Traditional gnocchi ingredients and methods are turned on their head just a little to create gnocchi dumplings that are approachable and easy to make without any tools. Sweet potatoes and beets give the gnocchi color, flavor, and nutrition, and pan-searing them takes them that extra step toward the divine. These are not your Nonna’s gnocchi.

plate of pan-seared purple sweet potato gnocchi dressed with olive oil and smoked sea salt.

Above: Purple Sweet Potato Gnocchi, unshaped and pan-seared with olive oil and smoked sea salt. Psst…you can make this gnocchi successfully with or without the beets.

Something is comforting and delicious about gnocchi, with their pillowy texture and mild flavor. Recently I was inspired to make them, after watching the enchanting video “Gnocchi | Kitchen on the Cliff with Giovanna Bellia LaMarca“. We’ve made traditional gnocchi at home a few times, with mixed results. And traditional gnocchi are cute and all, but I prefer a carb with more flavor. This led me to research more about gnocchi to understand all that is involved in making them successfully. I was also intrigued by sweet potato versions I’ve had and seen around, especially at Trader Joe’s, Lol. Enter, my Beet and Sweet Potato Gnocchi! Turns out there are a couple of ways traditional gnocchi are made and a good amount of finesse is required when making them, though Giovanna makes it look so easy!

What are Gnocchi?

Gnocchi are little dumplings (similar in size to one of those small oval types of cherry tomatoes) that originate from Italy. They are typically made from cooked, riced potatoes mixed with flour, as well as egg, and sometimes ricotta cheese. The ingredients are turned into a “dough” which is then rolled into “ropes” cut into bits and shaped into ridged shell-like shapes. The formed gnocchi are then quickly boiled into pillowy perfection. Sounds easy to make at home right? Not so fast.

What to know about making gnocchi at home

Extensive research on my part revealed aspects of making gnocchi at home, where other home cooks struggle, what works and doesn’t work, and what I would want to do to create a delicious and successfully pillowy beet and sweet potato gnocchi that’s easy and fun to make at home. Some of the highlights are:

The process:

  • Ingredients – gnocchi can be made from potatoes, sweet potatoes, beets, and other vegetables as well as, with or without ricotta and/or egg, and with different types of flour. The possibilities are many.
  • Why choose certain ingredients (or not) – including ricotta will require more flour in the dough, using eggs can potentially lead to tougher gnocchi, and how much moisture is in the potatoes or sweet potatoes will influence how much flour is required as well. A vegan gnocchi can be made easily and successfully using just the root vegetable and flour of choice.
  • No tools required – virtually every recipe, traditional or not, that I researched, utilized a potato ricer to break up the potatoes and the majority used a wooden gnocchi board or other ridged pasta-making board to form the gnocchi, as well as some kind of skimmer or spider strainer to remove the gnocchi from the boiling water. I’m here to tell you none of those tools are necessary to successfully make gnocchi at home.
  • The process of making gnocchi at home really can be a simple process without a bunch of equipment, and as mentioned below, the hands-on time can go rather quickly (unless of course, you are a perfectionist for perfectly formed gnocchi). You can simply cut them into pillow shapes, or use the back of a fork to create the more traditional ridged shape. Easy peasy. Fast, no, but easy and relatively quick, if you move along. Don’t be deterred!

The timing:

  • Hands-on time – I’m not gonna lie, it takes a little time to make gnocchi, but hands-on time can be less than an hour to have completed gnocchi ready for the sauce of your choice.
  • Total time (3/4 of it hands-off) – The total time to make these is 4 hours. The hands-off time breaks down like this:
    • 1-1.5 hours to roast the sweet potatoes (up to 2 for the beet)
    • 20 minutes or so for the roasted veg to cool (or roast ahead of time, which is what I do).
    • Resting the dough for 30 minutes.
    • Resting the formed gnocchi for 30 minutes for cooking (I often wait less because I’m impatient).
  • Speeding up the process by using a food processor is not a good idea, other than to blend the beets, because the sweet potato and flour become very gummy in a processor.
A cooked Japanese white sweet potato with its skin being peeled off.

