So, where was I? And why did I think it was wise to move onto White Russians when already quite drunk on red wine last night? It was not wise. I think White Russians are one of those things I just like too much, as in it’s dangerous to even go near them. They send me into a sort of milky hypnosis and before I know it I just have a clouded empty glass full of melting icecubes and I’ve ordered another one. Also, I thought I was over the stage in my life when I went out and got very drunk every weekend and woke up feeling groggy and hungover, but, what do you know, apparently I’m regressing.
Anyway, in a more grown-up moment during this week I decided to turn my hand to making gnocchi for the first time. I like gnocchi, but they’ve always seemed a bit daunting and maybe I just didn’t like them enough to make the effort. But being on week two of River Cafe seemed like a good enough excuse, and besides, we need to eat something other than pasta. The recipe seemed simple enough: boil up some potatoes, roast some pumpkin/squash, mash together, roll into balls, boil. Well, it was simple, no unexpected hitches here. What I didn’t foresee was quite the level of kitchen carnage that would result: bits of dough caked onto the work surfaces, every pan we own piled dangerously high, floury parmesan and eggshells scattered among the debris. Generally, this kind of scene is not infrequent since I’m often at least a bit over-ambitious in my dinner plans and we have a very small kitchen, but this was bad. Luckily, we had just enough time after eating to clean it all up before sitting down with the rest of the wine in front of Masterchef: The Professionals. Phew.
Squash and potato gnocchi Serves 4
800g potatoes, preferably floury
500g pumpkin or squash (I used butternut)
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
1 tsp dried oregano
salt and pepper
2 large eggs, beaten
200g plain flour, plus more for rolling out
50g parmesan or pecorino
Boil the potatoes in a large pan of salted water for about 30 minutes with the skin on. When cooked and soft, drain and peel, then put through a ricer or mouli while still warm. This bit was messy – have you ever tried peeling a softened potato which is actually still very hot because you’re worried about having to mash it while still warm? I’m not sure you couldn’t just peel them before boiling them in the usual way. Also, I don’t have a ricer or mouli so I just used a potato masher.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180C. Peel the pumpkin or squash, slice in half lengthways and scoop out the seeds. Cut into 3-4cm cubes and put on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle over enough oil to lightly coat, then mix in the chillies and oregano and season (I suggest doing the oiling etc. on the baking tray to save washing up, rather than in the separate bowl they suggest). Cover with another layer of baking paper and bake in the oven until soft, they suggest 30 minutes, mine took about 45 mins. Anyway, bake until soft enough to mash. Then mash with your mouli, ricer, masher or whatever. I also did this in the same bowl with the potatoes, again to save washing up, but you can mash separately and then mix together. Then make a crater in the middle and pour in the beaten eggs and add seasoning.
Add the flour a little at a time. At some point you need to get your hands in there and start kneading it into a dough. Now, the recipe adds ominously, “it is essential to work the dough quickly, as the longer it is worked, the heavier the gnocchi become.” The River Cafe ladies will often take this stern tone with you. It’s OK, it’s only because they care. I’m not sure I was that quick, but my gnocchi didn’t seem that heavy. Or no heavier than you would expect a dumpling made out of potato thickened with flour to be, anyway…
Lightly dust a work surface with flour (if you can find a clean one). Shape the dough into several long rolls about 1.5cm in diameter – about 4 rolls in my case. Cut each roll into 2cm pieces and form them into a gnocchi shape with your hands. You can also use a fork to get the typical groove pattern, but I didn’t feel like bothering by this stage. You may be able to detect the lack of effort in the picture of hopelessly unevenly sized potato boulders at the top. The taste is the important thing, right?
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Gently lower in the gnocchi, about a dozen or so at a time. Stir them and they should rise to the surface after a minute or two. They should be done in about 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and, if necessary, keep them warm in the oven while you finish the other batches.
Serve on warm plates, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with the cheese. We also had their suggested sauce of butter melted with sage leaves, which was nice, but I think next time I’ll try them with tomato sauce. The good thing is, if you made too much, you can freeze them (open freeze on a baking tray first and then when hard transfer to a freezer bag). Now, next time you want gnocchi all you have to do is whip them out of the freezer and give them a brief boil in water.
Taken from Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’ ‘The River Cafe Classic Italian Cookbook’.