Last weekend my darling friend Jess had an afternoon tea for her birthday. Jess is a fantastic baker and cook, and she prepared some awesome treats for us. But perhaps my favourite were the savoury tarts smeared high with a home-made pea and cashew nut pesto, topped with cucumber and mint.
I had peas! Frozen ones, actually. Then I started fantasising about what I'd do with a pea pesto, and I quickly determined that it should be eaten with a sweet potato gnocchi. When I got home from work the other night, not only did I already have sweet and regular potatoes at home, but I realised I also had some prosciutto and lots of fresh herbs in the fridge. It should also be noted that having actually managed to leave the office by 5:30 - an almost unheard of phenomenon - I was all psyched for home-made gnocchi!
If you haven't made gnocchi before I urge you to do it. It's as easy as making scones, as fun as playing with Play-Doh, and as delicious as eating freshly home-made gnocchi. I find all sweet potato is a bit too sweet, so I used a mix of potatoes: one russet, one desiree and one large sweet.
- two regular potatoes
- one sweet potato
- approx 2 1/2 cups plain flour
- 2 cups peas
- fresh mint, oregano, thyme or any other herbs
- 1 cup pine nuts and cashews
- 1 lemon
- olive oil
- 8 slices prosciutto
To make the gnocchi, boil the potatoes until soft enough to mash. Then mash them good! You want them to be as creamy as possible with no lumps. No lumps at all, I tells ya! I was fretting that I was on the path to lumpy gnocchi when I remembered my bar-mix - or wizzy stick as I sometimes think of it. This turned my still lumpy mash into a creamy potato gloop. Add a little nutmeg at this point, you won't be sorry.
Then flour your bench with about a cup of flour, and tip your cream potato mixture into it. Get as much flour as possible on your hands because the potato will be as sticky as get out. Gently fold the flour into the potato dough, adding more flour as you need it, until it has a modicum of stuctural integrity. You want the gnocchi to be as tender as possible, so it's important not to overwork it.
Roll the gnocchi out into hilarious sausages if your mind is in the gutter, as mine was as I was cooking, and then slice your little dumplings off the end. Again, keeping everything well dusted with flour, that the gnocchi might touch. At this point you could put them in the fridge until cooking them, or freeze them for another occasion if you want. Or EAT THEM RIGHT NOW.
While the potatoes are boiling, set up another pot of boiling water and cook your peas. Then add most of the peas (reserving about 1/2 a cups worth) to your mixer, with the nuts, herbs, lemon juice, two cloves of garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. If you don't have a cooked-cheese-loathing boyfriend, I'd add some parmesan or pecorino at this point as well. As for me, I abstained out of love. Stupid, no-cheese love.
Anyway, pulse the pesto mix together until it forms a slightly chunky dip consistency (which, incidentally, is how I plan to eat the remainder ie with corn chips). That's it. Pea pesto.
To prepare the gnocchi, bring water to the boil in a wide pot and drop in the gnocchi, ensuring to space them so they form one layer. They'll drop to the floor of the pot; when they float to the surface (1 to 2 minutes) they are ready! Remove with a slotted spoon and place them on a plate to drain. You can serve them like this, but I like to add to the 'toothiness' of them by lightly pan frying them, like any good dumpling.
So once all the gnocchi is boiled, slice the prosciutto into little bits and fry in a small amount of oil. The prosciutto will leech all it's delicious porky fat into the pan as well. Remove the prosciutto when it starts to crispin, reserving all the fat in the pan. Then add your gnocchi to the pan and lightly sautee in the prosciutto fat. You have just created one of the most delicious things ever. But it gets better.
Remove the gnocchi and add the pea pesto and a splash of water and heat through. Add the extra peas and put the gnocchi back in, and mix through. Finally add the prosciutto.
Cooked-cheese-loathing man declared it one of the best meals I'd ever made him, because it had both complementary colours and flavours. We wolfed it in front of SBS's Thursday night food show line-up, and felt grateful we hadn't sat through those shows and all their delectable treats with anything less delicious for ourselves. Then I took the leftovers to work for office-time food bragging. It happens.