It should come as no surprise that the day after I finished The Fault in Our Stars, the New York Times bestseller written by John Green and given to us as a gift New Year’s Day by Sonja and Alex, Tim and I were in the kitchen mixing and rolling homemade gnocchi dough, he with the camera, me with flour-covered fingers, watching the sunlight streak across our dining room table and the giant bamboo cutting board I gave Tim as a gift two years ago.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

It should come as no surprise because, at least according to Instagram, most of you already know about this book, one of those classic star-crossed love stories that, at the end, leaves you looking at life in a different way from when you’d started, which in my case meant grabbing Tim and sobbing about how thankful I am to have him and about how I hope he knows, like really knows, that I feel so remarkably blessed and happy to share his life.

There’s this one line in particular, towards the end of the story, that’s stayed with me since I turned the last page Friday night, one that sort of echoes a theme reoccurring in the book:

“The real heroes anyway aren’t the people doing things; the real heroes are the people NOTICING things, paying attention.”

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

I know I’m giving you the quote without much context, but for some reason it’s the quote I keep thinking about when I scroll through the photos in this post—the balls of dough, the nine-inch logs, the rows of sliced gnocchi ready to be cooked. Even without knowing the 16-year-old cancer patient Hazel Grace Lancaster who narrates Green’s book, even without knowing the character who loves her and says this line about her, even without any of that or with all of that, I like to think you can read that quote and, in our world of do-do-doing, go-go-going, checking stats, keeping on task, still read those words and sense the freedom in thinking, wait, actually, it’s not how many recipes you make this week or how many Facebook friends you have or what long list of accomplishments you can say you’ve achieved in your life. It’s not your scope of followers or sphere of influence or money in the bank account. No. It’s looking, stopping and looking, at the task you’re doing today. It’s considering the thing in front of you this moment. It’s plopping one sweet potato gnocchi after another into water, watching the liquid turn cloudy, waiting for the dough to float.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

I have this growing need in my heart for this. I have this growing need to tune out everything around me—the iPhone, the to-do list, the relationship drama—and to focus totally on one thing, just one thing, so I can pay attention to it. It’s stunning how infrequently this happens. I’d like to blame our multitasking culture with its plugged-in, tuned-in, connected lifestyle that makes so many of us operate at half-speed most of the time, half-interacting and half-remembering what’s going on around us, but on a deeper level I know it’s my own heart that’s at work. Nobody forces me to check my Facebook while I’m working. I don’t have to keep my phone out while I’m driving in the car. I could clear more space for reading and for quiet, but it takes intention, and intention doesn’t happen on its own.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

So here’s what I’d like to move towards, intentionally, more and more in our life: To sit with Tim at dinner and give him my full attention, no laptop or TV allowed. To read a book in bed and put my phone in the other room. To go for a walk and just be there, really there, on the walk, looking at the waving branches and smelling the crisp air, quieting my soul. A lot of times, I feel I have a noisy soul, to be honest with you, one that is restless and hurried. I’m constantly jumping to the next task, even if just in my mind, and it sort of sucks the life away from living to be always rushing like that.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

I’d also like to be more thankful, to take moments to stop and think about how good the good things are. I’d like the people around me to know I appreciate them because I say so. I’d like to notice every time something is sweet or kind or lovely and call it out, like habit, like breathing, like it’s something I can’t stop myself from doing as I do.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com
Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Sage Brown Butter | FoodLovesWriting.com

And along with that, I’d like to fight fiercely for the joy in food, for the raw pleasure of combining pureed sweet potatoes and flour and forming that mixture into a dough, for seeing something entirely new come into being before your eyes. You who read here understand this; you know the way that moving to the kitchen with a recipe and ingredients can be so comforting and calming and rewarding, especially when you finish with a plateful of sweet potato gnocchi swimming in a brown butter sauce, a meal you made with your two hands while you mixed and heated and created and cooked. I know you know it. Sometimes people say things like they cook to save money or they cook to be healthy or because it’s something they know they can do well; but along with all those things, can I just submit? I think one of the best parts of cooking is the fun you can have while you do.

