As regular readers of this increasingly irregular blog might be aware, one of the vague (and I do mean vague) drivers of the content (sorry I am getting my business-speak mixed up with my normal-speak) is that the creations that are blogged should be original, if possible.
That is to say, I try not to post one-hundred ways to cook a steak (which BTW I fail at miserably – how many times have I cooked and photographed a half-cooked fillet steak…more times than grandma. Which was none, she didn’t have a camera).
Thus I am always on the lookout for something new and different. The internet is generally rubbish for new and different recipes – many of the food related sites you can find never really get updated, often regurgitating the same thing over again (BBC Good Food – you know who you are). In fact blogs are about the best source of food innovation and inspiration, but who wants to copy another blogger unless it’s absolutely essential (reference my Angry Bird’s Cake).
So when the wife (always the wife) suggested gnocchi, I jumped, nay limped, at the chance.
As soon as I typed in ‘gnocchi’ into the modern day oracle that is Google (was there life before Google? Did we really just have to depend on the BBC 6 o’clock news and what Dad thought about world affairs after two hours down the local tavern?) I knew this wasn’t going to be as straightforward as it should be.
For a start you can make gnocchi with potato, or cornmeal, or, somewhat bizarrely, ricotta cheese.
I opted for potato. I don’t go a great deal on homemade pasta – all that effort and it tastes…well it just tastes like pasta and it doesn’t look any better. Same with gnocchi.
But I made it all the same. And what a pain in the arse (that, by the way, is the proper way to spell arse. Not ass, that’s some kind of donkey).
It took hours, made a bloody awful mess and tasted of nothing much. Still don’t let me put you off, try it!
For Gnocchi with Roasted Squash, Spinach and Ricotta you will need
- 4 potatoes
- A massive load of plain flour
- Parmesan cheese
- Tablespoon olive oil
- Salt and pepper
- One squash
- Two large handfuls of proper spinach (i.e. not baby spinach)
- 1 tub ricotta cheese
- ½ tub of crème fraiche
- Salt and pepper
Here’s the rub. Those wise and clever celebrity/professional chefs have developed a wide and deep range of theories on the best way to make gnocchi. This tells me two things. First, no one really knows how to make gnocchi and second, none of them work in practice and have only been developed with the benefit of hindsight (so what that means is someone tried making it, cocked it up, reckoned they knew where they went wrong, and then wrote it up on the Guardian website without actually trying it. Oh, ye cynic).
First of all you have to cook the potatoes. The secret to cooking the potato (oh come on, it’s a potato, it doesn’t need or have secrets) is to remove as much water as possible so the flesh is drier than you would normally have it. Baking is obviously a suitable method here.
How I cook potatoes
You can sit the potatoes on a layer of salt, the idea being that it will draw moisture out, but what a waste of salt.
Once cooked, remove the skins and mash in a bowl. Now all you need to do is add flour and a drop of oil. Here’s where it got silly.
The experts wrote that the minimum of flour should be employed. But have you tried rolling mashed potato? No? Really? You need a lot of flour…
The flour simply disappears – tons of it. I used nearly all the flour I had in the packet – 1lb at least. It just went into the potato version of a black hole.
Eventually however something vaguely akin to a dough began to form.
So I left it to the side and got the pumpkin ready. Slice and dice into small chunks.
Drizzle on some oil, season and bake in the oven until soft and just starting to catch. Easy!
Back to the gnocchi. Cover everything in flour – the work surfaces, you, the rest of the kitchen. Gently knead the dough on a board (the experts recommend making the dough directly on a work surface like you’re supposed to do to make pasta but honestly I feel like you might as well then just throw everything on the floor and let the dog and/or cat have a go).
Once the dough starts to get a bit stringy and tight (as the gluten gets to work) chop into equal sized pieces and roll each out into sausage shapes.
Cut each sausage into small chunks. Again, according to experts (and possibly scientists) you should now push your finger into each bit to create a dent on one side, turn it over and mark the other side with the prongs of a fork (watch the very un-sexy scene in The Godfather Part 3 with Coppolla’s daughter and Andy Garcia for a visual demonstration; few people have, they never get that far into the film).
Mmm…is that a gnocchi in your pocket or are you just pleased to see me?
Pop six or so of these little morsels into a large pan of boiling water.
After a minute or so they will begin to pop to the surface; they are done. Remove from the pan and repeat.
Now the choice is yours – they are ready to eat but personally I think they look a bit unappetising – kind of uncooked. So I fried mine a bit to give them some colour.
Now make the spinach-ricotta sauce – just chuck all the ingredients in a saucepan and heat until the spinach wilts. Add in the gnocchi and the squash.
On a level of 1 to 10 I’d give this 5. But nothing for effort-reward ratio.
A bit of parmesan livened things up. And a bit of wine….