When I had a glut of basil on my hands and needed inspiration for what to do with it, Qin of ‘In Pursuit of Food‘ told me about some delectable basil gnocchi she’d had recently at Mayfair’s Tempo and as I adore making unusual variants of this Italian classic I just had to give it a try. Gnocchi take a bit of trial and error, as the best ones are super-light and therefore super-delicate, but I urge you to give this recipe a try – it captures the beautiful fragrance of the basil perfectly, and makes for a super eye-catching dish!
Basil Gnocchi – Serves 4
4 large baking potatoes (to yield approximately 450g cooked flesh)
70g fresh basil
70g parmesan, finely grated
1 large egg yolk
75-125g plain flour
Start by cooking your potatoes. This is best done by baking them in a medium oven until crisp-skinned with a fluffy interior, this should take around 1-1½ hours at around Gas 5/180C. Although you could speed up this process by either boiling the potatoes, or by zapping them in a microwave, the key to a fluffy gnocchi is beautifully dry potato flesh, and both boiling and microwaving will leave your potatoes full of moisture. Once cooked, allow your potatoes to cool just enough to handle without burning yourself.
In the meantime, bring a small saucepan of water to the boil and get a bowl of ice-cold water ready. Throw your basil into the boiling water, leave for 30 seconds then fish out with a slotted spoon and put straight into the cold water. This ‘blanch & refresh’ palaver will keep your basil beautifully vibrant green, leading to strikingly coloured gnocchi later (they can go a bit grey otherwise, as the basil oxidises). Drain the basil, squeeze out the excess moisture, then blitz to a puree in a mini food mill, processor, or with a stick blender.
Cut each potato in half and scoop out the flesh with a spoon (reserved the skins to make some fully loaded potato skins)*. Put the cooked potato flesh through a potato ricer (for best results), or mash gently with a fork, ensuring there are absolutely no lumps. Add the basil puree, egg and parmesan, along with a generous sprinkling of salt & pepper. Stir gently with a fork until well combined, and give it a taste to check the seasoning. Don’t be heavy-handed with your mixing – the less you work the mix, the lighter your gnocchi will be.
Lastly, add the flour. You want to use only enough to bind the mixture, as the more you add the heavier the gnocchi will be, and the less they’ll taste of the lovely fresh cooked potato and basil. Start with just 75g and gradually add more until you have a mix which wont disintegrate when cooked – drop a little ball into a simmering pan of water to make sure, if it collapses into green sludge you need to add more flour!
To make your gnocchi, take fist-sized lumps of the dough, and roll out into a sausage shape on a very lightly floured worktop. Aim for a nice even roll of dough about 2cm in diameter. Use a sharp knife to cut into individual gnocchi, and transfer to a floured baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining mix, then cover the tray with some clingfilm and chill for half an hour or so to firm up. The gnocchi can also be frozen at this stage, spread out on the baking sheet, then transferred to a bag once frozen solid – ready to be cooked straight from the freezer.
To cook your gnocchi, bring a large pan of salted water to a gentle simmer. Do NOT boil it – you’ve gone to a lot of work to make tender gnocchi, and a rolling boil will destroy them and turn them to soggy pap. Gently drop the chilled gnocchi into the pan, and allow to simmer gently for just a minute or two – when they float to the surface, they’re ready. Drain on kitchen paper before serving – they’re delicious as they are with just a little melted butter and parmesan, or they go fantastically with some homemade roast tomato sauce (recipe to follow!). Buon appetito!
*Please forgive my linking to the Daily Hate Mail website, but Nigella’s recipe for fully loaded potato skins really is the best, and nowhere else on the web seems to have posted it!