gnocchi with brussels sprouts and browned butter

9:30:00 PM

I admit the subtitle of my blog has felt quite irrelevant thus far. “I thought this was supposed to be, you know, sort of healthy…” And here I am with a recipe that involves deliciously light, fluffy dumplings made with white flour and a fantastic sauce with a base of, well, butter. All right, here’s the thing though. I’m turning 30 in a week, and although this isn’t really shocking news to me, I’ve been depressed the past couple weeks and have been cooking some less-than-healthy dishes. Also, I am going to be posting another white-flour-and-butter-based dish later this week, so… I’m getting this out of my system now.

Oh, yeah. Because I also have some bizarre delusion that I have to get all my bad habits out of the way before I leave my 20s forever, which partially explains the large-ish quantity of vodka and diet Cokes we drank at our favorite bar on Saturday night, followed by a massively large burrito from the place down the street, some of which ended up on our couch. No regrets. (Well, no regrets now that it’s no longer Sunday morning and I’m not lying on the couch hating myself.) 

Despite my depression and irrational ideas, I’m not actually logistically sad about leaving my 20s behind. What a whirlwind. In my 20s I graduated college, had five different jobs (and some internships), changed career paths entirely, lived in four places, adopted two kittens, met my Bob. I’m happy to be entering my 30s in a much more stable place than I entered my 20s! (I do wish I still had the ability to drink Vodka Diets without having a four-day hangover though, like I could in my early 20s.) 

So, in a week, when I’m officially 30, expect some healthier dishes. In the mean time, I’m going to justify this one by saying LOOK AT THE BRUSSELS SPROUTS THAT’S A VEGETABLE. If I’m a thousand percent honest, I’ll say the gnocchi is prooooobably better without the brussels sprouts, because I don’t like this amazing sauce being overshadowed. But that being said, make them on the side anyway because brussels sprouts are the best vegetable ever to grow. I know I’ve mentioned this before, but true things require repetition. 

Gnocchi dough
I love this gnocchi. I toyed with the idea of using white whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose to make it a bit healthier, but that might be an experiment I’ll wait for next time. I think I read somewhere that no real Italian would ever dare use eggs in their gnocchi, but I don’t care because I’m not Italian and these are delicious.

I have never found a gnocchi in the store that I liked - I’ve tried the packaged variety you find near the pasta, as well as the frozen kind (which were actually worse) and they all have sort of a weird, off taste, or a gummy texture. I still use them especially with more “heavy” sauces (like pesto) where their taste is a bit more masked, but with a simple butter sauce, a homemade gnocchi really lets that potato flavor shine through.

And the sauce. There is nothing better than butter and sage. Nothing. And no, you can’t substitute dried sage. These little crispy leaves of buttery sage sprinkled on top - you need these in your life. 

PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THAT IS GOOD, do not use pre-shredded parmesan. Okay, maybe you can, as long as it’s actual cheese,  but please steer clear of the crap in the green canister. That is not parmesan cheese. That contains wood pulp. Don’t eat it. Eat cheese.

My rolling technique obviously needs some work, but they're delicious, so I don't care

The gnocchi is easily freezable. After shaping the gnocchi, freeze on a large cookie sheet lined with foil until hard, then transfer to a freezer bag. Then you can cook from frozen just as you would the regular gnocchi, it just might take an extra few minutes for them to float to the top. 

Gnocchi with Browned Butter Sage Sauce and Brussels Sprouts
makes 4 servings

for the gnocchi
1 lb potatoes (russett, or I used small baking potatoes from our CSA)
3 egg yolks
½ cup freshly grated parmesan 
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp pepper
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

for the sauce
6 tbsp unsalted butter
about 15 fresh sage leaves
2 medium shallots, sliced thinly
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

for the brussels sprouts
cooking spray, oil, or butter 
about 12 oz brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced (I used the slicing blade in my food processor)
salt and pepper

for serving
freshly grated parmesan cheese, optional

Make the gnocchi dough:  Preheat the oven to 425, and roast the potatoes on a cookie sheet for about 1 hour - this will depend on the size of the potatoes, but you want them nice and soft. Let cool slightly - just enough so you can handle them, but make the dough while the potatoes are still warm. In a large bowl, use a potato ricer or mash them well with a potato masher (or whatever tool will get the job done) - you want the lumps out. Make a well in the center of the potatoes, and add the egg yolks, parmesan, salt, and pepper. Mix this together with your hands, then add ½ cup of flour over the dough, and fold dough repeatedly to incorporate, but don’t overwork or knead the dough. You want it to just come together and everything to be incorporated. Gradually add the remaining ½ cup flour in the same way. 

To test, roll a piece of dough into a rope. If it’s too wet, add some extra flour; too dry or crumbly, add a bit of water. 

To form the gnocchi, flour your work surface and hands lightly. Divide the dough in half (a bench scraper works great for this) and then in half again, and then once again, so you have 8 roughly equal pieces. Working with one piece at a time, roll into a ½-inch rope. Then, cut each rope into pieces that are about ¾ inch long - this is another place I use my bench scraper. I cut each rope in half in the center, then continue cutting the pieces in half until the gnocchi are the size I want.

The beautiful part is that you can leave the gnocchi as is if you’re really sick of working with dough or you’re in a hurry. They will be lovely and fluffy but won’t look quite like classic gnocchi. The ridges are also meant to hold sauce better. If you want to form the ridges, you can roll each piece of gnocchi down the tine of a fork (there’s a good video demonstrating this here - the first technique she demonstrates is with a gnocchi board, which I assume nobody owns, but then she demonstrates the fork method.) 

Once all your gnocchi are ready, you can freeze them at this point (see the note above) or cook them. 

Bring a pot of salted water to a rolling boil, then add in the gnocchi. Let cook until they rise to the surface, then remove with a slotted spoon (it’s a nice idea to cut one open and make sure it’s cooked through.) I put them in a colander at this point and set aside while I make the rest of the ingredients. Save about a half cup of the cooking water for the sauce.

Make the brussels sprouts: Heat a large pot or pan over medium-high heat, add butter or oil or cooking spray, and once hot, add the brussels sprouts. Let cook, stirring occasionally, until crisp-tender. Add salt and pepper to taste. You can either stir these into the gnocchi and sauce at the end like I did, or serve on the side.

Make the sauce: melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat (a light-colored pan is best so you can monitor the color of the butter) and  then add the sage leaves. Cook until the sage is starting to get crispy but not burned - watch this carefully! It will get a little crisper after it’s removed as well, so don’t overcook it. Remove the sage leaves with tongs and place on a paper towel to drain. Continue cooking the butter, add the sliced shallots, and cook until the butter is light brown in color and the shallots are soft. Remove the pan from heat, add the balsamic vinegar, and stir well. Add in the ½ cup of reserved cooking liquid, then add the gnocchi and brussels sprouts (if adding) and cook a couple minutes until everything is coated in delicious sauce.  Season with salt and pepper. Crumble the crispy sage (or chop) and sprinkle over the top of the gnocchi. Top with grated parmesan cheese.

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