E Pluribus Mores

Sweet Potato and Polenta Gnocchi with a Sauternes Reduction Sauce (and a side of string beans almandine)

In slow cooking on January 21, 2012 at 11:26 am

Cooking time: 2 hours (it’s called slow cooking for a reason; you want convenience go to Arby’s)

Shopping List

¼ cup olive oil, (plus more for frying almonds and string beans)

Three medium onions

3-4 sprigs fresh thyme

1 carrot

2 large sweet potatoes

String beans (enough for a side dish)

½ teaspoon tamarind paste

Six cloves garlic

Six whole mushrooms

Two Roma tomatoes

Salt (rock salt opt.)

Pepper (fresh ground, copious)

1 cup white grits

2 cups raw almonds

Balsamic Vinegar

2 cups of bread crumbs (I often substitute Matzo meal)

¼ cup white flour

1 egg

½ stick Butter

½ cup cream


1 c. gruyere cheese

French cheeses for appetizers and dessert

French white wine (from the Bordeaux or Loire; I am partial to a Vouvray)

Red wine (something French)

(at least) ½ bottle Sauternes (not served chilled)

1)      Begin with the Magic Broth.

Magic Broth:  Brown three onions in ¼ cup olive oil.  Must brown onions.  Add garlic and cook until brown.  Add 3-4 sprigs fresh thyme, 1 carrot, 2 sweet potatoes , ½ teaspoon tamarind paste, six cloves garlic, six whole mushrooms, two Roma tomatoes, ½ t. salt (no more at this point), fresh ground pepper (copious).   Cook for 2 min. and add 1 c. French white wine.  Simmer for 5 min. or until wine reduces.  Add two quarts of water and simmer until magic happens (45 min. to an hour).

2)      While the broth is simmering prep. the string beans and cook the almonds.

Almonds:  Fry the almonds in a large skillet for about 2 min.  When the almonds begin to make popping sounds, deglaze with 2 T. of balsamic vinegar.  Fry until the vinegar disappears.  Transfer into a bowl and add salt to taste.  Reserve ½ cup for the string beans, slice in halves.  Serve the remainder along with cheese and 1 baguette as an appetizer.

3)      Prepare the sweet potato gnocchi.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi:  Continue to simmer the broth until the sweet potatoes have fully softened.  Strain the broth into a sauce pan, and continue to simmer on medium heat.  Retain the vegetables.  Remove the thyme and the mushrooms from the vegetables.  Blend the vegetables with a hand blender or food processor and place in a medium bowl.  Add back about ½ cup of the broth.  Add 1 egg, ½ cup of bread crumbs, and ½ cup of flour.  The dough should form a paste-like consistency.  If it is too loose, add more flour.  Set aside.

4)      Make the polenta.

Polenta:  Boil 2 cups of water along with ½ t. of salt.  Add 1 cup of the simmering broth.  When the water is at a full boil add the grits and stir in with whisk.  Let boil for 1 min. then lightly whisk.  When the polenta becomes hard to stir add more broth in ¼ cup increments (keep in mind you will need at least 2 cups of the broth for the sauce; if you run short of broth for the polenta just use boiling water).  Traditional polenta recipes call for 45 min. to an hour of whisking.  I find that after about 15 min., I begin to curse in Italian.  At that point I also pour myself a glass of wine.  Continue to whisk.  Unsuspecting guests who have by now, no doubt, arrived and helped themselves to the appetizers and white wine will often ask, “Can I do anything to help?”  Hand guest the whisk.  Recommend they pace themselves.  When you (or your unsuspecting guest) come to the conclusion that, “It’s a side dish, for God’s sake.  It doesn’t look any different than it did 20 min. ago.  And why am I using an Italian polenta recipe for a French dish, anyway?”, or in short, when you have earned the right to stop whisking, turn off the heat.  Add the gruyere cheese and whisk until the cheese is fully melted.  Immediately transfer the polenta to a lasagna pan or other wide, flat pan (even a cookie tray will work).  Spread the polenta evenly around the pan to 1” thickness.  Set aside.

5)      Make the reduction sauce

Reduction Sauce:  You can begin the reduction sauce while the polenta is still cooking.  I find I need short breaks from whisking, for example just after I have added more broth, or better yet when you have handed off the task to the unsuspecting guest.  Begin with about two cups of the reduced broth and simmer on medium heat.  Add ½ cup of the Sauternes and continue simmering for about 15 min. or until it has begun to thicken slightly.  Taste the broth, and add salt if needed (add the salt only when the sauce is done reducing, or you risk the sauce becoming too salty as it reduces).  Turn off heat and set aside on a burner.

6)      Make the sweet potato gnocchi

Place the remainder of the bread crumbs into a pasta bowl.  Add ½ t. of salt (I like to use rock salt) and loads of freshly ground pepper.   Take spoonfuls of the sweet potato dough and roll them in the bread crumbs into 1” thick, 2” long tubes.  Set them aside on a large plate.  When a suitable number for your now very hungry guests have been prepared, set aside

7)      The Iron Chef moment.

I would take a moment to say hi to the guests and pour another glass of wine.   I don’t mind the polenta gnocchi being cool, given that it makes a nice contrast to the sweet potato gnocchi, which are served hot.  If you want the polenta gnocchi warm, or if they are too soft (which should happen if you stirred them long enough), you can place them in the oven at 250 degrees.  When the table is set and everything ready to go, turn on the reduction sauce to medium heat.  Melt some butter in a broad frying pan, such as a pancake skillet.  Add the sweet potato gnocchi to the butter and fry on medium heat.  Meanwhile place the string beans in a frying pan with some olive oil, stirring when you have a free second or two.  While the two dishes are frying cut the polenta into 3” gnocchi (I like to make rounds using a drinking glass or cookie cutter.  This makes the leftovers uglier, but the round gnocchi look nice next to the sweet potato gnocchi).  Place two of the polenta gnocchi onto each of the plates.  Turn the sweet potato gnocchi, add the almonds to the string beans and turn off the heat to the string beans.   Add ½ cup of cream to the simmering reduction sauce and immediately turn off the heat.  Arrange the now finished sweet potato gnocchi, three to a plate, next to the polenta gnocchi.  Place some string beans and almonds to the side of the plate.  Ladle some of the reduction sauce on to the top of the two gnocchi.  Grind some black pepper over the top and serve along with the baguette and red wine.

Once you have enjoyed the meal, I would recommend breaking out the rest of the Sauternes to drink with dessert.  Perhaps with some French chocolates and some more cheese.


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