Vegan sweet potato gnocchi

I fondly remember making gnocchi when I was little with my mum. I remember starting off with just rolling the gnocchi for her into logs, then as I got older I learnt how to cut and curl them as well. It wasn’t until this year though that I started making them entirely by myself- I never really understood how to get the ratio of potatoes to flour right as mum would always make enough for about 20 people!

I’m using sweet potatoes in this recipe and I’m not using eggs. Without eggs gnocchi are softer and a bit more delicate to work with; with eggs they’re firmer and hold their shape better when they cook but are also heavier. I’ve opted for the no-eggs option so that more people can use this recipe. These gnocchi go well with a meat sauce as well as with a simple tomato and herb sauce. You could also make these using purple sweet potatoes- the colour is quite dramatic!

Sweet potato gnocchi

The trick with gnocchi is to let the potatoes cool completely down after you’ve passed them through a potato ricer. When they’re cool they take less flour so they’ll be lighter to eat. You also need to keep flouring them as you go so that they don’t stick together.

Serves 4

Ingredients

1.5kg sweet potatoes

650g ’00’ flour, plus extra for rolling out the gnocchi

1 teaspoon salt

Method

1. Place the sweet potatoes in a large saucepan and cover them with water. Bring to the boil, covered, then slightly remove the lid and allow to boil until tender. (Alternatively, you could cook the potatoes in the microwave- I’m told it takes about 6 minutes or so).

2. Once cooked, drain out the water and return the potatoes to the pan and cover with a lid. It’s important to keep them hot as it’ll make it easier to peel them. One by one, take a potato out of the pan and peel off the skin using a knife.

3. Place the peeled potato into a potato ricer and push it through.

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4. Repeat with the remaining peeled potatoes.

5. Add the salt and mix through using a fork. Now let the mixture cool completely down.

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6. Once the potatoes are cool, add the flour and mix it evenly through (I used a fork in the beginning and then kneaded it with my hands). You may need a little more or a little less flour than the quantity I have given, depending on how moist the potatoes are. Sweet potatoes are a lot softer than normal potatoes so I found that I needed a lot more flour than expected. You want the dough to be somewhat firm but not too hard, otherwise the gnocchi will be far too heavy.

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7. Take a handful of the dough and place it on a floured board. Using both hands, roll the dough out into a log shape, then sprinkle it with a little flour.

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8. Repeat the process with the remainder of the dough, ensuring that you keep adding flour to the board and that you sprinkle each log with flour so that it doesn’t become sticky.

9. Using a sharp knife, cut each log into small pieces, about 1 inch long.

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10. Then flour a gnocchi board and 2 trays.

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11. One by one, roll each piece of dough up the gnocchi board and let them fall onto the floured trays. If you don’t have a gnocchi board, you could do this using a fork.

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The aim is to get a pattern on one side and a small cavity on the other side (as below). The cavity helps the gnocchi hold more sauce and doing this step also makes them look prettier!

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12. Once you’ve curled all of the gnocchi, sprinkle them all with a little more flour.

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13. Cook the gnocchi immediately in a large saucepan filled with salted boiling water. You’ll need to cook them in a few batches. Once they float to the surface they’re cooked; remove them from the boiling water using a slotted spoon. Place them in bowls and coat with a sauce of your choice, then serve immediately.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!

Spinach and ricotta ravioli

After recently making a batch of fresh pasta I thought I’d have a go at making some ravioli with a spinach and ricotta filling. When making ravioli at home you can either use molds to get perfectly shaped ravioli or you can simply spoon dollops of filling intermittently along a fresh sheet of pasta, fold the pasta sheet over, seal it and then cut it using a pastry cutter. I’m all for rustic looking food and using as little utensils as possible so I’ll be describing the latter method in this recipe. And as you can see below, they don’t look too shabby at all!

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In regards to the filling, I’d recommend choosing a bunch of fresh spinach with smallish leaves as they’ll be more tender. Go to your local deli and buy fresh ricotta that’s cut straight from the round; it’s a bit drier than ricotta from a tub and tastes a lot better in my opinion. If you buy ricotta in a tub make sure that you drain away as much of the liquid as possible. If possible, freshly grate your Parmesan cheese and nutmeg and grind your black pepper for the filling; your ravioli will taste much better if you do.

Before you get started you’ll also need a pastry cutter, a pastry brush and a small bowl of cold water. It’s important to work quickly so that your pasta sheets don’t dry out (ideally, have your filling prepared and covered in the fridge before you start rolling out your pasta sheets).

These ravioli are typically served with a sage and butter sauce but a simple tomato and herb sauce would also be nice. They taste so much better than bought ravioli and really aren’t that hard to make so I’d highly recommend giving this recipe a go!

This quantity serves 6-8 people

Ingredients

1 quantity of fresh pasta, rolled out to the narrowest setting

1 bunch fresh spinach (approximately 800g), bottom of stalks chopped off

1 clove garlic, roughly chopped

2 teaspoons olive oil

350g ricotta (freshly cut from a round at your local deli)

1/2 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

1 large free-range egg

Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

A pinch of salt

A pinch of grated nutmeg

Method

1. Thoroughly wash the spinach in your sink with cold water at least 2-3 times to remove any dirt.

2. Briefly heat the oil and garlic in a fry pan over a medium heat, then add the freshly washed spinach and sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Don’t worry if your pan is overflowing as the spinach will start to wilt in a minute or so.