Sweet Potato Gnocchi in Brown Butter Sage Sauce
Inspired by a vegan version at Made Just Right
Makes about 48 gnocchi; Serves two to three large portions

In lieu of the butter sauce, you could just drizzle the boiled gnocchi with olive oil and Pecorino—my in-laws gave us a bottle of rosemary olive oil for Christmas that was practically made for this—but it’s hard to beat the nutty taste of browned butter.

Ingredients:
2 cups sweet potato puree*
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
2 to 3 cups flour (we used einkorn), plus extra for dusting
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, chopped
About a cup of shredded Pecorino cheese

Directions:
Combine sweet potato puree with salt, nutmeg, and pepper. Add flour by the 1/2 cup, mixing well after each addition, until the dough comes together to resemble a pasta dough. I found working it with my hands was the best way to gage this. Once you have a soft, elastic-ish dough, divide it into six equal portions.

Set a large stockpot on the stove and fill it with water and a bunch of salt, and bring the water to a boil while you keep working.

On a floured surface and with floured hands, roll each of the six portions into logs about 1/2 inch in diameter and seven to nine inches in length. Use a floured knife to slice the logs into one-inch-long pillows and press them with a fork for decoration if you like.

By this point, the water should be boiling. Once it is, reduce the heat so the water’s at a simmer and drop half of the gnocchi (about two dozen) inside. You can expect them to sink to the bottom, but run a spoon through the water to keep them from sticking to the pan. In about five minutes, once the gnocchi float to the top of the water, give them another minute and, using a slotted spoon, remove them to a plate. Repeat the process with the second half of gnocchi.

Meanwhile, heat the butter in a saucepan on another burner, melting it and adding the chopped sage. Keep heating it until the mixture darkens and smells nutty; then lower the heat. Place the first batch of gnocchi inside, rolling them around for a minute or two and removing to a plate; repeat with the second batch.

Top gnocchi with grated Pecorino and serve warm. Enjoy!

*How I make my sweet potato puree: Preheat oven to 375F. Slice sweet potatoes in half and rub cut side and outer skins with oil. Place on baking sheet, cut side down, and baking until potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork. Let cool and scoop out inside flesh to a food processor; puree. All set!

Shanna Mallon started Food Loves Writing back in 2008, as a way to remember her grandma and write about her life through food. Since then it's become a place leading her to a lifestyle of eating whole foods, a new home in Nashville and the love of her life, Tim. Follow Shanna on Twitter @foodloves, keep up with Food Loves Writing on Facebook and stay inspired with the monthly newsletter.

This Post Has 65 Comments

  1. Abby

    This looks so tasty. I’ve been wondering what to do with my leftover sweet potatoes!

    I’ve been trying to be more mindful and aware in my days, too, because when I slow down and enjoy one task at a time, that’s when I start to feel relaxed and comfortable. It’s so easy to get caught up in doing everything at once, but you’re right, there’s such beauty to be found in the simplest of things.

    Also, The Fault in Our Stars was just…heart-wrenchingly good.

  2. Kim

    Every time I read your posts, I think to myself about why I got into blogging in the first place. To write. I started my blog in the last few months of college to force myself to write and make sense of all the changes that were going on, that are still going on. But I’ve now fallen into the trap of wanting to go viral, to be liked, to be followed, to be retweeted, to be SHARED.

    It’s awful.

    Last night, I wrote a post about reasons to and not to blog. And I quickly posted it and moved on. Later I realized I should have approached it differently, said why blogging has made me so scatter brained and why I’m always thinking “I’ll blog about this later” but then forget it. Instead, I wrote a crap general post about blogging that we’ve all seen a million times. Ironically, if I had shared more, it would have been better and probably more well liked.

