Recipe and photos by Brandon Matzek
Gnocchi (potato dumplings) topped with melted butter was a favorite meal of mine when I was a child. I loved the light, tender texture. Many years later, my big-boy palate desires a version of this dish with a bit more intrigue. In this recipe for Rustic Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce, homemade potato gnocchi are tossed in a rich sauce made with nutty brown butter, frizzled sage leaves, fiery red pepper flake and thin shavings of salty Parmesan cheese. The pillow-like Italian pasta can be enjoyed as a main course or as a warm-up for the entrée.
The ingredient list below may make the recipe seem easy, but mastering the art of gnocchi-making requires practice and patience. The key is using as little flour as possible to hold the dough together. Adding too much weighs down the gnocchi and makes them tough. Also, make sure not to overwork the dough, lest it become starchy, and, once again, tough. Luckily, the ingredients are inexpensive - if you mess up, scrap the batch and try again.
Rustic Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter Sauce
For the sage brown butter sauce:
4 tbsp. butter
15 - 20 fresh sage leaves (depending on size)
Red pepper flakes
Parmesan cheese, grated or shaved
Special equipment: ricer
Roast and rice. Preheat oven to 375ºF. Prick potatoes all over with a fork. Pour small mound of kosher salt in middle of rimmed baking sheet, then nestle potatoes on top of salt. Bake potatoes until tender (45 minutes to 1 hour). While potatoes are still hot, carefully remove skins. They should come off easily; use a paring knife if stubborn bits remain. Chop peeled potatoes (still warm) into large chunks, and press through a ricer onto a lightly floured work surface. Let cool for 3 to 4 minutes.
Form the dough. Bring large pot of water to a boil, then add 2 big pinches of kosher salt. Form a well in center of riced potatoes. Sprinkle 1/2 cup flour around well, then crack an egg in the middle (see image). Using a fork, beat egg in a circular motion, gradually pulling flour and potato from the sides of the wells. Keep using fork until egg is incorporated, then knead dough with your hands just until it comes together. If the dough is too sticky, add flour (in small amounts) until it becomes smooth. Do not overwork dough here. Pinch off a small bit off dough, and toss it into boiling water to make sure it holds its shape. If it doesn't, knead in a bit more flour, and test again. Divide dough into 4 pieces, then roll each piece into 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut each rope into 1/2-inch lengths. Transfer to parchment lined baking sheet, and set aside while preparing sauce.
Get saucy. Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Cook until butter turns light brown color and smells nutty. Add sage leaves, and let sizzle for 1 minute. Take sauce off heat. Drop gnocchi into boiling water and stir. As soon as gnocchi float to surface, they are done (30 seconds to 1 minute). Return brown butter sauce to medium-low heat. Using a slotted spoon, scoop cooked gnocchi into brown butter sauce, tossing to coat. Add pinch of red pepper flakes (to taste) and 2 tablespoons of gnocchi cooking water, tossing to combine. Remove from heat and top with Parmesan cheese. For a nice presentation, shave the cheese with a vegetable peeler. To serve, spoon gnocchi into shallow bowls, and top with more Parmesan cheese to taste. Buon appetito!