Importance of Roasting

It is abundantly clear that cooks struggle to attain the right amount of moisture in the potatoes and advise on types of potatoes to use as well as to boil the potatoes. This made it clear to me that the sweet potatoes (which are less dry than white potatoes) in this recipe should be roasted to minimize any extra moisture. This will prevent the need to over-use flour in the recipe and allow the flavor of the root vegetables to predominate over the flour.

Above: The Japanese White Sweet Potato on the left shows how it can be mistaken as a typical orange sweet potato when only seen from the outside. Its flesh is white, unlike the orange sweet potato. On the right, you see peeled beets and sweet potatoes. Golden beets are a delicious option if you don’t want to stain your hands! They taste very similar.

This recipe works with or without beets

I recognize not everyone loves the flavor of beets, and this recipe can be made with just sweet potatoes if you prefer. See the end of the post and notes in the recipe card about that. If you do like beets, however, the mix of flavors is wonderful, and I recommend including them. The one caveat is that, unlike sweet potatoes, beets are harder to break down. Ideally, you will use a food processor or blender to puree them before mixing them with the other ingredients. I have had success using a potato masher and my fingers to break them down, as an experiment. Pureeing quickly is easier for sure.

different types of beets and sweet potatoes, laying on sheet pan, whole and raw.

Above: Choose any combination of 2 sweet potatoes and 1 good-sized beet for these gnocchi. Here I’m roasting a bunch to make two different batches in different colors.

Mediterranean Food Pyramid Ingredient Notes:

(I focus on using foods that make up the Mediterranean Diet)

  • Sweet Potatoes -These are emphasized in the main part of the food pyramid, based on their nutrition, especially fiber and potassium, as well as B6 and magnesium.
  • Beets– Also form the base of the food pyramid, beets are full of fiber, folate, and manganese, and due to their concentration of nitrates are even known to help lower blood pressure and improve our use of oxygen.
  • Whole grain Spelt Flour – I used regular all-purpose flour in the recipe card here, and prefer it when using beets and sweet potatoes since it is flavorless, more or less, but I also made some without beets and with whole grain spelt and purple sweet potato (see photos below), and found the flavor wonderfully nutty. Spelt, as a relative or type of wheat, is an ancient grain, regaining in popularity, and based on its nutritional properties (a bit more to offer than traditional wheat), I often use it in recipes.

Above: 1. Chunks of cooked golden beets 2. Beet pureed in a food processor. 3.Gnocchi dough coming together.

Method

Prep veggies + make the dough:

  • Roast the root vegetables – Roast two sweet potatoes and a beet (if you choose to use it) in a 350-degree oven on a sheet pan for 1-1.5 hours (beet could take 2 hours) until a knife can pierce easily into the center. Once cooked, cool until you can handle them enough to take off the skins (beet skins are sometimes harder to remove and you don’t have to- just cut off the root end and then blend). Contrary to many recipes insisting white potatoes should be warm still when you make the gnocchi, I always cool the sweet potatoes and beets entirely and recommend roasting a day ahead for ease.
  • Make the gnocchi dough – Break the sweet potatoes down with your fingers or a fork, and blend up the beet (or mash by hand if you don’t have a blender/processor). Mix the two root vegetables together thoroughly with a fork, then add half the flour, mix gently and continue to incorporate the rest of the flour, turning out on a work surface and kneading only enough to incorporate. See recipe card and notes at end of card for more details. Rest the dough for 30 minutes.

