In retrospect, perhaps I should have posted this Smoked Sausage, Gnocchi and Sauerkraut around New Year’s.
I didn’t even think about it until I was talking to my sister a couple of weeks ago. She was making her own delicious pork and sauerkraut dish for her New Year’s Eve guests. Living in Pennsylvania for as long as I have now, and loving the pork/sauerkraut combo, you’d think I might have adopted this good luck tradition that is a custom of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Alas, my sister and I don’t live near each other, or my family certainly would have shown up at her house with our appetites ready.
We usually celebrate New Year’s close to home with all kinds of plans and traditions in place. While we have a few that we treasure , my kids are quite fond of the Spanish tradition of eating 12 grapes at the stroke of midnight. I think it was my daughter who brought that tradition into the fold a few years ago. I think they like the frenetic pace of everyone around the table, each with their carefully counted bowlful of grapes, endeavoring to finish them all before the final stroke of midnight. As a mother, I’m constantly worried that someone is going to choke :0 This tradition started when my kids were older, but I still hold the fear of the toddler years within me, wanting to cut each of those grapes in half before they consume them.
This recipe did not come from any New Year’s Eve tradition, though it was a dish we enjoyed growing up. You know, like many of you, I love a good sweet and salty combo like Peanut Butter Cluster Cups, One Bowl Brittle Bark or Sticky Maple Bacon Biscuits. The same goes for sweet and sour. It’s actually hard to even type those words together without my mouth beginning to water. It’s a natural reaction to just thinking about sour, but it’s also a response to my love for a sweet and sour dish.
This Smoked Sausage, Gnocchi and Sauerkraut dish was actually the gateway for me liking sauerkraut as a kid. Why? Because in this recipe, the sauerkraut is rinsed, sweetened and flavored. The rinsing helps reduce some of the acidity that sauerkraut has straight from the jar. Brown sugar is added to balance it. Onions add another layer of savory flavor. (My daughter will pick every last one of them out of her serving, but I’m cool with that. I’m not leaving them out.) Then there’s the caraway seeds. I’m a big fan of the flavor they bring. I love them in Irish Soda Bread and Irish Soda Bread Scones. They’re kind of sweet and earthy; they complement the sauerkraut as much as they complement the sausage.
Now let’s talk about the gnocchi. There was a time when we made this dish with homemade potato dumplings. They were delicious, but a bit of work for an average night. We eventually migrated to prepared gnocchi to fulfill that part of the recipe. Turned out to be a genius move. The gnocchi are the perfect substitute for the time consuming potato dumplings. I used to buy frozen or refrigerated gnocchi, but they can become gummy as they cook with the liquid in this dish.
I’ve found that the shelf stable gnocchi, the package that you can find sitting right on the shelf in the dry pasta section, cooks up the best in the recipe. The shelf stable gnocchi is drier from the start and actually benefits nicely from the extra liquid in the dish. The gnocchi cook to a wonderful texture, still with some tooth to them, soaking up the flavors of the sauerkraut and sausage and adding a nice heartiness to the meal.Aaaaaand, that means they can be a pantry item, along with the sauerkraut, and be ready to go when you are.
Our sausage of choice is kielbasa. Since we avoid nitrates and other ingredients, and I try to err on the healthier side of things, I try to find sausage that is uncured, with no nitrates, no antibiotics, no msg, yada,yada, yada. You get the idea. It has to taste good though. I’ve gotten some sausages that simply did not pass the taste test, so choose your favorite smoked sausage and you’ll be good.
Now that we’ve added the sausage, we’ve got the sweet and sour, yet still savory, sauerkraut, the salty richness of the sausage and the heartiness of the tender potato gnocchi. The acidity in the sauerkraut helps balance the richness of the sausage, the salty sausage balances the sweet in the sauerkraut…it all works.
I used to cook this recipe in a casserole dish, but I found myself digging down to get the right portion of sausage, gnocchi and sauerkraut onto each plate while serving. Often, the gnocchi would be sacrificed in the digging, getting mashed or severed by the serving spoon. I decided to try a whole different approach and moved to a 13″ x 9″ pan. I wish I would have made that move earlier. It cooks up beautifully in the shallow pan (far better than the casserole dish) and is so much easier to serve.
Soooo, I didn’t post this Smoked Sausage, Gnocchi and Sauerkraut during New Year’s. We didn’t eat it as part of the good luck tradition of the Pennsylvania Dutch. The truth is, it’s one of the rare posts I had sitting in my archives just waiting for an opening in my calendar. I actually photographed this in the dog days of last summer and I was certain that you wouldn’t be craving such a dish while you were still trying to beat the heat. But now it’s January, and I kind of figured you might be interested in an old family favorite that’s easy enough to throw together on a busy weeknight. I decided the time was right for sharing.