A long time ago I tried to make gnocchi. The plot involved an Italian boyfriend, sleep deprivation and a fabulous walnut sauce. The plot, alas, got lost: The gnocchi dissolved into something akin to prisoner of war camp potato soup or being more charitable: wallpaper paste. The fabulous sauce dried up and was never used. The boyfriend sneered. I sulked.
Fast forward a number of years, a desire to vanquish the gnocchi demon and a sneaking suspicion that some little dumplings made with “Urda” (a Romanian ricotta like cheese made from whey and very high in protein) and sexed up with a fabulous pesto would work. And work it does.
Gnocchi work well with all manner of sauces but they seem particularly delicious with a more piquant sauce…this garlicky, lemony, almondy sauce does the trick.
These gnocchi are fast, they freeze (use direct from the freezer) and they work with many sauces. Give them a go and you will have a wonderful earthy comfort food dish mastered perhaps a bit faster than I managed.
When I lived in Istanbul, I was spoilt in early Spring with the artichoke sellers plying their trade on barrows down narrow streets selling ready sculpted hearts in little bags of acidulated water and sometimes bags of fresh shelled “fava” beans too. Those were the ingredients for the most heavenly risotto, in some way inspired by a recipe in the River Cafe’s “Green” but mainly by those most astonishing transient offerings. And were there any leftovers, I used to make “Dolmasi yapragi” : stuffed vine leaves as an excuse to savour the flavours over again. For this is a recipe about Spring and the fleeting first flavours of things green. I like to make this recipe variously with asparagus, peas, mint and lemon, with nettles,spinach and chard, with watercress, fava beans and mangetout with whatever looks interesting and good at the market. So first stop…the market…
Ingredients (for 4)
320g risotto rice such as arborio or carnaroli. at a pinch if you have a craving for risotto and no posh Italian grains in the cupboard pudding rice will do
1 medium onion diced
1 clove of garlic smushed
1 litre of liquid which in this case should be approx 800ml of stock and 200ml vermouth or wine.If you are vegetarian use a veggie stock but personally I like a chicken stock.
Butter, olive oil,
approx 100g parmesan, salt & pepper, good quality dried thyme or fresh
zest of 1 lemon or lime
Greens: 500-700g of the greens because this risotto is all about the greens, more than the rice. If using spinach this will be a huge volume but fear not as it will wilt down in a matter of minutes
Put the stock in a saucepan and heat very gently – you must add warm liquid to the risotto as you cook it else you are stopping the cooking process
Put a small knob of butter and a glug of olive oil in a saucepan with a heavy base – if you have a Le Creuset use it for risotto. Try and have a “wedge” shaped wooden spoon/ spatula as you want to be moving the rice around and having a clean saucepan bottom all the time. Fry the onion until translucent and add the garlic and rice and swirl around the pan for a couple of minutes taking care not to brown the onion.
Tip in the vermouth/wine and enjoy the “whoosh” and associated alcohol vapours! Give a good stir but this will probably absorb instantaneously. Then start adding the stock and stirring slowly. This is quite hypnotic and generally much helped by having a glass of wine in your hand too. Add a teaspoon or so of the dried thyme at this stage.
Keep adding the liquid slowly as the rice absorbs it until it is just done – keep testing grains between your teeth until the rice is done. Do not be surprised if this takes 30 minutes or so. It should be firm but not uncooked in the middle of the grain (that will end in tummy ache!). At this point test for seasoning and add salt and pepper according to your own taste.
At this point you need to add the parmesan, maybe a little knob of butter and take the risotto off the heat and just stir gently and then leave the risotto for the all important relaxation stage (risotto is just soooo Italian). This is to allow the parmesan to melt gently and create a creaminess and depth of flavour.
It is quite rich…I have drunk with minerally whites and smooth reds as pictured here.
An alternative dessert
If you have some very overripe pears and a bit of leftover strong cheese in your fridge that you don’t know what to do with then this tart makes them standout stars. The combination of very ripe pears and cheese is one of the most magical tastes of Autumn be it a pungent Roquefort or some really good goat’s cheese – which i was lucky enough to have in my fridge. In fact I first made a version of this tart with Roquefort but I might prefer it made with the impeccable clean tasting goat’s cheese from Mihai Preotescu as in this version. The recipe uses my easy peasy walnut and olive oil pastry which is just pressed by hand into the tin – no rolling pin necessary and no cleaning of a flour dusted work surface – labour saving and saving the planet all at the same time … We drizzled it with some strong wonderful Romanian honey and serevd more roasted walnuts alongside. I am ashamed to say (was it the wine?) I cant remember which type it was..perhaps “stejar” (oak).
This is a perfect dessert for those who do not like or cannot eat “sweets” but it is also a lovely light lunch served with a good remoulade of autumn veggies: celeriac, carrot,apple.