    Dammit.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Kim, It kills me that this post would make you feel like you’d even sort of failed because, listen, girl, it’s the continual coming back to our blog draft screens, pulling words out of thoughts, doing what we can in the moment that makes blogs so valuable for growing our creative skills. We have all had days where we don’t feel “on” and the post we publish doesn’t seem what we wanted, but we grow and learn from that. Also? So many times when I’m reading a writer I love, I compare myself to that writer and think, shoot, they did what I was trying to do, but I have to remind myself that I’m me and they’re them, and we’re continually learning from one another. Let’s keep reminding each other of why we blog–to write–and let’s enjoy it!

  3. Sarah

    This looks so good! I have always wanted to make gnocchi but I never have. The Fault in Our Stars is just so good. I just reread it the other day and loved it just as much.

  4. Jacqui

    Yes to all of it. I’m ashamed to admit that with all the new devices that have recently come into our hands, Murdo and I spend too much time looking at screens rather than at each other. We need to fix this.

  5. Joanna

    Here I am with a new book to read, a new recipe to try (ohmygosh, YUM), and nodding my head in completely agreement. I’m so tired of the hurry up and hurry pace and want to cultivate a lot more noticing and a lot more living this year. You write it so beautifully.

  6. Megan

    I am so guilty of not doing this well. It’s something I’ve been aware of for a while, and hope to work on it a lot this year. I find that when I have a meal with Ryan (and no other interruptions/distractions) it feels longer and fuller and just… right. That feeling alone should convince me to treat everything in life as such, but… I am working at it.

    P.S. those gnocchi are gorgeous!

  7. Maria

    John Green is lovely with words! I loved A Fault in Our Stars, but perhaps Paper Towns and Looking for Alaska even more. Whenever I re-read one of his books, I find sweet new lines to latch on to. It makes me hopeful that his work is written for young people – that he recognizes how smart they are and writes as such.

  8. Lan | angry asian

    i’ve only ever read one of John Green’s books, Looking For Alaska and some of his lines from that book still resonates with me. he really knows how to write from and to the heart, just like you do.

    here’s to moving fwd with intention, moving slowly and just being.

  9. Kathryn

    Reading this has made me realise that the only time I ever do focus on one thing is when I’m in the kitchen. We eat dinner and watch TV and check our phones. I read a magazine with the radio playing in the background. I flick between work and twitter and facebook in an endless loop. But in the kitchen, I have to think about what I’m doing and give the ingredients my undivided attention – I probably need to do that with more of the things in my life. Thank you!

  10. Little Kitchie

    Beautiful post, Shanna. I read The Fault in Our Stars this summer and couldn’t stop thinking about it for weeks. So glad you got to read and enjoy it! I love your thoughts on doing things with intention, too. One of Miles (my husband) and I’s resolutions for this year is to turn off the TV and put away phones during dinner no matter what. I like your idea of leaving your phone in another room when you go to sleep, too.

    I’m so glad you posted this gnocchi – I saw it on your Instagram the other day and was hoping you’d share! It looks lovely and sounds so comforting and delicious. Pinning to try soon!

    1. Shanna Mallon

      It really takes thought to put the phone away, doesn’t it? It’s funny how attached to it I’ve become! And yes, comforting! That is exactly the right word for the gnocchi — soft and comforting and filling and good.

  11. Monika

    These look great, I’ve seen this flavor combo floating around the internet and it draws me in every time. Clearly the next step is actually doing something about it… but I think unfortunately sage is out of my reach down here. Also, as always, happy to see that you made the recipe with non-wheat flour, gives me more encouragement.

    I’ve been making an effort to be more mindful and disconnect recently, too. It is amazing how much effort it requires to just put away the computer and read a book. Once I actually start reading, or writing in my journal rather than typing on my “maybe blog about this” word doc, it’s pretty easy going. That first overcoming of inertia and consciousness required to firmly shift my attention, however, is shockingly difficult. Sometimes I even put “read, write, think, disconnect” on my to do list… which sounds bonkers, but is also a useful reminder to set aside that time. I think it’s even harder for me this year being so far from home, since the computer and internet are the lifelines that let me stay in touch with family and friends, which also helps keep me centered and sane.

