The lightest potato gnocchi with Binham Blue cheese sauce
22 October 2017
I made the mistake of serving a gnocchi starter twice in a row for dinner parties with a certain group of friends. I’d forgotten that I’d done it for them already, but they certainly hadn’t. Ever since, they refer to the prospect of coming round for dinner as ‘coming round for gnocchi’.
Considering I have found myself with a reputation for repeating it, it’s actually not something I make that often. It’s probably time I tried something a bit more fancy with it - gnocchi with herbs, or pan-fried, or made from something other than potato.
But I do keep coming back to the same challenge - getting basic potato gnocchi, mildly scented with nutmeg, to the lightest most melting texture imaginable. I think it’s because I once did them and had a very well-travelled friend declare they were lighter than anything he’d had in Italy, and since then I’ve never quite been able to match those dizzy heights.
It comes down to the proportion of flour to potato. First of all, you have to keep the potato dry when you cook it. I bake the potatoes in the oven and then remove the flesh and mash it in a bowl.
But then you have to work out how much flour to add. Add too much and you end up with gnocchi rather denser than you want. Add too little, and when you try to cook them you’ll end up with potato soup. I have nothing against potato soup, but that’s not quite the point.
In the end, you can follow recipe quantities to the letter, but potatoes are different, flours are different, so you’ll only really get it when you do it often enough that you begin to get a feel for the texture and smoothness that the dough should take on when you get it right. I make it - nearly - enough to get that. Last time I made them, I’d left it a while and I’d lost the delicacy of touch. I ended up with a batch of gnocchi that were designated as being for my consumption only. But I made them today, and just about hit the perfect spot. I was worried I’d gone too far the other way and I’d lose them when I tried to cook them, but they held together - just. And because I’d trod the fine line and stayed just the right side of it, they were pretty much perfect.
I probably need to do them again a couple more times to really embed the knowledge of the feel. My dinner party friends may yet have cause for more hilarity at my expense.
The best way is to make plenty and then, when you shape them and put them onto the flour-spattered tray, bung them in the freezer and, when frozen, put them into a food freezer bag. You can then cook them straight from frozen - and it makes them a quick starter to put together, or an easy added-component to a more ambitious dinner party meal.
My favourite way to serve them as a starter is with a blue cheese sauce. Usually this is just some butter and cream thickened in the pan, with blue cheese crumbled in once it has thickened. Once you add the blue cheese you should keep the sauce from boiling again - just keep it warm enough to melt all the cheese. You keep more of the flavour that way. And adjust the seasoning carefully of course, because the blue cheese is probably quite salty already.
For this dish, I used Mrs Temple’s Binham Blue cheese. You could use any creamy gorgonzola-like cheese. I am a huge fan of the Binham Blue because (a) it’s a fantastic cheese, full of character, as recognised when it picked up a bronze award at the British Cheese Awards, and (b) the producer is one of the leading cheesemakers when it comes to responsible and sustainable farming - with energy from biomass technology, wastes assiduously recycled back into fertilising the land, and minimal packaging for products used. Catherine Temple and her crew are sustainable food heroes, and it’s a privilege to use the produce of such people, even for a humble dish such as this!
The lightest potato gnocchi with Binham Blue cheese sauce
There are lots of ways to do gnocchi, but this is the one that works best for me when it comes to getting the lightest fluffiest result. There are good reasons to take other approaches depending on what you want. Servings are given as 4, but you'll have more gnocchi left over to freeze for a future meal.
Four baking potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
A couple of handfuls of flour
100g blue cheese
100 ml double (heavy) cream
100g binham blue cheese (or another creamy blue cheese)
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
Prick the potato skins, rub them over with the olive oil and then bake them until they’re fully cooked. May be an hour, depending on the size of the potatoes.
Once cooked, remove the flesh from the potatoes and put it into a mixing bowl and let any moisture evaporate for five minutes or so.
Mash the potato, finely grate a few scrapings of nutmeg over them - not too much, just enough to get a hint of flavour. Add some salt, and then a couple of handfuls of flour. Precise quantities aren’t the point here, because there are so many variables. But you want to be able to work the flour / potato mixture into a smooth dough that holds together but isn’t stiff. We’re going for light melting gnocchi, and for that you need to use as little flour as possible without the gnocchi dissolving in the water when cooked.
Once you’ve got your gnocchi dough, cut it into quarters and roll each quarter into a tube on a floured surface and cut each into small pieces. You then roll each piece along the spines of a fork to give the distinctive stripes on one side and indent on the other. Place each finished piece onto a floured tray. If you’ll be cooking them almost immediately, then put them in the fridge for half an hour. Alternatively, put them into the freezer and once they’re frozen, put them into food bags or cling film and keep them until you need them. The gnocchi can be cooked from frozen, so once you’ve got them to this stage, they’re quick and convenient to pull out of the freezer and produce a meal.
When you’re ready, get a large pan of gently boiling water going. Meanwhile, put the butter into a pan over a medium heat, add the double cream and a pinch of salt and mix it together until it’s fully combined and starting to bubble. Once the sauce has begun to thicken slightly, crumble in the Binham Blue cheese and stir it in until the cheese has all melted. Don’t let the sauce boil after this time. More of the cheesy flavour will be preserved if it’s kept well below boiling temperature once it’s been incorporated.
At this point, drop the gnocchi gently (if its fresh, no worries if it’s frozen) into the gently boiling water. It will sink to the bottom and then rise to the top once it’s cooked.
Taste the sauce, it should have the saltiness of the cheese, the lovely flavour and mouth feel from the cream and the butter. It will probably be crying out for a little more acidity - if so add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar. Taste again, and add a little more vinegar or salt if needed. At these late stages with sauces, I would always rely on your taste buds rather than simply following quantities in a recipe.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the gnocchi from the water and place them on the warm plates. Drizzle the sauce over quite generously and add a little basil on the top and serve. You could, if you wanted, grate a little parmesan on the top before adding the basil, but the sauce is lovely and intensely cheesy already and I’d suggest you don’t need it.
I do this dish as a starter - about ten gnocchi per plate. Gnocchi can, of course, be part of a main course but you would probably want a few other elements on the plate in that case.
Food waste notes
Once you’ve baked the potatoes, you’ll have some pretty much intact potato skins. It’s up to you, but I would never throw these away. I just sprinkle some sea salt onto them, maybe some grated cheddar and just eat them there and then. No potato skins are going to waste in my house.
This recipe should make more gnocchi that you need, but freeze them and use them when it suits you.
You’ll have plenty of basil left over. You might want to try making a panzanella - especially if you have some old bread to hand as well. Alternatively, buy your basil as a live plant and then you can pick and use leaves as you need without worrying too much about the rest.