Local Sweet Potatoes Take A Place at the Table
Local sweet potatoes for Thanksgiving. Does it get any better than that? For the past 3 or so years, City Market has been blessed with local sweet potatoes in the autumn, in a catch-them-while-you-can sort of way. This year, it seemed like virtually everyone was planting sweet potato slips, from backyard gardeners to schools to local farmers.
Many sweet potatoes were regrettably lost to Hurricane Irene’s flash floods in the Intervale, but local supply is still going strong and we are fortunate to expect local sweet potatoes at City Market through the holidays and into the winter. Some of the varieties adapted for northern climates include Beauregard and Covington. In my experience, they are firm-fleshed and sweet, with a slightly nutty taste. Right now we have Covington sweet potatoes from Burnt Rock Farm in Huntington.
A quick tutorial on varieties: We carry two main types of sweet potatoes, notwithstanding the local varieties: Jewel and Garnet.
Garnet sweet potatoes at City Market
Most people don’t know the difference, and for years I counted myself among them. It’s a sweet potato, how much variety can there be, right? It turns out that they are quite different, in the same way that a thick-skinned Russet potato used for baking and mashing is different from a waxy-skinned Yukon Gold potato that holds its shape better for soups and stews (but you knew that, right?).
Garnet potatoes have a reddish skin. Garnets are firm-fleshed varieties that are well-suited for sweet potato fries, roasted veggies, and baked-and-sliced sweet potatoes. Jewels have a dullish brown skin and are softer when cooked, much better for mashing. In fact, they will mash themselves if given the opportunity. This could be great for say, a sweet potato casserole where you want melt-in-your-mouth sweet potatoes.
My favorite way to use sweet potatoes is simply to stick a fork in them and roast them at 400 for about 1 hour, depending on the size and shape. (I put a pan under them to catch the drippings – when they bubble, I know they’re done).
But there are lots of fun things to do with sweet potatoes, as we discovered in Thursday’s Italian cooking class with Adele Dienno. We baked Garnet sweet potatoes in the oven (along with Russet potatoes) and turned them into delicious sweet potato gnocchi with sage-hazelnut butter sauce. Yum.
Here are some snapshots of the class.
Flouring hands to roll out the sweet potato dough.
Rolling and slicing dough.
The trays fill up (the gnocchi get that cute fork mark with a quick press in the palm of your hand).
Cooking gnocchi - just a couple of minutes and they float to the top!
Sage-butter sauce - yum.
Serving up sweet potato gnocchi wtih sage-butter sauce and toasted hazelnuts.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Hazelnuts
For the gnocchi to bind together, the potatoes need to be warm when you mix together the dough, so plan accordingly. (A potato ricer is also helpful this recipe.)
1/3 cup chopped hazelnuts
1 14-oz sweet potato
1 10-oz Russet potato
1 whole egg plus 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
2 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)
3 oz pancetta, chopped finely (omit if you would like a vegetarian dish)
2 Tbs. olive oil
2 Tbs. butter
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 tsp. dried sage
salt and pepper to taste
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Toast hazelnuts at 400 for about 8 min. Immediately wrap hazelnuts in a clean towel and let steam for about 5 min. Roll the hazelnuts around in the towel - this will remove a lot of the skins. Take the hazelnuts out and set aside.
Bake potatoes at 400 for about 1 hour, or until they are soft and easily pierced with a sharp knife. Set aside to cool slightly.
Meanwhile, line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or wax paper.
Cut potatoes in half and remove their skins. Force potatoes through a ricer. Make a mound on a work surface with the potatoes and make a well in the center.
Beat the eggs slightly in a small bowl and pour into the well. Sprinkle a cup of the flour onto the potatoes and with a fork, start mixing the eggs and incorporating the flour and potatoes together. Add another half cup of flour and with a pastry scraper, mix the ingredients together until dough begins to form. Add another half cup of flour and work into dough. Use pastry scraper to scrape up the dough and fold it back on itself. Use additional flour if dough is overly sticky. You want the dough to be slightly sticky, but not too sticky.
Cut off a chunk of dough and roll it out into a rope about a ½-inch in diameter. Use a little sprinkling of flour on the counter if the dough is sticking too much. After you roll out the rope, then sprinkle the rope with flour and cut either with the pastry scraper or a sharp knife into 1-inch long pieces. Place on one of the baking sheets and sprinkle with additional flour so the gnocchi don't stick together. Repeat with remaining gnocchi and refrigerate until ready to cook.
In a large skillet, fry the pancetta until crisp. Remove and let drain on paper towels. Wipe fat out of pan. In same pan, warm the olive oil, butter, nutmeg, and sage together over low heat.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have a slotted spoon or strainer ready. Place half the gnocchi gently into the water. Do not let the water boil vigorously. When the gnocchi float to the top, continue to cook them for about 30 seconds. Remove and place in the skillet with the warmed oil and butter. Cook the rest of the gnocchi, add to the skillet along with the pancetta, and toss gently. top with toasted hazelnuts.