour

Pear Champagne Sauce

  • 3 pears – we used a mix of Bosc and Bartlett pears because we couldn’t agree which would be better
  • 2 cups prosecco – feel free to use champagne but I think prosecco is better
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup heavy cream (depending on your taste buds)
  • 2 large or 3 small shallots
  • 1 TBSP butter
  • 1 1/2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 1 tsp fresh tyme, minced (feel free to substitute a smaller amount of dry thyme)
  • 1/2 tsp fresh rosemary, minced (same idea with substitution)
  • 1 tsp salt, divided
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper

Optional Topping (don’t consider this “optional” unless you really hate cranberries or something)

Bake your sweet potatoes in the oven at 350 degrees for 40 minutes to an hour or until they’re soft.   When you squeeze them with your hand (which should be inside a potholder/glove when you squeeze them), they should have a lot of give.  You’ll probably want to lay foil underneath them while they’re in the oven to catch any drippings.    I do not recommend boiling the sweet potatoes, even though it’s faster, because this will affect the water content of the potatoes and make it harder to form light, airy gnocchi without adding a lot of extra flour to counteract the water.

While these are baking, lay out foil or wax paper on the counter (I’ve used both – wax paper is probably best).   Elsewhere in your kitchen, start making the vinaigrette-like mixture you’ll brush over the pears when you roast them.   Here’s where we deviated the most from the method in 101cookbooks.   First of all, we needed to roast the pears to soften them and bring out more savory notes – we didn’t want a syrupy sauce on an already-slightly-sweet gnocchi.   This is of course unnecessary with peaches for a sauce you’re putting over normal potato gnocchi.   Second, I found that adding the herbs to the final champagne sauce for the 101cookbooks’ gnocchi wasn’t satisfactory; the sauce doesn’t cook long enough to bring out all that yummy flavor, and also I found myself crunching on a good bit of seasonings as I ate my gnocchi.  So putting the seasonings on the pears before roasting them, allowing the seasonings to soften before ultimately being added to the sauce – well, it just seemed like a good solution.   And so Emily found this roasted pears recipe online, which we used as a starting point.

Core the pears and cut them into quarters.  Set them on a baking sheet (lined with parchment paper if you want to have less mess at the end of this process).  In a small bowl, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, the olive oil, the minced thyme, the minced rosemary, the black pepper, and half of the salt (1/2 tsp).   Using a pastry brush, brush this mixture onto the pears.

When the potatoes are done, take them out of the oven, cut them in half length-wise (carefully, they’re hot!) and set them aside on the foil or wax paper you’ve laid out.  If you have a potato ricer, I hate you.   Also, don’t cut the potatoes in half but peel them with a paring knife instead and set aside.

Increase the oven temperature to 425 and put the pears in.   They should be in the oven for 15-30 minutes (depending on the ripeness of the pears), or until they’re tender when pierced by a fork.   What you’re about to do with the sweet potatoes may take longer than the pears will need in the oven, so be sure to set a kitchen timer for the pears before returning your attention to the sweet potatoes.

Now, back to the sweet potatoes.   Again, if you’ve got a potato ricer, I hate you.  And you should push the potatoes through the ricer, leaving the riced potatoes spread out on the foil or wax paper in a thin, even layer to cool.   If you’re like me and live life without a potato ricer, I don’t hate you.   Here’s what you should do.  Keep one of your hands in a pot-holder, because you need to handle the sweet potatoes while they’re still pretty hot.  Hold one half-potato in your protected hand above the foil or wax paper and, using a fork, “rice” the potato – basically drag the fork down the length of the potato in quick, fast motions.

(Yes, I’m not wearing a potholder.  But I’m reckless.  Don’t be like me).

You’ll wind up with slightly fluffy, small bits of potatoes.  You may have a few strips of tougher sweet potato bits that didn’t yield to your fluffing attempts – just take a fork to those bits directly and fluff to the best of your ability.  If you’ve made gnocchi this way before, note that sweet potatoes are a lot juicier than normal potatoes, so it will not look as dry and fluffy, but as long as the texture is even, it’ll all work out with the sweet potatoes.

Repeat with each half-potato until you’ve got no potatoes left.  Spread the potato bits in a thin, even layer on the wax paper or foil and leave them to cool.  They need to cool completely, otherwise the egg yolks you’re going to put in them will cook in the hot potato stuffs, rather than in the boiling pasta water like they’re supposed to.

At some point during the sweet-potato fluffing, your kitchen timer will have gone off, startling you and possibly causing you to fling bits of sweet potato on the floor.  Oops.  Once the pears are nice and tender, set them aside to cool, too.

