I’m excited to share a recipe for sweet potato gnocchi that’s not only vegan, but gluten free. It makes a perfect dish for a dinner party or stay-in date night, served in a rich cashew cream sauce and sprinkled with flavorful toasted walnuts and fresh sage.
Pronunciation guide: Gnocchi = NYOH-kee (roughly). Traditionally, gnocchi are dumplings made of regular white potatoes and all-purpose flour. Of course, making them with sweet potatoes instead is not a new idea. However, as sweet potatoes do not have the same consistency as regular potatoes, most standard sweet potato gnocchi recipes rely on cheese or even an egg to hold the little pasta nuggets together.
I’ve tried this recipe with regular all-purpose flour in the past, and it turns out pretty well, even without the aforementioned egg or cheese, although it is necessary to add a lot more flour, making the gnocchi a bit heavy. And then… And then… I experimented with a gluten-free version. Eureka! The flavor and consistency were far superior. My guess is that it’s the potato starch in the gluten-free flour mixture that returns some of the traditional qualities back to the sweet potato variation. This allows us to combine the beautiful, light texture of the original, with the amazing nutrition and flavor of sweet potatoes, without animal products or gluten. Yes! Let’s do this.
But first, a few notes:
Note #1: This recipe calls for 3 pounds of sweet potatoes. In other words, it’s a large batch that will serve 5 to 6 people as a main dish (25 to 30 gnocchi per person). So, you could make the full recipe, which will take a few hours, but unless you’re having a large dinner party, you’ll be able to freeze the rest for a quick and easy future meal (more notes below on freezing the gnocchi). Or, you could halve this recipe, which will take quite a bit less time, as most of your prep time will be spent hand-rolling the gnocchi.
Note #2: There are many brands of gluten-free all-purpose flour available with various ingredients. My recommendation is to buy it at Trader Joe’s (Trader Josef’s Gluten Free All Purpose Flour) if you can, because it’s reasonably priced and only contains four ingredients (whole grain brown rice flour, potato starch, rice flour and tapioca flour) each with a relatively neutral flavor, without any dubious additives. This combination of ingredients works well for this recipe. Many other gluten-free flour brands include flours with stronger flavors such as chickpea or teff flour that may compete with the sweet potatoes, as well as additives. If you don’t live close to a Trader Joe’s, you could make your own gluten-free all-purpose flour blend, as this will surely be less expensive than buying it pre-blended. Use this ratio: 3 cups brown rice flour, 1 cup potato starch, ½ cup white rice flour, ½ cup tapioca flour. All of these flours are available on Amazon or at Vitacost. (If you’re a new Vitacost customer, use this link for a $10 shopping credit.)
Shall we get started?
For the gnocchi:
- 3 pounds of sweet potatoes
- 4 cups of gluten-free all-purpose flour (see Note #2 above), plus more for dusting
For the sauce and toppings:
- 1 cup of raw cashews, soaked, drained and rinsed
- 1 small shallot (or half a large shallot), minced (about 2 Tbsp.)
- 1 large clove of garlic, minced
- 1 tsp. extra virgin olive oil
- ½ tsp. sea salt
- ¾ cup of water
- 1 small handful of walnuts per person
- A small bunch of fresh sage, chopped finely
Preheat your oven to 400°F, and line a baking sheet with foil or parchment. Rinse your sweet potatoes and pierce each one with the prongs of a fork multiple times.
When the oven has reached baking temperature, arrange the potatoes on the baking sheet and slide it into the oven. Bake for about an hour.
Once the potatoes are cool enough to touch, pull away the skin – it should come right off – and drop each one into the large bowl of your food processor.
Blend the potatoes into a smooth puree.
Then transfer the puree to a large mixing bowl, and add the first two cups of your gluten-free all-purpose flour.
Stir until all the flour is incorporated, and then continue adding the flour about a half cup at a time, stirring it in after each addition. The exact amount of flour you need will depend on the moisture content of your potatoes, but I use about 4 cups of flour for 3 lbs of uncooked potatoes. The goal is to add the minimum amount of flour possible, so that you can pinch off a small amount of dough and roll it into a ball that holds its shape. One hint that it’s ready, is that the dough holds together away from the sides of the bowl, rather than assuming the shape of the bowl.
Now you’ll have to test the dough to see if it will hold together when you boil it.
Bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Pinch off a small bit of dough, roll it into a ball in your palms and drop it into the boiling water.
If it doesn’t fall apart, then your dough is ready to go. If it does disintegrate in the water, knead in more flour and try again with a new test gnocco (this is the singular of gnocchi in Italian).
