Wednesday, September 30, 2009

falling for sweet potatoes

Potatoes are my downfall. And I really love sweet potatoes.  They are so versatile, and their sweetness begs to be paired with spicy, savory bits.
Football season means fall.  
Even if it is unbearably hot outside, it is still fall and calls for fall food.  So the other day, I set out to make a sweet potato gnocchi with walnut sauce.
Walnut sauce? Yes.
About 20 years ago in Florence, I found myself alone on a Saturday night and hankering for a big plate of pasta. I stumbled upon this small dark trattoria on the outskirts of the city.  When I saw tortollini con noce on the menu, It was a must try.
I have this thing about trying things I have never eaten before.

After a long day hiking in Cinqueterre, I was very excited to taste what Vernazza was calling its local specialty. I neglected to ask what exactly it was.
Big mistake.
 It was a heaping plate of steaming sardines. 
The minute it was delivered, all the feral cats of the neighborhood, stalked my table.
That same year, I made the same sort of mistake when ordering what I thought was a pastry in a caffe haus in Vienna.  What I thought would be a large snowball pastry, ended up being a stiff drink.  
My German is tres bad.  
As a matter of fact, the only German I had a good handle on was some drunk guy at Oktoberfest.

The walnut sauce was sublime. I wrote about it in my travel journal and was anxious to try it again. The next time I went to the restaurant, it wasn't on the menu. Apparently it was a daily special. I didn't find myself in Florence until many years later, and sadly, the restaurant was no longer there.
I have spent hours on the internet trying to find a comparable recipe. Nothing really hit the mark. So I set out to make my own version of the sauce. Since I was already in the mood for sweet potato gnocchi, I decided to pair the two.
It wasn't exactly as I remember, but it was good. So I pass it on to you.

To make the gnocchi, I modified the recipe in this month's Gourmet Magazine

Click here for Gourmet Magazine's Sweet Potato Gnocchi recipe

Gourmet's recipe calls for a sage and chestnut sauce, which I didn't make.  I also omitted the nutmeg and the parmesan cheese from the dough.  You may need a wee bit more flour.  
Please note the extra gnocchi can be frozen--which is great for a fast mid-week dinner.

Walnut Sauce
1 cup toasted walnuts
nice size knob (lets say 2"x1") of aged gouda
cloves from 1 head of roasted garlic
freshly ground pepper
walnut oil
Place toasted walnuts, garlic and gouda in a food processor.  Whirl until all components are mingled well together.  Slowly pour in walnut oil until you get a nice emulsified sauce.  Add pepper.  Use as a sauce for the gnocchi.  You can also use as a nice condiment for chicken, or add a bit of vinegar and make a dressing.  It tastes really wonderful on roasted asparagus, or on an apple salad.  The uses are endless.

Slice 1 medium to large onion in half and then again in half moon slices.  Place in a skillet with a nice glug (to cover the bottom) of olive oil.  Add the onions and slowly cook to caramelize.  This can take 30 minutes or so.  You want to cook them slowly, do not raise the heat to speed the process.  Also, I advise against using a sweet will become like candy and not be complimentary to the dish.  
Remove the onion and reserve.  Take 3 andouille sausages ( i like trader joes chicken version), and slice on the bias.  Cook on medium high heat until nicely browned. Remove from heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, boil the water for the gnocchi.  Once the gnocchi is done, drop into the skillet (on medium heat).  Add a generous amount of walnut sauce.  The sauce will likely be a bit thick.  Add some of the gnocchi water to thin. 

gnocchi in the walnut sauce
 Add back the sausage and the onions and warm through.  Serve with a bit of parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.

sweet potato gnocchi with caramelized onions, andouille and walnut sauce


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