Once all this goodness is cooled, begin making the gnocchi.   Bring all of the cooled sweet potato bits into a pile.  Put a little dent in this pile – like a little bowl.  Dump in the egg yolks, 3/4 cup of the flour [save the other 1/4 cup!!], and the rounded 1/2 tsp of salt.   Knead this all together gently just until well mixed.  Now, lightly flour a large cutting board or your counter with some (not all) of the remaining flour.    Take about 1/4 of the gnocchi dough and roll it out on the floured surface into a long roll, adding more of the remaining flour to the surface as necessary.   However, note that you’re not looking for a consistency like bread, where all of the dough is well-floured and non-sticky – all you want is for the very outside of the dough to not be sticky.  This was hard for me to get the hang of, as a bread-maker (where you add flour and flour and flour and flour), but it’s important – adding too much flour will result in denser, less yummy gnocchi.

Repeat this step with the remaining dough, working in batches.

These were a little thick – I rolled them out more after Em took this photo.   Now take a knife and tap it in the floured surface to keep it from sticking as you cut the gnocchi – you’ll probably have to tap it in flour repeatedly as you’re cutting.   Cut the logs into individual gnocchi by making a cut every 3/4-inch.   You should wind up with 80-100 gnocchi.

Now, I think you’re done with the gnocchi-making.  When I studied in Rome, most of the homemade, Italian-grandmother-style gnocchi I had was plain like this.   But most people will tell you to use the back of a fork to press ridges in the gnocchi – it’s a total pain in the butt, and I don’t think it’s worth it, really, but that’s just me – I only did it for some of the gnocchi we made before I remembered that I’m not really that fancy.  If you want to be that fancy, see Heidi’s explanation of this method.  I honestly think they’re prettier without the ridges, particularly if you’re working with the very moist, soft sweet potato dough, which doesn’t hold ridges as well.   I wish I’d remembered that earlier in the process, or we’d have prettier photos.  Alas.

Now, for the sauce.  It’s honestly just easier to make the sauce and get that all ready before boiling the gnocchi, since fresh pasta takes only a few minutes to cook in boiling water.   That said, feel free to try to do some of this stuff simultaneously.   Scrape the roasted pears out of their peels into the bowl of a food processor and puree them until smooth.  You need about 1 cup of puree.  You may not need all of the roasted pears to get 1 cup of puree, so feel free to add them in batches, so that you can save any extras for another purpose.

Peel and finely chop the shallots.  Melt the 1 TBSP of butter over medium heat, add the remaining 1/2 tsp salt, and sautee the shallots until carmelized (about six or seven minutes, but go by the nice light browning color more than by time).  Add 1/2 cup of the champagne and after it’s done freaking out / sizzling, scrape up the carmelized shallots from the bottom of the pan.  Add the rest of the champagne and let it keep cooking over medium heat until it reduces by 2/3 (leaving you with a little more than 2/3 of a cup of sauce).  This may take a while – it takes a different amount of time every time I make a version of this, but never more than about ten minutes, so just stay near the kitchen and stir occasionally.  Remove the sauce from the heat and stir in the cream and 1 cup of the pear puree.  Taste the sauce and add salt and pepper if needed.

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.   In the meantime, spread a ladle full of the pear champagne sauce into a medium-sized serving dish.   Once the water is boiling, drop about 1/3 of the gnocchi into the water and grab a slotted spoon.  After about 2-3 minutes, the gnocchi should start popping to the surface.  As they surface, use the slotted spoon to transfer them to the serving dish.   Some of the sweet potato dough will flake off into the water.  This is not a disaster, don’t worry about it.  Once all of the first batch of gnocchi have boiled and are in the serving dish, ladle more of the sauce on top of them.   Boil another 1/3 of the gnocchi until they surface, spoon them into the serving dish, and ladle more sauce on top.  Boil the last of the gnocchi and when they surface – you guessed it! – ladle the rest of the sauce on top.

And now you’re done!   Serve the gnocchi in bowls with a tablespoon of cranberry chutney and some toasted almonds, and you’ll basically have autumn in your mouth.  Beware – you may think “Oh, I’ve only put about 15 gnocchi in this bowl.  That’s like a snack, that’s not dinner.”  You’re wrong.  This is far more filling than normal pasta.  You can always go back for seconds, but don’t waste the gnocchi!!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Aunt Jo permalink
    December 18, 2010 3:09 am

    Loved the recipe – but hate cranberries. Will green holiday jello work as well? – signed: a non-cook

    • Amanda permalink*
      December 18, 2010 9:05 am

      If you hate cranberries, then that part truly is optional – it’ll taste great without it. We just really liked the pairing.

      And it’s a total lie that you’re a non-cook!!!

  2. Emily permalink*
    December 19, 2010 7:52 pm

    I love your creativity. Especially when it tastes so good.

    • Amanda permalink*
      December 20, 2010 8:52 am

      I like to think of it as OUR creativity. 😉 Especially since you came up with the seasoning the roasted pears part. Brilliant.

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