Porcini gnocchi with thyme, wild mushrooms and lemon

(From Donna Hay Magazine, Issue 56)

I can’t help but turn having people round for lunch into an excuse for making something extremely complicated that I have never made before. This is against the rules – if you have guests for lunch or dinner, this is exactly the time when you are not supposed to attempt something for the first time. You can’t be sure that it will turn out well (or at all), and if you have made mistakes, there is no time to correct them before your poor guests must sit through an unappetising meal and pretend that the food is great. In this instance, the food was very good, though there were modifications I would make (aren’t there always?). Home-made gnocchi does take a long time, but (at least with this recipe) it does not last for more than 2 days (in terms of keeping its shape – you can reheat it later and you will have a tasty mush), so if you are going to embark on this, make sure you have a full day to cook before you need to serve. That said, it is a fun process, so it is time well spent.

  Porcini Gnocchi

(Makes 4-6 serves)

  1kg (35 oz) potatoes (roughly 4 medium-sized potatoes – try to get good baking potatoes such as russet and sebago)

40g (1.5 oz) parmesan cheese

30g (1 oz) dried porcini mushrooms

100g (3.5 oz) plain white flour + a little extra

Coarse sea salt (Kosher salt)

Fresh black pepper

2 egg yolks

  Begin by preheating your oven to 180 degrees celsius (350      fahrenheit). Stab your potatoes a couple of times with a fork,  and place them on a baking tray. Bake for an hour or until    they are soft. While the potatoes are baking, rehydrate the  dried mushrooms according to the instructions on their packaging (this will include soaking in hot water until they are soft). There are often little bits of grit and stones in dried mushrooms, so when they are soft make sure you feel them with your fingers and remove any little hard bits.

While you are waiting for the potatoes to bake, finely grate the parmesan, and finely chop the rehydrated porcini mushrooms. When the potatoes are done, allow them too cool a little, slice in half, and scoop the soft insides into a large bowl. Mash the potato until smooth and add the parmesan, porcini mushrooms, flour, some pepper, and then a significant pinch of the salt. (The gnocchi I made was not salty enough, but I loved the idea of finding little crunchy crystals of salt in your soft gnocchi, so be generous with salting). Mix together until combined, and then add the egg yolks, stirring together until it comes together in a ball.

Place your mixture on a large lightly-floured surface (you will need a lot of space to roll it into a long rope), and knead for a minute or so until it comes together like a dough. Divide your ‘dough’ into two, and continuing to dust with flour where needed (the gnocchi sticks easily, but does not suffer from being continuously dusted with flour), roll out your ‘dough’ until it forms a long, even rope. It doesn’t matter so much how thick the rope is – you do not want it to be too thin, but you can be the judge of what size gnocchi you want. Generously flour a tray, or plates, where your gnocchi is going to go before you cook it. I did not do this (as you can see from the picture below) and the gnocchi stuck to the plates I had put it on, making it very difficult to get off. Then cut your rope up into pieces roughly 3cm long, and place on your floured tray or plate. You can do this several hours in advance (at this stage I started to make sticky date pudding, something else I was attempting for the first time, which we were going to have for dessert).

Thyme, Wild Mushrooms and Lemon

80g (2.8 oz) salted butter

600g (21 oz) mushrooms (I used a combination of shiitake and portobello – but any wild mushrooms would work just as well)

1/3 cup fresh thyme leaves

60mL (2 fl oz) balsamic vinegar

60g (2 oz) pecorino cheese finely grated

1 lemon (you will only be using the rind)

When you are around 40 mins from serving, put a large put of salted water on the stovetop to boil. When the water is boiling, cook the gnocchi in batches for about 3 minutes, until they float to the surface of the water. Drain the cooked gnocchi well and put to one side, trying to keep it warm. Clean and slice up the mushrooms (you don’t need to slice them finely). The next step will include frying lots of things together – you want the mushrooms to brown a bit, but if you have too much piled up in a frying pan it will be inclined to sweat. So, if you have two frying pans, I would actually try to make this divided between the two so that everything gets brown and slightly crisp – or do it in batches. Place the butter in a frying pan (or divide between two) and melt on medium heat. Add the mushrooms  and cook for 5 or so minutes (cooking time will vary a little depending on what mushrooms you use) until they brown a little. Add the gnocchi and thyme (make sure you don’t get water in the frying pan from boiling the gnocchi) and fry for another 5 minutes until everything is browned. Add the vinegar, and cook for another 1 minute.

When serving, sprinkle with pecorino, and finely grate a little lemon zest over the top. (The lemon zest not only gives a wonderful tart flavour, but adds a little colour).

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