Every chef has a list of their greatest hits, the handful of go-to meals that play on repeat in their culinary repertoire. Gnocchi is high on my own list. It’s one of those dishes that everyone thinks is extremely complicated but in reality is actually really easy to make. I taught my daughter, Kiera, how to make it when she was 6, and it was what I taught my younger brother, Avi, to make to impress girls when he was in college.
Over the past five years, I have put some version of gnocchi on every one of my restaurant menus. In late 2021, when I opened JewFro — a Jewish African restaurant in Richmond, Virginia, with my business partners William “Trey” Owens and Nar Hovnanian — I knew that this time would be no different.
There is a classic Hungarian Jewish dish called shlishkas that is basically a breaded gnocchi. (Who doesn’t love double the carbs?) We took that as our inspiration and served it with a super simple but complexly flavored berbere cream sauce. Berbere is an amazing Ethiopian spice blend that’s warm, comforting, and a little bit sweet, with the perfect depth of heat to keep you going back for more. It’s part of what gives doro wat — Ethiopia’s national dish — its delicious flavor. And it’s what turns this cream sauce into something special.
Gnocchi isn’t necessarily the most common Thanksgiving dish, but if you’re anything like me, the regular nostalgic holiday foods don’t cut it for you. In my humble opinion, this is a way better substitute for the Pyrex dish of marshmallow-topped yams that everyone’s in-laws insist on every year. This year, do yourself a favor and bring a plate of these yam gnocchi instead. I guarantee you that no one will miss the other stuff.
Yam Gnocchi Recipe
Serves 4 to 6
For the gnocchi:
1 ½ pounds garnet yams (or sweet potatoes)
24 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
1⅓ cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus extra for rolling
For the berbere cream sauce:
1 cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon roasted garlic (from gnocchi recipe)
4 teaspoons berbere seasoning
Salt, to taste
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs (made with day-old bread)
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon chopped fresh thyme, or ¼ teaspoon dried thyme
¼ teaspoon dried sage
¼ teaspoon roasted garlic (from gnocchi recipe)
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the yams on a small baking sheet, prick all over with a fork, and roast until tender when squeezed, about 1 hour.
Step 2: Meanwhile, make the roasted garlic. Combine the garlic with the oil in a ramekin or small dish, and roast until golden brown and softened, stirring halfway through cooking, 25 to 30 minutes. Mash with a fork and set aside.
Step 3: When the yams are cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a bowl and discard the skins. Mash the yams with 2 tablespoons of the roasted garlic and the salt, pepper, and sage.
Step 4: Sprinkle ⅓ cup of the flour on a clean work surface. Put the mashed yam mixture on the surface and make a well in the center. Add the egg and about ¼ cup of the remaining flour, then fold the flour and egg into the yams. Continue to knead gently and add flour until you have a soft dough; do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi will be tough.
Step 5: Bring a medium saucepan of water to a boil. Prepare an ice bath in a mixing bowl and set it near the stove. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Break the gnocchi into 4 equal parts. Roll each part into a rope that is about the width of a nickel (about ¾ inch). Cut the rope into 1-inch lengths and roll them off the back of a fork to mark the gnocchi with ridges.
Step 6: Working in batches of about a dozen at a time, cook the gnocchi in the simmering water until they float to the top. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the gnocchi to the ice water bath as they are done. Repeat with remaining gnocchi. Drain the gnocchi and place them on the parchment-lined baking sheet. (The gnocchi can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to 2 days.)
Step 7: Make the cream sauce. Pour the cream into a small saucepan and add the garlic. Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture is thickened and reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Add the berbere seasoning and cook until thickened slightly, about 2 minutes. Season with salt to taste, cover, and keep warm over low heat while cooking the gnocchi.
Step 8: Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and pour over the gnocchi. Add the breadcrumbs, cumin, and thyme leaves and toss gently to combine. Set aside.
Step 9: Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter over medium-high heat and cook until the butter is golden brown, about 1 minute. Add the sage, roasted garlic, salt, and pepper and stir to combine. Add the gnocchi mixture to the pan and cook, tossing gently, until the gnocchi are golden brown and crisped, about 4 minutes.
Step 10: Divide the gnocchi among bowls and spoon the cream sauce over the top. Serve immediately.
Chef Ari Augenbaum is the executive chef and one of the founders of JewFro, Soul Taco and Sear Burger restaurants.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning