Noel Malcom’s not especially short but very informative Kosovo: A short history has put me in a Balkany mood. I remembered my grandmother, Dorrie (Dragica actually), telling me about her friend’s excellent “Yugoslav” gnocchi. It actually sounded remarkably like Italian gnocchi but I wasn’t going to push the issue. I got a request to cook something with noodles or rice for dinner for my sister-in-law – in from Darwin – and gnocchi seemed to fit the bill.
My last gnocchi meal was an exceptional sweet potato gnocchi with bacon, pear, and chicken at the Inglewood hotel 3 months back. I was impressed by the combination of textures but had no idea of how to make it, but I’d attempt something similar anyway. I had a few things to think about.
I looked up my current love, The Classic Italian Cookbook by Marcella Hazan. Uncompromising and wise, here’s another quick sample for you:
We have all heard about the decline of the tomato. To judge by the plastic-wrapped examples in the supermarkets not even the worst reports are exaggerated.
Sweet spiky music. I followed her recipe but added sweet potatoes.
Boil an equal quantity of starchy potatoes(boiled in their skins and then peeled) and sweet potatoes and then mash. She recommends not adding egg yolks to keep them lighter and fluffier, but I wanted a more robust gnocchi so I added one egg yolk.
Then mix in the plain flour – as an approximation use between a 1/5th to a 1/6th of the weight of the potato. The goal is to be able to knead it to “smooth, soft, and slightly sticky”.
Roll the gnocchi out into thumb-width cylinders, dusting with flour if it gets too sticky, and cut into 18mm pieces. To get the sauce grabbing ridges and the even cooking indent, place the piece on a fork and then press down in the middle with your finger and then let it drop off. They got better with a little practice.
Boil up a big pot of salted water, toss some in, and when they float to the surface, give them a few seconds grace, and scoop them out. Line the bottom of a baking diah with them.
The completely amazing thing about gnocchi is how a dish which comprises of two ingredients can involve so many factors influencing the outcome. Molecules eh!
Pork and apples is an obvious choice but pears aren’t so different and juicier, nashi apples have the best of both. Just to make sure there was a completely crunchy fourth element, I thought of walnuts and the use of a walnut in devil’s on horsesback confirmed the relationship.
Small cubed four pork chops, and cooked in a frypan with butter and half a chopped chilli. Tossed in a tablespoon combined of fresh sage and thyme. The sage came about because of the tasty prosciutto and figs I had at Crafty’s.
A splash of white wine to get things moving along, then I decided I needed more room and moved to the wok. Lightly toasted a cup of walnuts and then added the contents of the frypan. Next was a diced pear and two diced nashi. Leave dicing of these to the last minute to avoid discolouration. Cook over a high heat to a stir fry ideal of hot and crisp, and then pour over the gnocchi.
Place it in a 180C oven while you make the sauce. The goal was to get everything a little crunchily roasted.
A few options, I toyed with a cream sauce for a while but remebered a recipe I cooked ages ago – quail with grapes and this convinced me of the merits of a chicken stock reduction. A cup of chicken stock into the frypan with another cup of white wine and a little more sage and thyme, scrape and stir until reduced by a half, and season to taste. Place the gnocchi mix in a plate and pour some of the sauce over it.
Toni and Vic were very happy with it. For me, I found the gnocchi a little gluey, and the pork and the pears a little overcooked. Omitting the oven stage and serving straight from the wok might have improved matters. The flavours were well balanced on the mild side but maybe a little more chilli for some bite would have added bite.
It’s an interesting dish because you could spend a long time trying to get it just right. Kneading though, hard to love. Interesting think piece¹, and tasty.