When I need true comfort from food, I turn to gnocchi. These pillow-shaped doughy bundles have shepherded me through many a trial.
Part of their soothing appeal is that in order to work well, gnocchi must be made by gentle hands. Bully them in the kneading or rolling and they’ll be as tough as a runaway teen. But if you carefully encourage as much air as possible into boiled or roasted potatoes and keep the flour to a minimum and you’ll be rewarded with soft, buoyant nuggets of starch.
Now here’s the problem. While I love potato gnocchi; particularly the faint sweetness that comes from Maris Piper potatoes- it doesn’t love me so much. White carbohydrates don’t always agree with my body. It’s a pain, but one I’ve come to accept.
It’s why I’ve been getting pretty evangelical about pulses lately. I’ve been replacing potato with white beans on shepherd’s pies, as a base for stews and roasts. So then I started musing- can I make gnocchi from pulses?
The answer, is yes. And beyond that, it’s the quickest and easiest gnocchi I’ve ever made (and really, it’s not that much of a leap away from the philosophy that brought us pumpkin gnocchi- it’s just here we’ve got a dash more protein on the plate).
It’s just two tins of white beans, drained and rinsed. They then get a short cut and are blitzed with a stick blender. That’s something you can’t do with potatoes, unless you want to use the resulting puree to hold up wallpaper. If I’m craving really fluffy gnocchi I’ll work the puree through a strainer or a mouli. This helps get out all the lumps and incorporate as much air as possible. To the puree I add an egg yolk, some salt for flavour and as much flour as needed to create a dough (I’m yet to try with chickpea flour, but I think it would also work). That dough is then divided, rolled and cut in the same manner as potato gnocchi.
I bake the individual gnocchi for a little bit to help sure up the shape – otherwise they have the potential to dissipate when cooking. But that’s it.
They chase after that just-captured-cloud consistency you find in extraordinary gnocchi. The extra protein in the beans makes them a little sturdier – but the flavour is sound. Beyond that, when baked they have a very pleasing contrast of external crunch to inside squish.
I’ve used them to help bulk up a salad of black pudding with raspberries and radishes.
I’ve boiled them and served them with basil pesto and rocket. But most of the time I bake them in my favourite Sunday night/cold weather/ grump fixing dish- baked gnocchi with meatballs, tomato and mozzarella (recipe here).
Eaten on the couch, with a glass of red wine and a pair of thick socks on your feet; it’s a sure fire route to comfort (and nobody needs to know that you left the potatoes out in the cold).
Gnocchi made from white beans
Here’s how we roll
1)Preheat the oven to 150 C/300 F
2) Drain the two tins of white beans and rinse well. Puree using a stick blender until completely smooth.
4) In a large bowl add the egg yolk and a good pinch of salt to to the white bean puree. Then sift the flour in, bit by bit and use one hand to lightly and gently bring into a dough. Don’t work the dough too hard- it will become tough like pencil erasers.
7) Place it to one side and do the same with the other three balls.
9) Place the gnocchi on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Drizzle lightly with olive oil and bake for 20 minutes. This helps the gnocchi to set, so they won’t get too slimy when you bake them with sauce later on.
Nb, if you wish to boil the gnocchi, bring salted water to a rolling boil then cook the gnocchi in small batches until it floats to the top of the water. Top with nut brown butter, sage and parmesan, or coat in pesto. Or else drizzle with a little more olive oil and bake for another 10 minutes until crisp on the outside and still fluffy on the inside.