Peering over the top of the fridge to my baking box, I count fourteen types of flour, something I hope is a packet of dried apricots and a chronic amount of vegetable suet even a dinner lady wouldn’t know what to do with. Ugh. Before I know it I’m standing on the top rung of my step ladder with a bag of gluten-free flour in each hand (one plain, one for pizza bases), trying to Ready-Steady-Cook a way into using up of all this stuff. Nutritional yeast + pomegranate molasses = yum? A quinoa and date-stuffed sesame seed dumpling? How about a desiccated coconut-rolled butter bean and soba noodle casserole? No?!
I’m about to give up when I realise amid all the extreme health food fair I actually have two unfinished bags of plain flour, an encouraging amount of pine nuts, some Ambo potatoes and a huge amount of spinach. My mind goes to that one word that brings joy like no other: gnocchi.
Like the Room of Requirement in pasta form, when needs must, gnocchi is my everything. It may seem tricky to make, but the main thing it benefits from is time, so if you’re like me, and currently in the process of packing your whole life away, or just have a spare Sunday afternoon and wanna make something tasty, gnocchi is all kinds of perfect. The only essential equipment you need is a fork and three main ingredients- potatoes, plain flour and olive oil. I made this with raw pesto I blended with spinach leaves- it hardly needs anything else- but also tastes great with a rich tomato-based sauce or solo with the best olive oil and black pepper you can get your hands on.
*I’m only going two miles up the road but it’s ZONE THREE OKAY PEOPLE
Spinach and pesto next-to-nothing gnocchi
Makes four large portions
For the gnocchi:
4 medium potatoes, scrubbed, with the skins left on
Around 200g plain flour
20g of polenta or semolina to use in preparation
For the spinach pesto:
(If you can get your hands on Seggiano’s Raw Basil Pesto then that’s the best flavour I’ve found for this, or you can make your own, as listed below. The cashew nuts add a rich, almost cheesy taste you don’t usually find with pesto but you can leave them out if you prefer).
Plenty of olive oil
50g cashew nuts
2 handfuls of basil leaves
20g pine nuts
250g spinach (keep the stalks in tact- you can use the whole leaf)
Heat the oven to 200°C and once hot, bake the potatoes for an hour, or until they are cooked and soft the whole way through. When they’re ready, take out of the oven and cut in half immediately to cool. Leave for another hour or so- if you start using them before they’re totally cool the gnocchi dumplings won’t be as firm.
While the potatoes cool you can make the pesto- using a food mixer or hand blender, whizz together all the pesto ingredients until it forms a spreadable paste. You may need to add more olive oil or seasoning to your own taste, and then once it’s ready set aside to heat with the gnocchi at the end.
When the potatoes have cooled, take a large mixing bowl and scrape out the potato flesh and hold back the skins (you can snack on these like I do as they’re still super tasty!). If you have a potato ricer use this to mash the potatoes, or if not, just crush with a traditional potato masher until it’s really smooth and broken down.
Add in a good splash of olive oil, salt, and 50g of plain flour and mix using your hands. Carry on mixing in a little flour at a time until it begins to form a dough- this should be around 200g but you may need to add a little more olive oil or flour as you go- it should be firm and not at all claggy.
Once it’s a good texture, sprinkle out a little more flour for rolling and chop the dough into eight pieces. Using one piece at a time, roll out the dough into a long sausage about as thick as your finger. Chop the dough into rectangles- I use the top of my thumb as a guideline- and then with the tines of a fork, gently mark one side of the gnocchi pieces so they get ridges. This makes the gnocchi taste even richer when cooked as all the sauce sticks in the grooves. Place in a large dish scattered with polenta to stop it sticking, and continue until all the dough is used up. The polenta will fall away when you boil or fry the gnocchi so don’t worry about it affecting the flavour.
You can boil the gnocchi, but I prefer to fry it for a crisper texture and flavour. If you want to boil, just cook as normal pasta, and use a slotted spoon to remove the gnocchi when it rises to the surface of the water. It should take around 60-90 seconds to cook.
To fry the gnocchi, add a tablespoon of olive oil to a saucepan and gently heat the gnocchi on one side until they crisp up and go a light golden colour, and then turn over for another 30 seconds or so. Once all the gnocchi are cooked, stir through the pesto into the pan just so it heats up, and transfer to plates to eat straight away.
Words: Ava Szajna-Hopgood