Tag Archives: Gnocchi

A Test of My Nettle!

Edible hedgerow

An Edible Hedgerow

I love nettles – in tea, as plant food, in pesto.My favourite thing to do is to eat them as a vegetable,briefly wilted with chopped shallot that has been softened in butter. One of my favourite foods, made even better that they are in plentiful supply.

There are loads of good things about nettles: they are high in protein, and fibre, and rich in iron and vitamins A and K; they are a brilliant wildlife habitat; you are highly unlikely to get into trouble for picking them (although people might think that you are a little bit mad); and you get a double hit on them (in the wild), as you can pick them in the spring, and again in autumn. They are also really easy to identify.

As well as following some basic foraging rules, you will also need long sleeves and rubber gloves if you don’t want to get stung!

Flowering nettle

Too Late for this Nettle

If you are going for the wild variety, we are drawing towards the end of the first flush for this year. When the flower heads appear, almost like catkins (see above), the nettles will develop calcium carbonate crystals in the leaves, which are unpleasant to eat. However, if you strim back nettles, then they will grow fresh and you can eat them again. If you look carefully, you should still find some that are yet to flower, so just pick those.

Picking the nettle tips

Taking the Tips!

Because of the aforementioned abundance of wildlife, and the fact that even the tallest dog can’t reach, only pick the tips and the first two leaf bracts after them. These leaves won’t be tough, as some of the older leaves might.

I was originally going to enter this recipe into  Simple and in Season, for May, but the recipe needed a bit more testing. The first version I did was a bit mushy, so I didn’t make it. I am entering it for this month instead. Ren Behan at Fabulicious Food runs this challenge, and this month it is being hosted by Laura at How to Cook Good Food.

I love to entertain, and I also love to forage. I don’t often combine the two (unless it is booze) because I often think that people might not like the idea. However, I was having a vegan friend over for dinner, so many of my fall-back staples were off the menu. I had some freshly picked nettles, and I saw that Carl Legge had tweeted a link to his nettle gnocchi recipe. I was inspired, but couldn’t use the recipe, because he uses an egg as a binder. Instead, I have played with this a bit. I have to admit that I did not add enough flour to the first recipe, which was why it didn’t hold its shape. I apologise to my friends who had this as a starter that day, but I have improved on it now, to give the recipe below.

Jo's Version of Mr Potato Head

Soggy Gnocchi Disappointment: an Impressionist View

To make up for the gnocchi, Jo entertained us all with her food faces. This was a stray potato, with her partner as a size comparison.

Nettles go well with tomato sauces, but I decided that I was going to use a really simple pasta sauce (not at all traditional for gnocchi, but it went really well) of oil, chilli flakes and garlic.

This recipe is a good introduction to foraging, if you have always fancied giving it a go, but not dared so far. Nettles are easily accessible, and much tastier than you might think.

Nettle Gnocchi and Salad

Nourishing Nettles

Recipe: Vegan Nettle Gnocchi

Ingredients

200 g nettle tops, washed well in cold water

500 g floury potatoes. You want a variety that makes good mash

300 g plain flour, plus more for dusting

1 tbsp hemp oil (optional)

Salt

Pepper

You can also add spices to the dough, if you like, nutmeg is particularly good.

For the pasta sauce:

4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves of garlic, finely sliced

Pinch of dried pepper flakes

Method

Firstly, remove the nettle stalks and discard.

Put the potatoes, with their skins on, in plenty of cold water and boil until they are just done and you can pierce to the middle. This should help stop them getting waterlogged, but only if they don’t overcook.Allow to cool slightly, then peel and mash them, preferably in a potato ricer or food mill, if you have one.

Add the nettles to boiling water and cook off briefly, the exact time will depend on the age of your nettles. Drain them, but don’t discard the cooking liquid. This is nettle tea, which is refreshing and all sorts of  good for you. You can drink it hot or cold, and it keeps well in the fridge.

Nettles retain more water than spinach, so use the back of a spoon and press them quite hard to get the liquid out of the leaves. Chop them roughly and mix well with the mashed potato, hemp oil, some salt and pepper, and any spices you are using.

An idea of how the  dough should look

The Dough Should Hold its Form Really Well

The exact amount of flour that you need will depend on the nettle and potato mix on the day. Initially, I used way too little, and the gnocchi were soggy. The best way around this is to tip the potato and nettle mix onto a floured surface, then add the flour, a little at a time and mix in well. You want to form a quite stiff dough, then knead it well. If you are unsure if there is enough flour, drop a test piece into some boiling water and cook for a couple of minutes. If it retains its shape, you have enough.