Make the gnocchi:

  • Form the gnocchi – Here is where you relax into the process, by rolling bits of dough over the back of a fork to form ridged shapes that hold the sauce well. I find if I don’t rush, but also don’t fixate on how well the gnocchi are or are not forming into the perfect shapes (see photos for examples of how they vary), then I enjoy the process of rolling out ropes of dough, cutting them into small pillows and turning them into ridged shapes. Rest the shaped gnocchi for 30 minutes. Mind you, you can absolutely skip the shaping process and many do. In one of my iterations, shown in the feature photo of this recipe, I left them as cut “pillows” and they look rustic and lovely, don’t you think?!

Cook the gnocchi:

  • Boil the Gnocchi – Cooking the gnocchi is a simple and quick process of gently dumping them into boiling water, and watching them rise to the top in less than a minute. After they cook a little longer (30-60 seconds), they are done.
  • To sear or not to sear – Gnocchi are delicate dumplings (aren’t we all). Once you remove them from the boiling water, you must place them directly into sauce or coat them with a bit of oil, pesto, or butter (depends what sauce you choose), otherwise they will cool, dry and clump together. I was instinctively inspired (and others have been as well) to heat some olive oil and pan-sear the gnocchi for one iteration and it is my favorite way to prepare them (see gnocchi in feature image). I start the oil heating while the gnocchi are boiling, remove them to a paper towel-lined plate, and immediately pan-sear them until golden.

Above: 1. Rolling ropes of dough. 2. Shaping gnocchi over back of fork. 3. Shaped gnocchi. 4. Half of the batch of completed gnocchi.

shaped gnocchi coated in flour and resting on parchment paper before cooking.

Resting the Gnocchi

It’s tempting to skip the time needed to rest the dough and gnocchi. The reason to complete these two resting periods is to allow the flour to absorb the moisture from the root veg, and to allow the same to happen again, once the gnocchi are formed. The extra dusting of flour used when shaping the gnocchi will absorb moisture and help keep the gnocchi together. I will say, I’ve been known to rush the process after forming the gnocchi. Sometimes they do fall apart a bit when I do that but not always.

Above: 1. Boiling gnocchi rise to surface. 2. Removing gnocchi with slotted spatula. 3. White Sweet Potato & Golden Beet Gnocchi with olive oil, grated parm, parsley and Aleppo chili flakes.

Serving, Reheating + Substitutions

  • Serving – This recipe gets you to the point of placing the gnocchi in whatever sauce you choose, from a red sauce to a pesto, or a cream sauce. You can serve them with a protein and simply dress the gnocchi with olive oil, some salt and pepper, or get fancy with a traditional browned butter and sage sauce. When I sear them, I love them plain, with oil and smoked sea salt. Because these are made with root vegetables, they are very flavorful in their own right.
  • Reheating – It is not recommended to reheat gnocchi. These dumplings are fresh, which means the dough is not compact and doesn’t hold up well to sitting in the fridge overnight. You can freeze uncooked gnocchi. Lay them on a tray and place in freezer for 15 minutes to firm them up, then place in container together in freezer.
  • Substitutions – This is a huge topic for this recipe! As per the photos, I combined Japanese white sweet potatoes with a golden beet but if you used a red beet, it would yield a lighter pink gnocchi. Below I mixed a red beet with a purple sweet potato. If you paired a golden beet with a purple sweet potato you would get a brownish, less pretty dough. Experiment and have fun! As mentioned, you can use all-purpose or whole-grain flour. Some like to use semolina, but I have not tried that yet.

Above: Purple sweet potato and red beet version of gnocchi. Ok to blitz the two ingredients in a food processor, but you will need to turn them into a bowl or work surface ultimately to thoroughly blend. The ingredients are too bulky and dry to mix very much in the processor.

FAQs

Are Gnocchi Vegan?

They can be, and this recipe is. Different regions of Italy make them differently. They all include some kind of flour, and some include eggs and/or ricotta.

What tools can I buy to make gnocchi easier or better?

As this posts explain, tools are not needed, but if you like to use them, you can “rice” the sweet potatoes with a potato ricer and you can buy a gnocchi board to shape the gnocchi (not affiliate links).

