January and February are months that don’t tend to inspire the greatest enthusiasm for most of us, with the short dark days, the rain, the sadly empty post-Christmas purses. But secretly, when January comes around a part of me rejoices. What better excuse can there be to linger indoors all weekend and indulge in some serious hibernation time? Making a decision to embrace a day indoors also provides a great excuse for whiling the hours away, creating a gorgeous wintery feast.
Italy is a great inspiration when thinking of comforting winter food. A rich bowl of gnocchi, for example, each little dumpling at once dense and soft with the ability to carry the richest of flavours, is a perfect dish for January indulgence. Not only does it satisfy those cravings for comfort but making it also requires staying inside, turning the radio on and dedicating the whole day to cooking – oblivious to the rain at the window.
Making gnocchi is an activity that needs to be done without a time frame. Each piece has to be individually hand rolled, cut and dented – it’s no mid week supper. But if, like me, you use cooking as a strange sort of meditation then this is one activity to get lost in.
Generally, gnocchi are little dumplings made with dough and eaten in a similar way to other varieties of pasta. There are numerous recipes out there and in Italy recipes often vary from region to region. The dough can be made with semolina or potatoes and it can be flavoured with ingredients including parmesan or herbs, but as a novice I decided to keep it simple and try a method using just fluffy potato, egg and flour. Being such a simple recipe I was surprised how beautiful the dough turned out, looking deliciously smooth and pillow-like before it was shaped into pieces for the pot. It takes time and patience to make all of the dough into gnocchi, but it is worth it. After you have put a batch in to boil it is a joy to watch as all of the dumplings that you have lovingly crafted start to bob to the surface of the water, their little indication that they are ready to be rescued with a slotted spoon.
Gnocchi is often enjoyed simply with sage and butter but I made a creamy sauce using dried porcini, chestnut mushrooms, crème fraiche and using the porcini soaking liquid to really boost the mushroom flavour. Gnocchi is delicious with robust or creamy sauces – but it makes for a filling feast! For a bit of contrast to the rich sauce I made a salad with of gorgonzola, bitter white chicory and sweet sliced apple for refreshing crunch.
To sit down at the end of a lazy Sunday with a delicious bowl of food that you have spent the day slowly creating feels rather self indulgent – but maybe that’s just what winter is for.
Published in Crumbs Magazine online Journal: January 2013