Love is in the air! (part one)
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and if you’re someone who loves cooking (like me!) or someone who has to plan their own Valentine’s activities because your significant other “doesn’t believe in” Valentine’s Day (also like me…) then a romantic, home-cooked meal is a nice way to go. So for the next three days I will be sharing with you one dish each day to help you create a loved-up, three-course dinner for two. Today: entrée. On the menu: classic potato gnocchi with basil and walnut pesto.
Gnocchi is one of those meals that can be intimidating to make from scratch, but by making sure you follow a few simple rules during prep they’re actually quite simple and a very impressive dish to serve. They’re soft, fluffy, and an amazing base for a creamy, full-flavoured basil and walnut pesto.
Gnocchi tip #1 - Choose the right potato. Potatoes are generally divided into two sorts; floury and waxy. Waxy are great for roasting as they hold their shape, floury are better for mashing as they become soft and smooth when mashed. When making gnocchi: always choose a floury potato. Some of the best types are Coliban, King Edward, Desiree and Sebago.
Gnocchi Tip #2 – Go easy on the flour. A high flour to potato ratio can result in gnocchi that are chewy and hard when cooked. The exact amount of flour required will depend on the type and age of potato, whether you baked or boiled the potatoes, if an egg was used to bind the dough, and how much moisture is reabsorbed into the potato during cooling; essentially anything that influences the amount of moisture in the dough. You need just enough flour to form the mash into a cohesive but dry dough, approximately 1/4 to 1/2 cup per 500g of potatoes (before cooking) is a good starting point. Just remember - if you don't add enough flour the gnocchi are likely to explode into mashed potato when you cook them, so if they feel too soft before cooking then knead in a small amount of flour and test again.
Gnocchi Tip #3 – Don’t overwork the dough. When making bread, the point of kneading the dough is to develop the gluten in the flour to make a chewy, springy texture. When making gnocchi you want to knead the dough as little as possible; again, just enough to form a cohesive dough. If you work the mixture too much you run the risk of creating gnocchi that is dense and tough.
You’ll need to use your gut when determining the exact amount of flour to use, but apart from that the process is pretty basic. Cook, mash, knead, slice, boil. Making sure that your mash is super smooth will benefit the end result; most recipes suggest using a potato ricer but a masher and/or a fine sieve will do just fine. I’ve even used my free-standing mixer to whip the potatoes and it worked perfectly (shhh, don’t tell my Italian friends). The ridges are made by pressing each piece gently with the back of a fork, but this step isn't completely necessary as the sauce will stick to the gnocchi easily either way.
The basil and walnut pesto itself is as difficult as “throw everything into a food processor and press start”. I like the flavour of the toasted walnuts but if you're a purist you could certainly use pine nuts instead (also assuming you're made of money - those little things are expensive! One day I hope to be wealthy enough to not have to think twice about buying pine nuts... )
Both the dough and the pesto can be made in advance too, so all you have to do is boil the gnocchi and stir through the pesto once cooked. The perfect way to start a special meal for that special someone.
Classic Gnocchi with Basil Walnut Pesto
500g floury potatoes
1 egg yolk
Pinch of nutmeg
Generous pinch of salt
Approximately 1/2 cup flour
1 cup firmly packed fresh basil leaves
1/3 cup fresh parsley leaves
1/2 cup walnut halves, toasted
1 garlic clove, crushed
1 & 1/2 tbsp olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan or pecorino
1) To make the pesto: combine all ingredients in a food processor with 1 tbsp hot water. Blitz until a smooth paste forms, then season with salt and pepper to taste. If needed, add more water until the pesto comes together. Cover and set aside in the fridge.
2) To make the gnocchi: Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.
3) Bake the potatoes for 1 hour, or until tender. Immediately cut the potatoes in half and scoop the flesh into a bowl (this stops steam being reabsorbed).
4) Using a potato ricer, a fine sieve or a free-standing mixer fitted with a paddle blade mash potato until smooth.
5) Generously flour your bench top and place potato on top. Drizzle egg yolk on top, followed by 1/4 cup flour, nutmeg and salt.
6) Knead gently to incorporate flour into the potato mixture until a smooth dough forms. If the mixture is too soft (too wet and sticky), continue to incorporate flour until the mixture firms up.
7) Cut the dough in half and roll each half into a log about 2cm thick. Slice each log into 3cm pieces, then press each piece with the back of a fork to create a ridged effect. *you can freeze the gnocchi at this point for future use, simply throw them in boiling water without defrosting*
8) Bring a large pot of generously salted water to the boil, then cook gnocchi in 2-3 batches. When gnocchi float to the surface they are cooked.
9) Stir a large dollop of basil walnut pesto through the gnocchi and serve immediately.
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