Mummy and I felt like experimenting with some Italian-inspired food this week and, since we also wanted to challenge ourselves, we decided to make some gnocchi. Now, I only ever eat at Bistro Gerard, so I can’t really comment on other restaurants’ gnocchi, but Mummy and Daddy tell me they can be quite variable. Apparently, they can range between the terribly greasy, floating on a huge plate full of butter and/or cream (waiting to wreak havoc with your arteries and your digestive system), to absolutely divine pillows of soft fluffiness, accompanied by a sauce that’s got just the right amount of herbs and spices to complement the star attraction of the dish.
I don’t approve of my Mummy and Daddy going out too often or for too long, and indeed I tell them off every Saturday night as I watch them getting ready to dine out. Why would anyone even contemplate going out when they’ve got a baby parrot to entertain at home? But, as I keep telling you, humans can be funny creatures at times, and a good flock leader must indulge their preferences every now and then. Besides, even I must admit that this can be a good way of checking out what the competition is doing 😉
For instance, Mummy’s favourite place for gnocchi at the moment is The Mess Hall, who do a wonderful version of this dish, in a rich pork ragout, beautifully accentuated with lots of sage. After raving about this so many times to anyone who cared to listen, we decided we had to try this at home. Since we had never attempted this before, we were very apprehensive about it at first. For such a long time, making your own gnocchi or pasta appeared to be reserved for the realm of those incredibly skilled home chefs with an abundance of time at their disposal to perfect their craft. Anyway, being now entirely convinced that a successful outcome was definitely worth all the time and effort dedicated to it, our home made gnocchi attempt was labelled as a weekend project and we decided to give it a go. Of course it also had to bear the Bistro Gerard mark of authenticity, which means that we varied the original recipe to include two of my favourite vegetables at the moment, sweet potato and rainbow chard, both of which happen to be part of the regular contents of our weekly boxes lately. As far as the recipe goes, ours was inspired by that provided in The Silver Spoon. And the final result? We were very pleased with it, it was definitely worth the time – don’t attempt to make this on a hectic weekday night when you’re trying to get dinner ready in half an hour, but it’s definitely worth trying when you’ve got a coulee of hours to dedicate to having some fun in the kitchen. This recipe makes quite a lot of gnocchi, but the good news is that they freeze really well and can come in very handy on one of the above-mentioned hectic nights.
Sweet Potato and Chard Gnocchi with Vegetable Ragout
1 large bunch of rainbow chard
1 large (approximately 800 g) sweet potato
2 cups (approximately 300g) flour
2 egg yolks
Wash the chard and trim off the stems, then roughly chop the leaves and gently sauté them in a frying pan. You could use a bit of olive oil to do this, but we have found that just the water left clinging to the leaves is sufficient. The cooking time should only be 2 – 3 minutes, enough for the leaves to wilt but still preserve their vibrant colours. Set aside and, when cool enough to handle, squeeze as much liquid out as possible, and then chop finely.
Peel the sweet potato and cut into chunks or slices, then steam or microwave until tender. It is important not to boil the potato, as this will saturate it with water which, in turn, will increase the amount of flour needed to make the gnocchi (too much flour = rock hard, supermarket style gnocchi). Mash the potato and, when cool, mix with the flour, chopped chard and egg yolks.
Start by incorporating 250g flour at first, then turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and start kneading until it becomes elastic. Incorporate more flour if needed. The dough will be quite sticky, so it’s important to work with floured hands and surface.
When the desired consistency has been reached, cut the dough into 4 quarters, then shape each quarter into a long roll, approximately 1 1/2 – 2 cm in diameter, then slice the roll into 2 cm pieces. Roll each piece in your hands into either a round or oblong shape, then make an imprint with a floured fork.
Bring a pan of slightly salted water to the boil – it’s important to add some salt to the water, as this will prevent the gnocchi from sticking and disintegrating while they cook. When the water starts boiling, reduce the heat to moderate, and add a few gnocchi at a time, ensuring there is plenty of space between them in the pan. After a few minutes, they will start floating to e surface, which means they are ready. Scoop out with a slotted spoon and place on a clean plate. Continue until all remaining gnocchi have been cooked. The quantities listed above are enough for 6 serves if the gnocchi are accompanied by a substantial vegetable or meat based sauce. If you wish to freeze the gnocchi, do this before they have been cooked.
250g cooked or tinned lentils
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, sliced
3 stalks celery, chopped
1 zucchini, chopped
1 green capsicum, diced
100 g button mushrooms, quartered
3 tbsp olive oil
150ml white wine
350g tomato passata (purée)
1 tsp dried thyme
leaves from one small bunch flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
Heat the olive oil in a large sauce pan, then reduce the heat to moderate and add the onions, carrots and celery, and cook for 7 – 8 minutes or until the onions are golden and soft. Add the mushrooms, capsicum and thyme and cook for another 2 – 3 minutes, until the mushrooms begin to soften. Add the zucchini and the wine, increase the heat and boil rapidly until the liquid has reduced by half. Add the lentils and tomato passata, brogan everything to the bill again, then reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 10 -15 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper, add the chopped parsley, then pour over the gnocchi. Garnish with some grated Parmesan and serve.
And where was Jerry while all this was happening? Well, there was a lot of cooking going on here, which means “ouchie birdie” (or so Mummy and Daddy tell me), so I just had to find something else to entertain myself with: