Three cheese gnocchi

PUBLISHED: 05:48 16 February 2015

Three cheese gnocchi with Richard Hughes. Photo: Bill Smith

Three cheese gnocchi with Richard Hughes. Photo: Bill Smith

Archant © 2014

Take some inspiration from the Italians for a simple staple, says Richard Hughes of the Lavender House in Brundall.

It’s the time of year that polarises attitude and appetites. For every household that will detox, cut down and tone up, and entertain vague notions of joining the nearest gym, the neighbours will turn up the heating, curl up with a recipe book and pour over pages of winter warming supper dishes that will see them through the cold January. Though we love casseroles and braises in the slow cooker, a meat-free alternative can be just as substantial and comforting, and considerably kinder on the bank balance. The Italians are masters of taking the food of the poor and turning it into something that will grace the grandest of tables; they also have voracious appetites!

Think big bowls of pasta, creamy risottos, bean stews, polenta, stuffed pizza breads and, of course, my favourite, a large helping of gnocchi. These little dumplings are truly delicious, with variations made with potato, pumpkin, semolina and choux pastry. They are probably the easiest of all of the Italian staples to make and cook, and this type of food is beloved of restaurants up and down the country. I’m using some scraps of cheese long since left over from the December cheese board, it works well with whatever you have to hand, as long as it’s a strong, punchy cheese. After the rigours and pressures of the past few weeks of cooking to impress, this is a simple pleasure that’s rewarding to make, cook, serve and eat.

It’s also a nice alternative to potato accompaniment. We serve it baked with blue cheese alongside a crisp to roast chicken, or classically fried in foaming butter with sage and hazelnut. It’s a real favourite and something of a standby staple dish in our household, not just for the winter.

Three cheese gnocchi

Makes a gratin dish for four portions

1kg large Désirée potatoes, all roughly the same size

Rock salt

350g plain flour

50ml extra virgin olive oil

½ tsp fine salt

Pinch of nutmeg (optional)

2 small eggs, beaten

250ml double cream

120g in total of Binham Blue, Gurney’s Gold, Smoked Dapple or any favourite cheeses

1 Preheat the oven to 190C/Gas 5 and wash the potatoes. Dry them well and prick all over, then cover the bottom of a baking tray with a layer of rock salt and arrange the potatoes on top. Bake for about an hour until completely cooked through; this will depend on the size of the potatoes, so check them regularly.

2 Remove from the oven, cut them in half.

3 As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh.

4 Mash or sieve the potatoes or better still put them through a ricer to make sure they are smooth.

5 Place the potato in a large mixing bowl.

6 Add the fine salt.

7 Add the olive oil.

8 Add the sifted flour, and nutmeg.

9 Add the eggs. Beat together to combine all the ingredients.

10 Roll out into long sausage shapes on a heavily floured board.

11 Cut into little dumplings approximately 1cm.

12 Mark with a fork; this helps the sauce to adhere.

13 Chill them for a few minutes.

14 Plunge into rapidly boiling water, simmer until the dumplings float to the surface, no more than 20 seconds.

15 Drain and place the gnocchi into the serving dish.

16 Bring the cream up to the boil.

17 Add 100g of the mixed cheeses. Bring to the boil, stirring until the sauce has thickened.

18 Pour on to the gnocchi.

19 Top with the remaining chunks of cheese.

20 Place into a hot oven for 200C/Gas 6 for 10 minutes until golden brown.

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