    A nice pick-up-and-read-a-little-at-a-time kind of book on mindfulness that my high school art teacher gave me as a graduation present is Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in case you are interested: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zen_Mind,_Beginner's_Mind

    Thank you for the reminder to keep at being present.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Thank you so much for this thoughtful comment, Marie! I have to tell you, full disclosure, that einkorn is not non-wheat. Technically, it’s a very ancient form of wheat, which is why it is so much easier to digest (less processing, fewer chromosomes, no D genome that causes gut inflammation), but it IS alternative and unusual, which I’m pretty sure was your point. : )

      Love your point about writing in a journal vs. on the computer, too. Funny how that can free your mind up! I’ve started a one-line-a-day project inspired by Nicole of Eat This Poem, and I’m finding it to be such a pleasure — a true offline creative boost.

  12. sarah kate branine

    I’m so thankful for this post this morning. I’ve been thinking about so many of these things and only wish you were here, in person, sitting beside me, to talk with about them. Thought of and prayed for you so many times this weekend. I saw a quote on Instagram (!) this morning– maybe it’s from this book too? Here it is: “Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity.” Simone Weil

    It stopped me in my tracks– and so did this post. Thank you sweet, sweet friend!

  13. Lindsey @ Pas de Deux

    Oh, Shanna, how beautifully you articulated something I wish I could have said myself! I don’t know why it’s so hard to disconnect, but I really must make an effort to forget about my phone when I am home with my husband in the evenings.

    I tend to be able to slow down and notice better in the mornings, right after I’ve finished my yoga practice. The beauty of the sunrise in Central VA never ceases to amaze me, and for a minute I can just breathe in the beauty of the new day. By the end of the day, it’s hard. Thank you for the reminder to slow down and notice deeply (and for the delicious recipe).

  14. Molly

    Oh my, that book! My sister is a middle school and high school librarian, and every so often she directs me to a book. Lesson learned: Do not, under any circumstances, finish reading that book on a plane (or in public). John Green is so amazing, and I am now one of his million plus followers on Twitter. So so good.

    Please. There is no need to have a phone out while driving. Tuck it away until you get to where you need to go. Trust me on this one.

    Enjoy every moment.

  15. Sonja

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the book! Both Alex and I really enjoyed it too. And we’re proud to live in the same city as John Green! :)

    I love your thoughts on intention — such a wonderful word! We have learned so much about that over the years — and much of it through eating, food, and cooking too. Making healthy choices is all about intention, it seems :)

    As always, beautiful way of capturing sentiments in words. Honored to know you!
    XO

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Sonja, I just saw your blog post from today about embracing the idea of intention for 2013, and I am so with you. Looking forward to seeing you guys flesh that out, in regards to health and otherwise, in the coming year!

  16. Colleen, The Smart Cookie Cook

    Multitasking certainly has taken over our lives. I can’t even sit down and watch a movie on the TV without my laptop in front of me. The one time I do tune things out is during meals, and with a dish as delicious as this, I would have no problem doing so. I always wanted to make homemade gnocchi, and sweet potato gnocchi sounds divine.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Colleen! I just told Tim the exact same thing last night, that when I watch a movie, it feels weird not to have my laptop or phone out. So crazy! But thank goodness for the quiet of the kitchen, where we can focus on the meal before us. Hope this gnocchi finds its way to you soon!

  17. Helene @ French Foodie Baby

    Lovely quote, and thoughts Shanna, that have been very much on my mind as well. I go back and forth between this antsyness and the need to be very much in the moment. Good for you for learning this now, I think having my son was what brought it front and center for me. Babies and young children have such an innate ability for this, for being completely in the moment and noticing so much, so it’s all about nurturing that instead of making them antsy and pulling them in all directions. Easier said than done. That said, the kitchen is the most fantastic place to learn, practice and teach this. Life is just in that right now moment and what we can learn from it or feel from it. I do feel a sense of loss in not having known that sooner in my life.