The next step is to begin rolling the gnocchi. Dust the bottom of a second bowl with more flour. Pinch off a small ball of dough (a little less than 1 small spoonful), drop the dough into the dusted bowl and roll it around a little bit, so that it picks up some extra flour. Then, roll the dough ball in your palms.
Traditionally, gnocchi have ridges to help them grab the sauce better. So the next step is to make an imprint into each gnocco before you lay it onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. I happen to have a “gnocchi board,” sometimes also called a “gnocchi paddle,” which is a little wooden gadget to help make the ridges. It was given to me as a gift many years ago, but you can pick one up on Amazon for about $8.50.
- Place the ball of dough at the far end of the paddle. 2. Rest the heel of your hand on top of the gnocco. With one smooth motion, pull your hand straight back toward you, rolling the gnocco across the board, with just a little bit of downward pressure. 3. The gnocco will be imprinted with ridges. 4. Gently squeeze the sides to pick up the gnocco and place it on the lined baking sheet.
If you don’t have a wooden gnocchi paddle, you can also press each gnocco gently into the back of a fork to make some ridges. Or you can skip the ridges entirely.
Line up your gnocchi on a baking sheet as you make them, but be sure they aren’t touching one another, or they will stick together.
If you’re serving your gnocchi today, then simply set them aside until it’s time to cook them. If you’re saving them for another day, you can slide the tray into the freezer until the gnocchi freeze, and then transfer them to a freezer-proof container or Ziploc bag and put them back in the freezer.
Let’s prepare the sauce. You can do this a day in advance as well.
In a small frying pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat, and then add the minced shallot and garlic, stirring occasionally, until they are soft and just browning on the edges.
Put the soaked, drained cashews, sauteed shallots and garlic, sea salt and water into a blender (preferably a high-speed one, like a Vitamix), and blend until smooth. Set the sauce aside until you’re ready to use it, or transfer it to a container and store it in the fridge for later.
Now may also be a good time to prepare your walnuts and fresh sage for the topping. If your walnuts are raw, it’s nice to give them a little toasting to enhance the flavor. Take a small handful of walnuts for each person, and chop them into small pieces. Place them on a tray that you can slide into your (toaster) oven, or you can warm a small frying pan and stir the walnuts around over low heat to toast them. It is VERY easy to burn them, so for the two minutes or so that you’re toasting your walnuts, don’t try to multitask anything else – give it your full attention.
If you bought roasted walnuts, then you probably don’t need to toast them. Chop a few fresh sage leaves into a small mince and set those aside as well.
When it’s time to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Gnocchi cook best when they aren’t too crowded in the pot, so be liberal with the amount of cooking water. Count about 25 to 30 gnocchi per person, plus a few extra to taste for doneness, and, once the water is at a rolling boil, pour the gnocchi into the pot. Immediately stir the pot to make sure the gnocchi are not sticking to the bottom of the pot or to one another.
If your gnocchi were not pre-frozen, then they will start floating in about two minutes. If they were frozen, it will probably take about three minutes for them to rise to the surface. In either case, they will need to cook for a total of about 12 minutes. At around minute 11, remove one gnocco and rinse it in cool water, then taste it for doneness. Then every minute or so, taste again so you don’t overcook them. Once they’re cooked through, turn off the heat and pour the gnocchi and their cooking water through a strainer in the sink.
Return the cooking pot to the stove top, but don’t turn the heat on again. Just pour about a tablespoon of sauce into the bottom of the still-hot cooking pot, per person you are serving. The heat from the pot will warm the sauce. Then transfer all the gnocchi back to the pot and give them a stir. Do all of this rather quickly, without delay, so that the gnocchi won’t stick together in the strainer.
And now they are ready to be served! Divide them evenly among your dinner bowls, then sprinkle each with toasted walnuts and fresh sage, and maybe a dash more sea salt, to taste.
What’s healthy about this recipe?
This meal is a gluten-free, vegan alternative to traditional gnocchi, a pasta dish that is usually pretty heavy on refined flour and dairy. So in that respect, it’s a big improvement. But here are a few additional nutrition facts.
Sweet potatoes are a huge injection of Vitamin A. (Just a 1-cup serving contains 377% of your daily requirement!) They’re also big on potassium and dietary fiber, Vitamins C and B-6, magnesium and iron. Additionally, they provide some plant-based protein, as well.
Walnuts, like many nuts, are a good source of plant-based protein. They also offer magnesium, Vitamin B-6, potassium, iron and calcium. Walnuts also provide healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
The brown rice flour in your gluten-free all-purpose flour mixture is another excellent source of plant-based protein, as well as calcium, iron and fiber. Indeed, brown rice is widely considered one of the world’s healthiest foods, as it is an unrefined whole food (unlike white rice) with its many vitamins and minerals left intact.