Forget gnocchi, these sweet potato dumplings are a breeze to make

Sweet Potato Dumplings and Spinach Gratin
Sweet Potato Dumplings and Spinach GratinPHOTO: RENEE COMET FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

UNITED STATES (Washington Post) - One of the great things about serving a roast for Sunday supper is that it tends to cook itself. Slip it into the oven, and you are free to do just about anything else - including focusing on the vegetables and other so-called sides. This recipe is for a side dish that deserves star billing. It is a variation on the Italian potato dumplings known as gnocchi, which are often made with russets combined with flour, then rolled, shaped and boiled. They are great, but a lot of work.

However, when you opt for sweet potatoes instead, as I have here, and do not have to worry about the shaping, the dumplings get considerably easier. Just scoop up spoonfuls of dough and drop them in boiling water. This really cuts down on how long it takes to prepare them.

In fact, you can make the dumplings several days ahead of time. Then, about 40 minutes before sitting down to dinner, you pull the dumplings out of the refrigerator, saute the spinach and combine everything with the liquids and cheese. Pop it all into a gratin dish and bake for about 20 minutes.

And talk about flexibility. You are welcome to swop out the spinach in favour of chard or other greens. Likewise, you can kiss off the Gruyere and replace it with cheddar, blue cheese or feta. Want to transform this recipe into a vegetarian dish? Use vegetable broth instead of chicken broth. Bingo.

Ultimately, you might consider moving this dish from the side of the plate to the centre. None of the carnivores at the table will go hungry, I promise.

You'll need a shallow, 36-cm gratin dish (or baking dish with a similar volume of 8 cups). Serve with roast chicken, pork loin or lamb, sauteed mushroom ragout and escarole, orange and red onion salad.

Sweet Potato Dumplings and Spinach Gratin

Makes 6 servings
2 large sweet potatoes (680 to 800g in total), scrubbed well
1¼ tsp kosher salt, plus more as needed
2 Tbs unsalted butter, plus more for the baking dish
About 1½ cups flour, plus more as needed
1 large egg, lightly beaten
⅛ tsp freshly grated nutmeg
280g fresh baby spinach
1 tsp minced garlic
½ cup heavy cream
¼ cup low-sodium chicken broth
42g (6¼ Tbs) coarsely grated Gruyere cheese
14g (1 Tbs) finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

1. Preheat the oven to 205 deg. C.
2. Prick the sweet potatoes with the tip of a paring knife several times and place on a baking sheet. Bake (middle rack) until they are very tender, about 1¼hours.
3. Let them cool completely, then scrape out the potato flesh and put it either through a ricer or a food mill, or puree it in a food processor. Transfer it to a medium bowl; you should have about 1¾ cups. Discard the skins.
4. Preheat the oven to 232 deg. C.
5. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over medium-high heat. Grease the baking dish with a little butter. Lightly flour a work surface.
6. Add the egg, the 1¼ tsp salt and the nutmeg to the pureed potato, stirring until smooth. Fold in the 1½ cups flour and stir until barely incorporated.
7. If the mixture is stiff enough so that an inserted spoon can stand in it, proceed with the next step. If it cannot, add a little more flour a few tablespoons at a time, stirring just until incorporated, to form a dough that holds its shape.
8. Use a 10.6g or 3/8-ounce (#100) disher or a level tablespoon to portion the dough into (rough-shaped) balls, placing them on the floured surface as you work. You should end up with about 36 balls.
9. Add half the balls to the boiling water, reduce the heat to medium and cook the dumplings until they all float, for 2 or 3 minutes. Use a Chinese spider or slotted spoon to transfer the dumplings to the gratin dish. Repeat with the remaining balls.
10. Melt the 2 Tbs of butter in a large skillet over medium-high heat. When the butter just starts to brown, add half the spinach, stirring until most of the spinach has wilted.
11. Add the remaining spinach and a hefty pinch of salt; cook until all the spinach has wilted and most of the moisture it gave off has evaporated.
12. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for 1 minute, then use a slotted spoon to transfer the spinach to the gratin dish.
13. Combine the heavy cream and broth in a large liquid measuring cup, then pour it over the spinach. Sprinkle the cheeses evenly over the top.
14. Bake (middle rack) for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is bubbling around the edges. Serve hot.

Sara Moulton is the host of Sara's Weeknight Meals, a public television show now in its sixth season. She writes a weekly column for the Associated Press and is the author of four cookbooks, including, most recently, Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better.