What is traditional gnocchi made of?

Based on researching many recipes, as well as reading about the history of gnocchi, the most traditional gnocchi is made from white potatoes, 00 flour and eggs. The use of 00 flour is finer and with less protein, yielding softer gnocchi.

Why is my sweet potato gnocchi dough sticky?

Sweet potatoes have a high moisture content. After cooking they are around 75% moisture, so the flour absorbs the moisture, and the dough gets sticky. When this happens as you make the gnocchi dough and shape the dough, you can sprinkle a tablespoon or so of flour on the dough/gnocchi to reduce the stickiness, but take care not to load on extra flour which will yield an overly dense gnocchi.

Making this recipe with just sweet potatoes

  • I’ve enjoyed making this recipe with just sweet potatoes for an equally delicious outcome. You don’t have to monitor the longer cooking beets and puree them. The result is very flavorful.
  • Below I used purple sweet potatoes (because, you know, eating the rainbow is important) and whole-grain spelt flour (because, you know, whole grains have more nutrition). I did not find it too heavy with the use of whole-grain flour.
  • The key here, as with all the types of gnocchi you make is to closely monitor how much flour you use, to avoid a gnocchi that is more flour than potato. And yet, you need enough flour to bind the dough. Across all of my research as well as my iterations of sweet potato gnocchi, I’ve found the ratio of 1 pound of potatoes to 1 cup of flour works.
  • Please note that some recipes I found use up to 2 cups of flour. I think those might be less delicate but not as tasty as my version with only 1 cup flour, but you be the judge, and let me know in the comments!

Above: 1. A cup of whole grain spelt flour to make gnocchi with. 2. Making gnocchi dough with purple sweet potatoes. 3. Cut gnocchi dough ready to be rolled over the back of a fork for the traditional ridged shape- or maybe not! See feature photo for how most of these were left unshaped.

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plate of pan-seared purple sweet potato gnocchi dressed with olive oil and smoked sea salt.

Not your Nonna’s Gnocchi with Beet and Sweet Potato

Prep Time2 hours
Cook Time15 minutes
Sweet Potato/Beet Roasting (see notes): 2 hours
Servings4
Calories220
Traditional gnocchi ingredients and methods are turned on their head just a little to create gnocchi dumplings that are approachable and easy to make without any tools. Sweet potatoes and beets give the gnocchi color, flavor, and nutrition. Finally, pan-searing them takes them that extra step towards the divine. These are not your Nonna's gnocchi. See Notes about making without beets.
Kitchen Tools
  • 1 mixing bowl
  • 1 3qt soup pot

Ingredients
 

  • 1 lb sweet potato (2 medium) (orange, Jap. white, purple-see notes)
  • 1 beet (medium, 6-7 oz.) (red, golden-see notes)
  • 1 cup all purpose flour (or spelt, whole grain-see notes)

Method:  

