Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Dumpling For All Seasons

Summer pumpkin & lemon thyme gnocchi with summer vegetables
I love gnocchi. I really do. And I miss it during the warmer months. I guess it's not an option I consider because it tends to really be a dish that conjures up visions of a cold grey winter day where I have a ragu cooking away slowly, filling the house with it's delicious aromas, then teaming it with soft unctuous gnocchi, a drizzle if chilli oil and freshly grated parmegiano reggiano at the table as we sit down to dinner, warming and cosy...
It's the epitome of the stodgy, heavy, comfort food we crave when its cold.

But what if there was a way of making it lighter? More summery?

I had already discovered ricotta based gnocchi rather than the usual potato kind we all know and love. This was a revelation to me because it was practically foolproof. While my potato gnocchi attempts were fine, they never reached the texture I admired in the other homemade samples I'd tried out.
So it occured to me; what if I could take this lighter version and incorporate summer flavours? To achieve this I also wanted to rethink the heavy sauce that we usually team with gnocchi.

The quantities here will feed a large group, but you can always make this amount of gnocchi and store frozen excess in zip lock bags ready for another day.
So I've taken the elements and flavours of summer and chosen a lighter technique to make my...

Summer gnocchi

Quantity makes enough for 8-10 people

300gm pumpkin

Large bunch Thyme or Lemon Thyme

1 egg

250gm ricotta*

1/2cup grated parmesan

500gm 00 flour**

Fine Semolina  to toss***

First, cut up the pumpkin into small pieces, toss in a small amount of olive oil, on a baking papaer lined tray and roast in a medium oven for about 40 minutes. The idea is to soften and concentrate the pumpking without browning it.
When the pumpkin is soft, transfer it to a large bowl and mash it with a fork. Then add the egg, parmesan, thyme and ricotta. Combine the ingredients with either a fork or a whisk.
Then add in the 00 flour gradually, and kneed gently to form a dough. More flour may need to be added in order to get the dough to a stage where it is no longer sticky. I do all of this inside the bowl which makes less mess on your bench top, to clean up later. Cover the dough ball with cling film and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Cut a handful or so of dough off the ball and, on a floured surface, roll into a snake shape of about 1.5 cm width. Then cut the 'snake' into pieces of about 2cm in lenghth.

Take each piece and press and roll gently along the back of a fork in order to indent with lines and, at the same time, form a dimple in the middle. The result will be a gnocchi that is kind of bean shaped with lines on one side. The reason for pressing the dimple in the centre is to make the dumpling less dense in the centre. 

Have a large tray ready, lined with baking paper, and sprinkled generously with semolina. Each time you indent a dumpling, place onto semolina tray and toss so that the pieces won't stick to each other. Continue until all the dough is used, then place the tray of gnocchi into the freezer. When the gnocchi is frozen hard, you can either go ahead and boil it for your meal, or I like to transfer it to a large zip lock bag, including some of the loose semonlina and store away for another day.
The Sauce

500 g Frozen peas
500 g Frozen broad beans
2 bunches Asparagus spears, finely chopped
2 Leeks, finely chopped
6 large cloves Garlic
1 or 2 Fresh chilis to taste
1/2 cup Olive oil
2 lemons for zest and Juice

Add olive oil, leeks, garlic and chili to deep sauté pan. Cook on a low heat, for 20 -30 min until softened. Don't try to achieve brownness here, just low heat for softening. Then add asparagus and cook for a further 8 minutes. remove from heat and set aside, leaving the ingredients in the pan.
Bring large pot of water to boil adding large pinch of salt. When boiling add frozen peas for five minutes then remove with slotted spoon, saving water for beans. Add frozen broad beans and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove and drain, and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle, squeeze broad beans from outer skin. Add peas and beans to leak mixture in the sauté pan.

With a potato masher, mash up half of the mixture in the pan then mix together with the unmated portion.
Return to low heat and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of butter, allow to melt. Zest the lemon over the mixture, then squeeze the juice through.

Fill your largest pot with water and add a tablespoon of salt. Bring to boil, add frozen gnocchi, about 2 handfuls at a time. Wait until dumplings float to surface, cook for another 2-3 minutes and remove with slotted spoon, drain well and place into a dish.

I prefer to cook gnocchi in batches rather than all at once to prevent them clumping together and also to maintain the temperature of the water. If too much frozen gnocchi is placed into the water all at once, the temperature take longer to reach boiling again, and the gnocchi will absorb lots of water and become gluggy.
Add cooked gnocchi to vegetables and toss together. Transfer to a large serving dish and present to the table with freshly grated Parmesan to accompany, and prepare yourself for the fabulous praising and compliments you will recieve from your guests!

Tips on ingredients:

*There are usually 2 ways to buy ricotta cheese in most supermarkets. There's the kind in the tub found in the refrigerated shelves and the kind from a deli or the deli section of the supermarket. The deli kind has been drained in a sieve kind of mold, and is much firmer. The tub kind is softer and wetter. In this recipe I find it's better to use the deli kind as it contains less moisture and therefore less flour is required overall in the recipe. If I were making my ricotta doughnuts, it would be fine to use the tub kind as the end result is a wetter batter.
Just be sure to push the firmer ricotta through a sieve or a potato ricer to break it up and make it smoother so that it combines more easily with the other ingredients.

** 00 flour is also called 'Pasta Flour'. The double zero refers to how finely the flour has been ground and this is the most finely ground, resulting in a lighter, silkier dough, which is desirable when making pasta.

***Fine semolina resembles polenta only it is white in colour. I use it simply to prevent sticking of the pieces of gnocchi to each other. I also use it regularly in pizza dough making to transfer the rolled pizza dough in and out of the oven without sticking.

A word on frozen veggies.

I have a few issues with processed foods, usually ones that come in cardboard boxes,from freezer compartments, because they usually have sugar salt and a whole bunch of other additives that change the taste and make them less good for us to eat.

Frozen veggies are an exception to this rule. They have no nutritional differences with fresh veggies. In my opinion most don't taste as good, nor do they have the texture I desire, WITH THE EXCEPTION of peas and broad beans.

Many times I have sat here with a huge bag of peas shelling away for ages only to be disappointed that the peas weren't so great in the end.

Maybe if I regularly had a supply of freshly picked ones from my own garden I'd do it differently. But alas this is not practical or possible for most of us.  I think the difference is that the frozen product is frozen shortly after it is picked, whereas, the peas/beans from the shop have probably been sitting around for days and will have deteriorated in their quality somewhat.

As for broad beans? Well......they're marvelous and god clearly thinks they're so damned special he puts two pods! I consider that I'm fairly committed to putting in the effort it takes to get the right result. But broad beans take such an effort, particularly if you want more than a cup full. I say use the frozen ones. You still need to remove their second skin after boiling them, but it's still a huge timesaver.

What short cuts do you find useful in recipes?

What timesaving ingredients have you discovered? Do they perform better or worse than using the fresh or 'from scratch' version?

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  1. Yum Annie, I will try this one....and your nails look beautiful too :-)

  2. This totally reminds me of my Nonna, Anne...... So delish! Have to give this one a go......