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3. Turn the spinach with a spatula once the leaves at the bottom start to wilt and taste it after 3-4 minutes to see if it’s cooked. Once it is, remove from the heat and allow to cool down.

4. Using your hands, wring as much water as possible out of the cooled spinach and then place it on a clean chopping board. Chop it up as finely as possible.

5. In a large bowl, add the ricotta and mash it with a fork. Then add the chopped spinach, egg, Parmesan cheese, a pinch of freshly-grated nutmeg and freshly-ground pepper to taste. Mix it all together until all the ingredients are evenly distributed throughout the filling.

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6. Lay out a sheet of fresh pasta on a floured work surface. Place spoonfuls of the mixture along the sheet at 5 cm intervals, about one-third in from the edge of the sheet.

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7. Now lightly dip your pastry brush in the bowl of cold water and use it to brush the edges of the pasta sheet and around each dollop of filling.

8. Fold over the wider part of the pasta sheet and seal the edges by firmly pressing down along the edge with your fingers.

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9. Now press down on the pasta in between the dollops of filling to help individually seal the ravioli.

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10. Using a pastry cutter, cut between each dollop of filling to make individual ravioli.

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11. Now turn your ravioli clockwise and cut along the top edge of the ravioli with your pastry cutter. Then press around the filling with your fingers to ensure they’re sealed and to get rid of any air bubbles.

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12. Once you’ve cut all the ravioli, place them on a lightly-floured tray.

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13. Repeat the above process with the remaining pasta sheets and filling.

14. Cook the ravioli immediately in small batches in a saucepan of salted boiling water. Fresh pasta cooks a lot faster than dry pasta so taste them after about 5 minutes to see if they’re done. As you can see below, they hold their shape really well when cooked (if you over cook them the filling will seep out). Take them out with a slotted spoon and toss them in a sauce of your choice, then serve immediately.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!

Fresh pasta

Making your own pasta is a lot easier than you may think; all you need is a manual pasta machine, flour, eggs and a little salt and away you go. A good manual pasta machine costs around $100 and is a worthy investment. Mum’s had her Imperia machine for 40 years now and it’s never let her down. It’s obviously going to make life easier than trying to make pasta with a rolling pin and it also provides a great workout for your arm muscles!

Imperia pasta machine

Why bother making fresh pasta? Well, it’s silky smooth, melts in your mouth and it’s rather cheap to make. It’s perfect for special occasions or if you simply want to try something new on the weekend. It’s easy to make by yourself or you can get your family or friends involved too. Sure dry pasta is great for everyday use but there’s something special about making fresh pasta and seeing how much everyone enjoys it- I think the effort is well worth it.

This recipe can be used to make pasta sheets for lasagna, ravioli or you can go one step further and pass it through the fettuccine or spaghetti cutting section of the machine. My rule of thumb for fresh pasta is to use 1 large free-range egg for every 100 grams of flour, in addition to a ¼ teaspoon or so of salt. You’ll then need a bit more flour for machining the pasta. This quantity is then multiplied depending on how many people you’re cooking for. Speaking from experience, if you’re cooking for a large number of people and wanted to multiply this recipe by 10 for example, I would highly recommend making it in 2 lots as it’ll be a lot easier to combine and knead the dough in smaller quantities.

Make sure that the work surface used is at a comfortable height for yourself as you’ll be machining for a while so you don’t want to strain any muscles. I find kitchen benches too high in general so I clamp our machine to our wooden kitchen table. Also, cover your work area with a clean tablecloth- it’ll make cleaning up so much easier at the end as you’re going to have flour everywhere!

I’m going to do my best now to describe the method using photo’s to help me. I’ll be honest and say that it took me a few go’s under mum’s guidance to understand how pasta should look and feel as you’re machining it but I’m now confident enough to make it on my own. I’ll try explain the method as best as I can but if you have any questions please comment below and I’ll try to help out.

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This quantity makes about 500 grams or so of pasta.

Ingredients

400g ’00’ flour, plus extra for machining the dough

4 large free-range eggs

1 teaspoon salt

Method

1. Add the flour to a large bowl and then stir in the salt.

2. Make a well in the centre and add the eggs in.

3. Using a fork, beat the eggs and then start mixing them through the flour. IMG_7252

4. Then using your hands (make sure they’re clean!) start combining the mixture into a ball.IMG_7253

5. Once you’ve formed a ball, start kneading the dough. You will need to knead it for a little while to increase the strength of the gluten in the flour and will know when it’s ready as you’ll have a nice smooth ball of dough.IMG_7254

6. When it’s done, wrap it tightly in cling wrap and refrigerate for an hour.

7. After an hour, remove the dough from the cling wrap and cut it into 8 even-sized pieces. Lightly flour your work  surface.

