My daughters like ‘those little dumplings Nana buys.’
I worked out that they were talking about gnocchi, an Italian potato dumpling, cooked and eaten much like fresh pasta. They’re dead cheap in the supermarkets and promoted like a type of fast food, quick and easy to prepare (with a microwavable pot of sauce) and a simple, tasty but substantial and nicely refined little meal…
Obviously I had to have a go at recreating this simple meal – with my own free range eggs (or no eggs at all) and some sort of more wholesome organic ingredients. Yes, they are still pretty quick to make, but only if you’re using left over mashed potato. To be honest, I’m not sure I’d bother cooking potatoes purely for making gnocchi, the cooking, mashing, cooling, process is just too much of a faff not to get at least two meals out of. So I tend to make gnocchi now for lunch the day after a potato dinner, then all of the lengthy processes have already magically been done.
My first attempt was minus the egg, I had read that gnocchi works perfectly fine without it on various vegan cooking sites. I tried to replace this binding agent with a tablespoon of soaked chia seeds in 1/4 of a cup of water, to give that gloopy gluey eggy texture. The dough worked beautifully and looked particularly striking being peppered with small black dots. However, the dumplings lost their shape in the boiling water, and did not hold together at all when I fried them off after boiling. They tasted fine, but were not a complete success. Maybe the egg not only needs to bind the dough, but provide firmness once the dough is cooked, chia seeds just couldn’t replicate this.
For my next attempt a week or so later, I used an egg (a beautiful large dark brown egg from my only laying hen!) and I decided to use wholemeal spelt flour, because I struggle to make anything I’m completely happy with out of plain white flour. The beautiful large brown egg did the trick, these gnocchi were much denser, due to the flour, but the egg helped them stay firm both in the boiling water and in the frying pan. Success.
My most brilliant tip however, is to cut the gnocchi dumplings with a crinkle knife, it’s called the bumpy knife in our house and it is a well known fact that any vegetable cut with a bumpy knife instantly tastes much better than flat cut veg. The bumpy knife gives the gnocchi their characteristic lined texture without having to mark each dumpling with a fork afterwards. All in all, I’d thoroughly recommend investing in a bumpy knife!
2 cups / 250g of leftover mashed potato (50p)
1 cup / 120g of spelt flour (25p)
1 egg (45p)
salted water for boiling.
In a large mixing bowl (or straight onto a floured surface if you’re confident!) pour 2/3 of the flour in with the cold potato and roughly mix it together, make a well in the centre and add the egg and knead it all together until it all forms a dough.
Cut the dough into manageable chunks, and using the rest of the flour to dust the surface, roll into 1inch diameter sausages, then cut the sausages into 1.2 inch pieces using the bumpy knife to create indentations to ‘capture’ your sauce of choice. If you haven’t got a bumpy knife, rolling your gnocchi over a fork or pressing your thumb in the middle to create an indentation works fine.
At this stage gnocchi can be frozen by laying out on a baking sheet and popping into the freezer, once frozen they can be bagged up to store more easily for another day.
If you’re not freezing them, prepare a large pan of boiling salted water, drop the dumplings in a few at a time, being careful not to overcrowd the pan. When they float to the top, after about 1-2 minutes, the dumplings are ready. They can be eaten like this, with a drizzle of olive oil, some fresh herb and seasoning… or maybe a simple tomato sauce.
I chose to fry my cooked gnocchi to add a bit more depth of flavour
2 large spoonfuls of vegan pesto (83p)
1 cup of frozen peas (40p)
1 cup of frozen spinach or a few big handfuls of fresh spinach (31p)
I warmed the pesto in the pan for a minute before adding the gnocchi and peas, and then let them brown slightly in the basil oil before tossing them. Lastly I added the spinach (defrosted and drained if using frozen) and warmed it through.
As far as I can see, this is a slightly more refined version of bubble and squeak, a regular mid week dinner of ours… and as long as you treat it like that, a way of using up leftovers, there’s nothing too difficult about trying to be a little more refined once in a while.
This works out at 69p per portion, but obviously doubles up as a super convenient freezer food, as long as you have enough left over mashed potato!