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.
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.
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.