    And I’ve never made gnocchi, so this will be my chance :-)

  18. Sophia

    Love the photos (and love that you used a ruler to measure the size of the gnocchi!). There is nothing I love more than getting in the kitchen with my boyfriend and cooking together, trying out new recipes and discussing techniques, wondering whether we are doing things right – this post reminded me to make sure this happens more often. So satisfying to share a special homecooked meal together. Also, this recipe looks fantastic – I like the idea of the sweet potato gnocchi with sage combination as it reminds me of the pumpkin filled tortellini with sage butter that are so common in Northern Italy and which me and my boyfriend ate on a little trip up north towards Bologna the other day.

  19. Erin

    Oh I needed to read this post (and I need to read that book!).
    What you’re talking about here is exactly I think one reason I love to cook, because cooking is one of the few things I regularly do that I get totally engrossed in without distraction. And I think that’s one reason why it is good for the soul.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      Jessie! As soon as I made this, I thought how good it would be with pumpkin (just be sure to strain out any extra water! did I learn that the hard way with another recipe!) and then, I thought, what about kabocha squash!? Oh, winter squashes, so many options.

  20. Felicia @ Dish by Dish

    Shanna,

    There are so many things I want to say, they are racing in circles in my brain.

    First up, I loved the fact that you showed how to make the gnocchi in such detailed steps. It makes homemade pasta look so much easier – when broken down in baby steps.

    Next, I’ve never liked gnocchi, and mind you I am an absolute fan of pasta, but gnocchi just never cut it for me. Somehow though, you’ve managed to entice me with this very delectably-colored orange-hued gnocchi – I supposed a new year comes with testing new recipes, and yours is one I might just have to try!

    In one of the comments left behind by another reader, she wrote that sometimes we forget why we started blogging in the first place – to write, and then to share our writing with others. But writing should come first, sharing second. Thanks for being able to somehow always intertwine beautiful, honest writing with your food recipes & anecdotes – reminding us that great food writing is great writing, in its very essence, and that to be a good food writer, one must first be a good writer (something I’ve ingrained from Dianne Jacob’s “Will Write for Food”).

    So glad I found your blog a couple of months ago! And so so glad you’re blessed with this amazing talent to write, and translate your thoughts to others!

    love,
    felicia

  21. Kim

    I’ll have you know that I saw the picture of this in my Google Reader, and immediately opened it in a new window so I could pin it, and then soon, make it.

    And then I read the post. Oh, Shanna, you’ve done it again. We are so well-aligned sometimes — So often when I read your writing, I find you’ve so perfectly captured what I’ve been thinking lately. I find myself saying, “yes! exactly that!” and relishing in the fact that I have this lovely internet friend who so eloquently seems to capture precisely what’s going on in my mind.

    Cheers to you, and a hello to Tim.

  22. Harriet

    I love that quote and so very much relates to the week I’ve just had – finished a course on creative processes and a key activity every day was working on getting present, really centring yourself in the moment. This seems so simple but when the ability to multi task, be busy and say yes to everything and everyone is so actively encouraged, to focus on one thing, wholly and completely, feels alien. But from now on I’ll endeavour to be present & centred everyday – thank you for reminding me of this, what funny timing! Recipe l

  23. wesley @ the way home

    Love this post, it’s such a great reminder that life isn’t about doing, but about being. And I will definitely put this on my list of things to make, I absolutely love gnocchi but have never really thought about making it from scratch before.

    1. Shanna Mallon

      I heard someone say in an interview that life is less about doing and more about believing, which your comment reminded me of, and it’s something that ties in nicely with this idea of slowing down. What am I believing? There’s something I want to ask myself more often, intentionally.

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  26. Taryn

    I just found your blog a couple of weeks ago because I was looking for an einkorn pancake recipe. It was SO good. Then. Then! Then, I tried this deliciousness tonight. I just happened to have sweet potatoes and yams that needed eating. I am so thankful that it ended up being a big batch because I flash froze some for quick dinner later. Thanks a bunch! I look forward to reading more here.

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