During the Lockdown period I have seen a few TV programmes featuring celebrity chefs preparing gnocchi.
Now, I have tried pre-packaged gnocchi from the supermarket several times in the past but it was never to my liking. It often has a strange, slimy texture and is under seasoned, tasting of very little at all; an underwhelming dining experience, it must be said.
For me, texture is a very important consideration when preparing meals. If something looks and tastes ‘wrong’ to my palate I am unable to eat it and I am sure many people share my sentiments. Gnocchi has usually had this effect upon me, thus I tend to avoid it.
However, recently having watched TV programmes showcasing tempting plates and inventive recipe ideas with gnocchi, and then discovering that gnocchi is a slightly healthier alternative to traditional white pasta, I did wonder whether I might be missing out on a taste sensation and might perhaps have more luck making my own gnocchi and, at the same time, make it gluten- and egg-free, so I decided to give it a go.
Gnocchi are little Italian soft dough dumplings often made with a blend of semolina or wheat flour, mashed potato, egg and seasoning and can be fried, baked or boiled. Other ingredients might include cornmeal or breadcrumbs, cheese or egg, and flavourings such as vegetables, herbs, cocoa or prunes.
I used Doves Farm plain (all purpose) gluten-free flour which is a blend of rice, potato, tapioca, maize and buckwheat and is also suitable for a Kosher diet. Recipes online suggest baking rather than boiling gluten-free gnocchi but I saw no reason why the little dumplings could not be boiled as long as handled with the love and respect any handcrafted product deserves.
One of the most important things is to use floury potatoes and make sure they steam dry before mashing and that it is well-seasoned with salt and pepper. The potato can be boiled first or baked in its jacket in a microwave oven before mashing A potato ricer, if you have one, makes it easier to get a nice smooth texture with no lumps, otherwise use a conventional potato masher and some elbow grease, but for my recipe do not add milk or butter or any beaten egg. Simply combine the potato with the plain flour, add chopped sage or any chopped herbs of your choice, and season well with sea salt and freshly ground pepper.
Form the gnocchi dough into little balls or lozenge shapes and use the back of a fork to create a crinkle effect, before boiling in a pan of salted water for a couple of minutes. When they are ready, the gnocchi will rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon on to kitchen paper to drain and then serve with any sauce of your choice – or even a simple drizzle of garlic infused olive oil and torn basil leaves, or a little pesto or sun dried tomato tapenade.
For a heartier plate and to keep this recipe vegan, any tomato-based sauce goes well with gnocchi, whether you roast whole cherry tomatoes in an oven with garlic and balsamic vinegar or use tinned chopped tomatoes. For a vegetarian, gnocchi can be enjoyed with roasted butternut squash and goat’s cheese or perhaps some spinach and ricotta. I decided to serve the gnocchi simply with a side of roasted Mediterranean vegetables – diced aubergine (eggplant), roughly chopped onions, tomatoes, courgette, tomatoes and bell peppers and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar.
I found the gnocchi cheap to make and easy to prepare, and the time taken was worth the effort as the result was delicious. I have discovered a liking for freshly-prepared gnocchi, they are tasty, filling and versatile and I will enjoy experimenting with different flavour and texture combinations.
Ingredients (serves 4)
For the gnocchi
- 400g Potatoes, mashed
- 50g Gluten-free Plain flour
- Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- Finely chopped fresh or dried basil
For the vegetables
- 1 Aubergine diced into 2cm chunks
- 2 courgettes diced into 2cm chunks
- Whole cherry tomatoes or quartered vine-ripened tomatoes
- 2 red onions, roughly chopped into chunks
- Red and Yellow Bell Pepper, deseeded and sliced into strips
- Crushed garlic cloves (optional)
- Olive oil
- Balsamic Vinegar
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Torn basil leaves (to serve)
- Boil floury potatoes in their skins in salt water, drain thoroughly and return to the pan to steam dry. Alternatively, microwave potatoes in their skins until cooked through.
- Wash and prepare the vegetables, drain well on kitchen paper and place in a roasting tin with some crushed garlic cloves if liked and a good glug of olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Place in a medium oven and roast for 20-25 minutes or until tender.
- On the hob, heat a large pan of salted water and bring to the boil.
- Meanwhile, as soon as the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel the skins away with clean hands and either push the potatoes through a potato ricer or mash to remove any lumps. Turn potatoes out on to a large board.
- Measure out 50g plain flour on to the board and gently mix into the potatoes, along with chopped fresh or dried basil to your liking and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper. Add a little more flour if you think it is necessary, but only add one tablespoon at a time to avoid the dough becoming too dry.
- Carefully knead the dough for a few minutes until pliable and then roll into four thin sausage shapes 2-3 cm thick and cut each sausage into 3cm slices. Then either roll into balls or carefully mould into lozenges, using the back of a fork to create grooves which will help the sauce to stick to the dumplings.
- Carefully place the gnocchi in the pan of salted water and boil for about 2 minutes. They are ready when they rise to the surface and they will have puffed up a bit. Cook the gnocchi in two batches of two servings to ensure they do not stick together.
- Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon, toss with a little garlic-infused extra virgin olive oil and serve with the Mediterranean vegetables and torn basil leaves.