Bite sized gnocchi pieces

Bite Sized

Cut the dough into four. Flour your surface , and roll each piece of dough into a sausage 2-3 cm  in diameter. Cut these into 2-3 cm pieces. It is traditional to press a fork into each small piece to score it. The reason often given for this is so that a sauce can sit in the grooves. This is a great tip for a thicker sauce, like a tomato sauce or a ragù, but not really necessary for the sauce I used. I did it anyway, for aesthetics.

Marking grooves in the gnocchi to hold a sauce

Get Into the Groove

Get a fairly large pan of salted water to a rapid boil, and then drop the gnocchi in. They will take literally minutes to cook, so don’t be tempted to go and check e-mail or something similar.

The Finished Nettle Gnocchi

The Finished Product

For the sauce, gently heat the oil and garlic until the garlic starts to brown. Then add the chilli flakes. This sauce will take about the same time as the gnocchi, which will be cooked when they float. Drain, toss in the sauce, and serve immediately.

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Minestrone Soup

Minestrone Soup

Minestrone with Pumpkin Gnocchi

Despite the changeable weather, it is most definitely autumn. There are no more leaves on the trees, and the clocks will go back this weekend. To me, this means using up beans. We have been eating our borlotti beans for a little while, and I had a few other veg that I had in the ground or in the fridge.

Soup is always a great way to use up veg, and minestrone soup has beans as  the key ingredient for this hearty vegetable soup. As long as you have good base flavours from onion, carrot and celery, there are a million other veggies that you can add.

I used an onion and a half (the half was leftover from something else, and it needed using up), 3 carrots, 2 sticks of celery and a leek, which I chopped finely and sweated off with a few sprigs of thyme, a bay leaf and a sprig of rosemary. I added a  couple of cloves of chopped garlic, and cooked them off a little before adding the stock.

I am a bit of stock obsessive, and always have portions of roughly 500 ml of various stocks in the freezer. At the moment, I have pheasant, and beef. I usually always have vegetable and chicken stock too, but not today. So, I used 500 ml of beef stock and added water to cover the veg.

As this came up to the boil, I shelled the beans – this time a mixture of borlotti and the last of the french beans, whose pods are getting leathery, but the beans inside are large enough to eat on their own. I chucked them in with a few chopped pomodori tomatoes (you can also use tinned). I left the soup to simmer until all the beans were cooked through. You can also use dried (and soaked), or tinned beans if you haven’t any from the garden.

About half way through cooking,  I had a taste, and added a little tomato puree, and seasoning.

I also had half a fennel to use up, which I chopped finely. I love fennel, but wanted to retain some crunch and the fennel flavour as separate from the overall soup, so I didn’t add it until about 5  minutes before the soup was cooked.

I would have added a bit of shredded cabbage, kale or cavolo nero at this point, but we managed to lose the sweetheart cabbage we had bought at the market, so we had to do without that tonight.

Another traditional ingredient in minestrone is pasta. I had some fresh tagliatelle, because the Big Guy often buys it on impulse. I also wanted to try something a little different, so I divided the soup at this point, and chucked in some chopped tagliatelle into one pot, cooked it for a couple of minutes and ate the first night. It is also possible to use smaller pasta shapes, like acini, or ditalini. However, I was using what I had. I think smaller pasta is better in soups, so if I only had dried, I would have cooked it and chopped it before adding at the last minute.You can use rice if that is what you have too – either cook it in the soup or chuck in some cooked rice about 5 mins before serving.

I was recently inspired by a recipe from Niamh Shields, of Eat Like  A Girl, fame to try Pumpkin Gnocchi. I have been following her blog for a few years now, and this really seems to be her year, with new columns, a book, and a truck-load of awards. I have to say I am really pleased for her, I have tried a lot of her recipes and they always turn out well, and she is a real enthusiast on the subject of all things food.

Anyway, back to the gnocchi. As I have pumpkins, and pasta is added to minestrone, I thought that I would combine the two, so I made up a batch of the gnocchi, using Niamh’s recipe. I brought the soup back up to a simmer, and then cooked the gnocchi in the soup. I served it with a good helping of chopped parsley.

I haven’t  given a formal recipe for this, as with most soups, the amount I make largely depends on the ingredients that I have to hand.  As this is an Italian recipe, I am sure that there are many different versions, and this will not be what any Italian mothers would have added, but that is the beauty of such a  versatile soup, where pretty much anything goes.

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