Call me a sucker (I'm sure you have been all along, anyway) but when it comes to a romantic meal, my default switch is permanently flipped to Italian Food & Red Wine. The first thing that came to my mind when the words "romantic meal for two" were whispered in my ear? "Viva Italia!" I’m only kind of joking. Most days I can settle my craving for la vita e belle with just about anything pasta-based, but the parallel between comfort-food throwback's like lasagna and certain cats named Garfield is a little too much for even me. After much musing, I decided an ideal Italian-inspired date would consist of something just curious enough to be irresistible: gnocchi, made from sweet potatoes, pan-fried and sprinkled with freshly toasted pecans. Mmm...
I made my sweet potato gnocchi from scratch, but I don’t pretend this makes them any better than the perfectly delicious, pre-made versions put on grocery store shelves by most pasta companies. Just in case you’re game, I’ve included all the steps for making them from start to finish below. If you’re more interested in spending time with your sweetheart then spending time up to your elbows in hot dough and flour, though, just skip to the second part and proceed as normal.
Notes: In my few experimentations with using sweet potatoes for gnocchi, I’ve found that roasting them is better than boiling (retains the flavor), and it’s good to use an egg or two in the dough to help the finished gnocchi pieces maintain their consistency during cooking.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi w/ Roasted Pecans
You Will Need:
1-2 medium sized sweet potatoes, peeled
Flour (amount varies)
1 tbs. nutmeg
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup raw pecans
1-2 tbs. olive oil
To Make Gnocchi:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Wrap the sweet potatoes tightly in aluminum, and let them roast until they are soft enough for mashing.
Place the sweet potatoes in a large mixing bowl, and begin to mash them. As you do, add in the egg, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt. Once everything is thoroughly smooshed (yes, that is the scientific term for it) begin adding flour to the mixture bit by bit until it begins to form a nice, workable dough.
Spread a bit of flour over your workspace, and begin to roll the dough into long, thin strips. Once they have been rolled and reasonably stretched out, take a knife and cut them into ½ to ¾ inch segments. Make sure they aren’t too thick, or the final product will end up being overly chewy/doughy.
Use the tines of a regular dinner fork to press indentations into the surface of each, individual nugget of dough. This gives them their classic, rippled figure. (The pressure of the fork will likely flatten them a bit, but you can easily pinch the sides and roll them back under to create a rounder, more pronounced shape.)
Now you’re gnocchi are ready for cooking!
To Make Pan-Fried Gnocchi w/ Pecans:
Spread the pecans out in a baking pan, making sure they lie flat across the bottom. Pop them in the oven at 375-400 degrees.
While the nuts bake, heat 1-2 tbs. of olive oil in a medium-sized frying pan over med-high heat. Once the pan is warm, toss in a handful of gnocchi and let them crackle there until each side is nicely browned. You’ll be able to tell when they’re ready, because they look so appealingly golden that you’ll want to eat them straight out of the oil.
The amount of time it takes for the gnocchi to reach crispy perfection is roughly equivalent to the time it takes the pecans to become fragrant and toasted. Pull the gnocchi off the fire, pull the pecans out of the oven, and dash them all together on a plate. Serve and eat immediately! They’re best when still warm.
Freshly roasted garlic bread
Sauteed kale and spinach
You know the famous line -- "...a nice Chianti."
One word -- gelato.