A new edition of my book Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian has just been published. This updated version has 20 new recipes and beautiful new photos from photographer Maren Caruso, including this drop-dead gorgeous cover shot.
The original premise of the book ~ simple recipes to share with family and friends ~ hasn’t changed, but when the publisher, Weldon Owen, approached me about updating it I jumped at the chance. It’s not often you get to revisit one of your cookbooks!
Among the new recipes are Ravioli with Bitter Greens and Toasted Walnut Butter, pictured above on the cover, Slow-Roasted Tomato and Gorgonzola Tarts, Roasted Swordfish with Ligurian Herb Sauce, and Walnut-Espresso Torte with Burnt Orange Caramel.
And these White Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Hazelnut Pesto, which, incidentally, would make a fine first course for Thanksgiving.
There are several varieties of white sweet potatoes at fall farmers’ markets, including these with red skin and creamy white flesh. They are a variety of Japanese sweet potato.
What’s nice about this variety is that the flesh is starchy enough that you don’t need to add Russet or red potatoes to the gnocchi dough. This allows the sweet, slightly floral flavor of the sweet potatoes to shine through. The cooked gnocchi are dressed with pesto made from parsley, lemon zest, and hazelnuts ~ a twist on the classic basil pesto that is usually paired with potato gnocchi.
For years I used a fork to create grooves in my gnocchi, a method I learned from my mother. Last year, one of the guests on our Abruzzo culinary tour gave me this gnocchi board, and (no surprise) it works beautifully. Fantes Kitchen Shop’s online store sells a similar board. If you’ve never made gnocchi before, don’t be intimidated. As with homemade pasta, the more you practice, the better you get. The dough is soft and somewhat sticky, so try not to add too much flour or overwork it. The best advice I can give you is to proceed with a light hand.
Japanese sweet potatoes have purple skin, creamy white flesh, and a sweet, almost floral flavor. They are starchier than other sweet potatoes, making them perfect for this twist on classic gnocchi. If you are unable to find them, substitute 1 pound orange-fleshed sweet potatoes and 1 pound russet potatoes. (Recipe from Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian, Weldon Owen, 2015)
- 2 pounds Japanese sweet potatoes
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- 1 large egg
- Fine sea salt
- 1 cup toasted and skinned hazelnuts (see Note)
- 2 cups fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more if needed
- 2 tablespoons hazelnut oil (optional)
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, plus more for serving
Put the sweet potatoes in a large pot and add water to cover by 2 inches (5 cm). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce the heat to medium-high and cook until tender, about 30 minutes. Drain well. When cool enough to handle, peel the potatoes and cut in half.
Press the potatoes through a potato ricer directly onto a lightly floured work surface to form an airy mound. Let cool slightly. Sprinkle 1¾ cups (81⁄2 oz/265 g) of the flour around the mound. Make a well in the mound and add the egg and ¾teaspoon salt. Using a fork, whisk the egg and begin to incorporate the potatoes, eventually incorporating the flour. Use a dough scraper to gather up any sticky bits of dough. Sprinkle the remaining ¼ cup (11⁄2 oz/45 g) flour over the dough and very lightly knead until it forms a soft, shaggy ball. It should feel slightly tacky but not sticky. Gently move it to the side and cover with a kitchen towel.
Dust a work surface and 2 rimmed baking sheets with flour. Cut off a tangerine-sized piece of dough and gently roll into a rope about ¾ inch (2 cm) in diameter. Cut into 1-inch (2.5-cm) lengths. Roll each piece down the curved tines of a fork or down the length of a gnocchi board to create an indentation on one side and grooves on the other. Place on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough. You should have 150-175 gnocchi. If not cooking them right away, place the baking sheets in the freezer until the gnocchi are firm, at least 1 hour. Then transfer to airtight containers and freeze for up to 1 month. Cook directly from the freezer.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. In a food processor, combine the hazelnuts, parsley, lemon zest, and 1teaspoon salt. Pulse to break up the nuts and parsley leaves. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil and hazelnut oil, if using, until a coarse paste forms. Add more olive oil, if needed, to achieve a thick, pourable consistency. Scrape the pesto into a bowl and stir in the cheese. Spoon a little of the pesto into a warmed large serving bowl.
Add half of the gnocchi to the boiling water and cook until soft and fluffy but cooked through, 3–5 minutes. Using a skimmer, transfer them to the serving bowl and toss gently with the pesto, adding a splash of the cooking water to loosen the sauce, if needed. Cover to keep warm. Repeat to cook the remaining gnocchi and transfer to the bowl. Spoon on more pesto and toss gently (reserve any leftover pesto to toss with spaghetti). Sprinkle with a little cheese and serve.
NOTE To toast hazelnuts, preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the shelled nuts on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until they golden brown and fragrant and their skins begin to crack, about 10 minutes. Wrap the hot nuts in a clean kitchen fowl and let stand 1 minute, then roll the nuts back and forth in the towel to rub off the skins (not all the skins will come off, which is fine). Let the nuts cool completely before using.