Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Pecans

Remember a long time ago when I wrote about how much I love orange colored vegetables in the Fall? Yeah, apparently that hasn’t changed at all. I went to Trader Joe’s today and somehow came home with 5, yes 5, different pumpkin flavored things. I in no way whatsoever needed any of them and I barely have any recollection of putting those items in my cart. And so they joined the pumpkin beer in the refrigerator. No complaints here though, pumpkin flavored cookie butter is the bomb.

Unsurprisingly the food that I actually had on my grocery list to make a sweet potato gnocchi dish still went along with the fall theme, which should be obvious because I am a female in her mid-twenties who wears flannel frequently and grinds her coffee beans by hand every day. And yes, I do frequently shake my head at myself.

But doesn’t sweet potato gnocchi sound so nice though? It’s the same light-as-a-feather dumplings we all know and love but just a tad sweeter with a hint of a caramel taste. And while a lovely pairing could be sage and brown butter or a nice peppery cream sauce, I went with roasted Brussels sprouts and toasted pecans, as inspired by Tara at Seven Spoons. The varying texture and flavors that already exist between those three things were made even more complex with a good dose of orange zest to brighten up the richness of the gnocchi and the bitterness of the sprouts and a hefty amount of Parmesan, because I really can’t think of anything that is not improved but lots of Parmesan.

Admittedly it is not exactly a recipe for the beginner cook and I will warn you that the number of dirty dishes involved is overwhelming, but with patience and good organization, the outcome will definitely be worth it. Plus the extra gnocchi can be frozen for up to several months, and makes for a very quick dinner on a lazy day. I know that gnocchi is certainly intimidating and the standard variety has given me more trouble than success, but somehow the sweet potato variety has never failed me yet.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Brussels Sprouts and Pecans
Serves 4-6
Inspired by Melissa Roberts and Tara O’Brady

1¼ lbs russet potatoes (about 3 medium)
¾ lb sweet potatoes (about 2 medium)
1 egg
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 grated Parmesan
1½ - 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 Tbs. butter
2 lbs Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
2 Tbs olive oil
¾ cup pecans, toasted and roughly chopped
the zest of 1 orange
salt and pepper

Begin by making the gnocchi. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Scrub your potatoes clean use a fork to poke holes all around each. Rub with a little bit of olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour until soft throughout. Remove from the oven, cut each in half and let cool for 5 minutes. Scrape the insides of the potatoes away from the skins and discard the skins. Press the potatoes onto a large sheet pan using a potato ricer. Allow to cool for 10 more minutes.

Combine the egg, nutmeg, a tsp. of salt and a half tsp. of pepper in a small bowl. Gather the potatoes into a mound, make a well in the center and pour the egg into that. Use your hands to combine. Add the parmesan and 1½ cups of the flour and knead it into a dough. Add more flour as needed until you have a smooth and slightly sticky dough.

Divide the dough into six pieces. Generously flour the counter and use your hands to roll one piece into a foot long rope. Use a bench scraper to cut the rope into about 1-inch pieces. Roll each piece over the tines of a fork to create the classic gnocchi look and place on a floured baking sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough and refrigerate the sheet pan with all of the gnocchi for about 30 minutes.

While it sits, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and prep the Brussels sprouts. Toss with the olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and half of the orange zest. Spread them out on another sheet pan and roast for about 15 minutes or until tender. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Once it’s boiling, cook two-thirds of the gnocchi in 3 separate batches for about 5 minutes each batch. Once cooked, transfer to a large bowl. The remaining gnocchi can be frozen for another time. Once all of the gnocchi are cooked, heat a frying pan over medium and add the butter. Once melted, add in the gnocchi and fry in the butter for 7-10 minutes, tossing frequently.

Transfer the gnocchi to a large bowl. Add in the Brussels sprouts, the pecans, and the remaining orange zest. Season with salt and pepper as desired and serve with more grated Parmesan. 

The Orange Season

Today was the first day of this year where I woke up and I could finally sense fall. The sun was shining, the sky was blue, and the weather went from being 85 degrees on Tuesday, to rainy and 70 degrees on Thursday, to dry, crisp, and 55 degrees today. I honestly had a little extra spring in my step. I had a fleeting urge to listen to Christmas music (it went away fast though) and while standing outside, I closed my eyes and felt like I was back in London.