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8. Starting with one of the pieces, roughly form it into a rectangular shape in your hands. Then place it on your work surface, flour it on both sides and then try flattening it out as much as possible with the palm of your hand. This is done to enable it to fit through the rollers in the machine.IMG_7260

9. Have your machine set on the widest setting (the width is adjusted by a knob on the side of the machine- turning it towards you increment by increment decreases the space between the rollers- see photo below).IMG_7206

10. Pass the piece of dough through the machine.IMG_7262

11. Then lightly flour the dough again, fold the dough in half and pass it through again. IMG_7265

12. Continue doing this until the sheet appears smooth. You’ll often find that an air bubble will form and will pop on the last time before it’s ready. Once the sheet is done, place it to the side and lightly flour it.IMG_7268

13. Take the next piece of dough and repeat the above process. Do this for all 8 pieces of dough.

14. Once you’ve got 8 small smooth sheets ready, turn the knob on your machine to the next increment which is slightly narrower.

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15. Repeat the above process of lightly flouring each sheet, folding it in half and passing it through the machine until it looks smooth and you hear that popping sound. You probably won’t have to pass each sheet through as many times as the first setting though from now on.

16. Once you’ve passed through all the sheets on the second setting, move down to the third and repeat the process again. Continue this all the way through to the narrowest setting of the machine. Ensure that you’re lightly flouring the pasta whenever it feels sticky as you don’t want it to stick to the rollers in the machine (a pasta machine is never washed; it is merely dusted with a small brush that comes with the machine- if you washed it the rollers would lose their smoothness).

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17. By the end you should have 8 long, silky smooth sheets of pasta. These can now be used for lasagna or ravioli. If you want to make fettuccine or spaghetti, simply pass the sheets through the cutters on the machine.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!

Wholegrain spaghetti with broad beans (fava beans)

Broad beans (aka fava beans) are finally in season in Melbourne so it’s time to share with you this quintessential ‘cucina povera’ dish. The basis of this style of cooking is that you only need to use a handful of inexpensive ingredients to create something wonderful. The cooking techniques are often simple with the emphasis being on the ingredients themselves; usually whatever you have growing in your garden at the time. Try to eat seasonal foods wherever possible- they tend to be tastier, fresher and a lot cheaper to buy. If you’re lucky enough to have space for a veggie patch I’d strongly recommend planting some food for yourself. Broad beans are fairly easy to grow (though you’ll have to wait until next year to plant some) and bringing food from your garden to the table is quite satisfying.

Anyway, back to this dish. When it’s early in the season you only have to remove the broad beans from their large pod (see photo below).

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Later on in the season as their skins become harder it’s best to remove the next layer of skin (see photo below).

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Removing the second layer reveals the tender, sweet inner part of the broad bean which I personally prefer. If you do this they’ll be quicker to cook and they’ll be more appealing to some. Please note however that you’ll probably lose some nutrients by doing this, but I think it’s necessary later in the season.

In regards to the pasta I personally prefer to use wholegrain pasta. The pasta that I buy is more than half wholegrain flour and the rest is regular durum wheat flour, semolina and oat fiber. You can however use any type of spaghetti that you like (just bear in mind differing cooking times- this recipe is for pasta which cooks in 7 minutes). I break the spaghetti up into 6 or more even sized pieces so that you can eat this using a spoon (see photo below). Do this by taking a small handful of spaghetti, hold it with your left hand and snap off small pieces with your right hand.

It’s important to use lots of parsley in this dish and black pepper. The tomatoes add a little colour and flavour. Broad beans take a while to cook but the wait is well worth it. Give this dish a go whilst they’re in season!

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Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons olive oil

5 cups broad beans removed from their pods and rinsed

1 bunch fresh parsley, roughly chopped

2.5 teaspoons salt

Freshly-ground black pepper

6 vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, cut into quarters

1.5 litres water

250 grams wholegrain spaghetti, snapped into 6 or more even lengths (see description above)

Method

1. In a medium-sized saucepan, heat oil and add the onion. Saute until the onion is translucent, taking care not to burn it.

2. Add the broad beans, 1 teaspoon of salt, the chopped parsley and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

3. Stir using a wooden spoon to coat the broad beans in the oil and seasoning, then lower the gas to a gentle heat and allow to cook slowly, for about 10 minutes.

4. Add the chopped cherry tomatoes and give it all another stir.

5. In a separate saucepan, add the water, cover with a lid and heat it up. Turn it off just before the water comes to the boil.

6. Once the water is ready, add it to the broad beans. Add 1.5 teaspoons of salt to the pan, give it a stir then cover the pan with a lid and continue to cook gently over a low heat.

7. Once the broad beans are almost cooked (after approximately 25-30 minutes), throw in the spaghetti. Taste the cooking water and adjust the seasoning if necessary. Ensure that the pasta is submerged in the water by stirring and pushing it down with a wooden spoon. Raise the heat a little and cover with the lid again.

8. After 7 minutes, taste the pasta to see if it’s al dente. If it is, turn off the heat and spoon it into 4 bowls. Serve immediately.

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*If you’d like to use this recipe, please reference this blog- thank you!