A good while back, Katie + I were out and about in Cobble Hill with a group of friends when we all decided it was high time we got some food in us. We ended up settling on one of the many en vogue drink-forward places in our neighborhood that support their cocktail menu with simple fare that focuses on high quality ingredients. Most of these joints are pretty un-animal-friendly—these are the same places that will wrap bacon around anything—but a few cater to vegans somewhat, drawing on local fare to highlight the qualities of the vegetables. One such dish was an egg-free sweet potato gnocchi at the establishment in question, Char no. 4, a whiskey bar + restaurant on Smith Street.
Char rotates the dish into their menu every now and then, but, upon having the gnocchi, Katie + I made replicating it at home a priority.
What’s detailed below isn’t an exact replica but, rather, our take on it, adding in flavors that we think play well together and going for a gluten-free option with the potato dumplings.
The gnocchi themselves may seem challenging, but they’re really not tough to make at all. It’s all about getting the dough mixture down. The added starch allows you to get a nice stiff batter that’s rugged enough to not fall apart when you’re cooking it though. Gnocchi’s usually boiled, but we think sauteing them gives them a nicer flavor and keeps them whole better.
Give it a try and see what you think.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Wilted Spinach + Maitake Mushrooms
◊ 4 medium Sweet Potatoes
◊ 1/2 pound Fresh Maitake Mushrooms
◊ 1 bunch Fresh Spinach or 1 bag packaged
◊ 1 large Yellow Onion
◊ 6 cloves Garlic
◊ 1/4 cup Corn or Potato Starch
◊ 1/8 cup Oat Flour
◊ 1/8 cup Tapioca Flour
◊ 1/4 cup Vegetable Broth
◊ 1/2 cup Dry White Wine
◊ Salt + Pepper
◊ Olive Oil
We usually fall soundly into the Anti-Peeling lobby. Though it’s not necessarily true that vegetables hold all of their nutrition in their skin, they do hold more depth of taste there, in our opinion. So, assuming they’re cleaned well and grown without harmful chemicals, we usually leave our vegetables un-skinneed/-peeled. In this case, though, the sweet potatoes should be peeled to allow for a more consistent, smooth gnocchi dough. Once they’re peeled, chop them into cubes, roughly an inch or two square.
Warm about two tablespoons of olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet over medium heat. Add the sweet potato chunks and cover. Cook for a total of 15 minutes like this, allowing the sweet potato to brown but not blacken and uncovering and stirring every five minutes. At this point, the sweet potato should be softening. Add the vegetable broth—ideally homemade—and cover again, cooking until the liquid is fully absorbed, usually 5-10 minutes. Once that happens, check the consistency of the sweet potatoes. They should be very soft and easy to mash. If they’re not, add a little more broth or water and cook covered until they are. Transfer the sweet potatoes to a large mixing bowl and allow to cool.
While that’s happening, halve the onion and peel the papery outer skin off. I personally used to be totally hung up on sweet onions like the seasonally dependent Vidalia and it’s winter sisters from southern hemisphere, but, of late, we’ve really been appreciating our local NY/NJ onions, which are less sweet, but very deep and earthy. So, your call on what kind to use, but make it yellow. Slice each half into strips and toss into either the same skillet or a new one over medium heat with a little olive oil. Allow the onion to caramelize and brown slightly at the edges, stirring as you go and cooking for 5-7 minutes before throwing in the garlic, which should be smashed, peeled, and minced. Cook for 10 or so minutes, allowing the mixture to become fragrant and lowering the heat if either the onion or garlic start to blacken.
Keep an eye on all of that as you start in on the gnocchi. After the sweet potatoes have cooled enough for you to work with them, mash them with a potato masher or a fork in the mixing bowl until you’ve got a smooth, lump-free consistency. Now add your two flours and the corn starch and mix together until you’ve got a smooth but stiff dough that peaks a bit when you remove the fork or whisk. For the flours and the starch, we tend to use Bob’s Red Mill. If you’re gluten-free or just experimenting with lessening your gluten intake, you should definitely check out their extensive line of gluten-free flours. Basically, if you can grind it up in a mill, Bob’s sells it.
In another skillet, warm a tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat. Using a spoon or just your hands, begin to roll the gnocchi dough into small dumplings, roughly an inch in length. They should hold together pretty well. If they don’t add a little more starch and/or flour and mix thoroughly. Roll enough dumplings to cover the skillet bottom without having them touch and then add them to the warm oil. Allow the gnocchi to brown, carefully flipping to cook on both sides, usually sauteing for about five minutes per side. Remove and set aside as you move on to your next batch, repeating until you’re out of dough or have as many dumplings as you want.
Back at the cutting board, take the well-washed Maitake and cut it into chunks of about one or two inches square. When you’re cutting the mushroom up, be sure you remove + discard all of the woody material at the base of the stem. We usually get our Maitake from our weekend Greenmarket, which features Orange County, New York’s Madura Farms mushroom vendor as a mainstay. So, yes, we’re a bit spoiled. But you can find them at higher end grocery stores too if you don’t yet have a trusted mushroom supplier, though they tend to cost a lot more and not be nearly as fresh. If you can’t track them down, substitute your favorite other mushroom. Don’t like mushrooms? Eh…I’m not sure why you read this far. So, add the mushroom to the onions + garlic and increase the heat a bit. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes or so, stirring and allowing the mushroom to reduce and brown, maybe even blacken a little. Once that’s happened, add the half cup of a dry white wine—nothing too sweet; maybe a pinot or sauvignon blanc. The heat should be high enough for you to hear an audible sizzle when you add the wine. Lower the heat a little and cook until the wine’s reduced to a nice sauce.
Now take the washed spinach, chop into large strips, removing the stem if you tend not to like it, and wilt for two minutes or so in the covered skillet. Plate with the gnocchi + onion-garlic-mushroom mixture and enjoy.