While I was there last fall, I was disappointed that I would miss out on the entire fall season here in Virginia. No pumpkin patches, Halloween, scarecrows, and harvest festivals. No drives through the mountains for the sake of looking at leaves. But as it turned out, fall in England was quite wonderful. Fresh apples were still everywhere as well as a gorgeous fall fashions that only a true Londoner can pull off. By lucky chance, our tour of a traditional English village in the countryside fell on an absolutely quintessential fall day and it was honestly the one of the most perfect days I think I will ever have. Coloring leaves, Sunday church bells, thatch-roofed cottages, and a big bowl of hot, pumpkin soup. Which brings me back to my main point. England’s fall season still provided a plentiful bounty of orange root and squash vegetables. And if there is one thing you should know about me and my food obsessions, orange root vegetables and squashes are my ultimate weakness. I crave them incessantly during all seasons and all weathers. Carrots, pumpkins, butternut squashes, golden beets, sweet potatoes. England was all about them…and that made me happy.

Though, on second thought, this does not explain why UK Starbucks neglected to offer the Pumpkin Spice Latte. But that’s okay; I actually had my first one of the season today and it was most definitely worth the wait. But regardless of that, I was lucky to not have to give up my favorite food for a year for the sake of a study abroad trip. Because I don’t think I could have waited.

I also noticed that with the strong influence of Indian cuisine in London, many orange vegetables were prepared with a Middle Eastern style. Butternut squashes popped up in many vegetarian curries and carrot salads spiced with raisins and coriander were ever popular. But my favorite was the sweet potato falafel. I would get this amazing sweet potato falafel sandwich from Pret with spinach, yogurt dressing, red onion, parsley, and hummus on whole wheat bread.. And though I regretfully didn’t try it there, the food chain Leon also offered a sweet potato falafel wrap. Luckily, however, they have a cookbook with the recipe and with the help of a blog post from Heidi Swanson, I retrieved the recipe and tried it out on my own.

They were delicious too and I love that they are baked rather than fried so that the sweet potato flavor shines through rather than being clogged by oil. The sesame seeds add a nutty crunch that gives way to a warm and creamy interior. The spices give an aromatic warmth but I dipped the falafel in some plain greek yogurt which provided a cooling contrast. These little morsels were really easy to make too, which makes London and fall memories a quick meal away.

Sweet Potato Falafel
Adapted from Leon and 101 Cookbooks
Makes 18 falafel

Note: When I say easy I don’t necessarily mean quick. Though they dirty hardly any dishes and require little labor-intensive work, they do take some time. My suggestion is to bake and mash the sweet potatoes the night before and refrigerate them overnight. Then, the next morning, mix with the rest of the ingredients and let it hang out in the refrigerator all day. That way, when it’s time to make dinner, all you have to do is shape and bake the falafel. You’ll notice that they are actually vegan and gluten-free too so it’s a great way to treat people with any dietary restrictions.

2 medium sweet potatoes
2 cloves minced garlic
1½ tsp. ground cumin
1½ tsp. ground coriander
handful of chopped parsley
1 cup garbanzo bean flour
½ lemon
salt and pepper
sesame seeds (about 1-2 Tbs)

In a 425-degree oven place the whole sweet potatoes directly on the rack for 45 minutes to 1 hour until they are tender in the center. Remove from the oven and let them cool. Once cool, remove the flesh from the skins and either refrigerate until ready to use or move to the next step.

Mix the cooled sweet potato flesh with the garlic, cumin, coriander, parsley, garbanzo bean flour, and lemon juice in a bowl. Mash with the back of a fork until quite creamy and smooth. Season with the salt and pepper. Place the mixture in the refrigerator for at least an hour to firm up.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400 degrees and oil a baking sheet. Using two large spoons, scoop up a mound of the mixture and pass it back and forth between the concave sides of the spoons to form a football-like shape, but with three curved sides. Sprinkle the outside with the sesame seeds and place on the tray. Bake for about 15-17 minutes until the sides are golden and slightly crispy. Serve immediately while warm with toasted pita and a good dipping sauce like tsatziki or, if you want to keep it vegan, and lemon tahini sauce.