Roast the Vegetables
  • Preheat oven to 350.
  • Wash the sweet potatoes and beets (do not peel).
  • Place sweet potatoes and beets on pan and place in oven to bake. They will need to bake for different amounts of time. See below.
  • Cook Sweet Potatoes for 1-1.5 hours, until a fork can easily pierce through to center. Let cool (or place in fridge to cool until next day).
  • Cook beets for 1.5-2 hours, until a fork can easily pierce through to center. Let cool (or place in fridge to cool until next day). If you don't have blender/processor then cook beet till very fork tender so you can mash.
Make the Gnocchi Dough (30 min including skinning veg, mixing,mashing)
  • Cut the root end off of the beet, and peel only if you want/can. I have mixed success with this, and the skin isn't much of a skin- ok to leave on, especially if blending and not hand mashing. Remove skins from sweet potatoes which should pull off easily.
  • Puree the beet in food processor or blender. Or mash it with a potato masher if you do not have equipment. Either way, blend/mash until smooth.
  • Mash sweet potato with your fingers, breaking up until there are no chunks.
  • Mix beet puree with mashed sweet potato with fork in bowl until thoroughly mixed.
  • Add 1/2 cup of the flour to the veggie mix and work the two together with your fingers. Add another 1/4 cup of the flour and work it until the "dough" becomes less sticky.
  • At this point, dump out onto work surface/cutting board, and sprinkle the last 1/4 cup of flour over the dough, working it in. You should be able to kind of knead the dough like bread dough, but not too much. See notes.
  • Once the dough looks and feels more or less uniform and not too sticky cover and let rest 30 minutes or so (it will always be a bit sticky but you shouldn't be getting dough all over your fingers at this point).
Form the Gnocchi (30 minutes, including rolling, cutting,shaping)
  • After dough rests 30 minutes, uncover. The flour will have hydrated w/the veggies and the dough may look and feel a bit more sticky now. Have some flour at the ready to sprinkly on it as needed now and throughout the forming process. Divide dough into 4 portions.
  • Working one portion at a time, use your hands to roll the portion into a rope about the thickness of your thumb (you may have to break it in two if the rope gets too long). Sprinkle with a little flour as needed. Cut the rope into sections that are 1/2-3/4"long. See notes.
  • If the gnocchi bits are sticky just sprinkle with a bit of flour. Now it's time to try and form them into ridged curls (unless you decide to leave them as little pillows).
  • Take a fork and lay it upside down on work surface. Take each gnocchi section and press it down lightly on the fork, and push away/down the fork with your finger, so that it rolls. See notes.
  • Place shaped gnocchi aside on a plate, work surface or sheet pan with parchment if you want to be fancy. Sprinkle all of them with a little flour and move them around so they don't stick at all.
Cook the Gnocchi (15 min includes bringing water to boil)
  • Leave formed gnocchi to rest while you bring a 3qt pot of water to boil. Add salt if you like.
  • Gently place serving spoonfuls of gnocchi (4-6) into boiling water, adding about half of the gnocchi. Let them boil until they float. Once they float, watch them cook gently for 30-60 seconds and then remove with slotted spoon (I used a slotted spatula) and place on parchment or plate, or directly into your sauce. Sauce right away or they will end up sticking together.
Option pan-searing
  • Heat a saute pan to medium with some olive oil and add gnocchi, once oil is glistening. Cook a few minutes, watching and turning. Give them time to sear and brown before turning. Serve with sauce of your choice. See post for suggestions.

Notes

Sweet Potato + Beets: I’ve used Japanese White Sweet Potatoes mixed with a golden beet, as well as purple sweet potato mixed with a red beet. You can use any combination. Choose wisely to create the color you want!
Flour: I used all-purpose white flour, so that the sweet potato and beet flavors are dominant. I’ve used spelt as well, for nutrition.
Mixing dough: you won’t be kneading this dough like you would bread dough where you want to develop the gluten. In this case, you knead just enough to incorporate and get some uniformity. But the dough will be soft and yield pillowy gnocchi with a gentle bite, as long as we don’t overknead. Ok to sprinkle bits of flour as needed, based on variations in veggie size and moisture content.
Forming the gnocchi: As you cut the ropes into portions, you can sprinkle flour around as needed to prevent shapes from sticking. When you attempt to roll the portions on the fork tines, you likely will press, and roll, but then it might stick to tines, and you will just fold the part that sticks over a bit to get the portion off the fork.
Making without beets: At the end of the post is a paragraph and photos of how to make this recipe without the beets. I find it a very similar process and start with 1 lb of sweet potato and 1 cup of flour, potentially using slightly less flour in the end.

Nutrition (an estimate)

Calories: 220kcal | Carbohydrates: 49g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 0.4g | Saturated Fat: 0.1g | Sodium: 79mg | Potassium: 482mg | Fiber: 5g | Sugar: 6g | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 42mg | Iron: 2mg | Magnesium: 40mg | Net Carbohydrates: 44g
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