The gnocchi experimentation:
Gnocchi became a bit of a craze last year during lockdown. Whilst I was busy growing my own organic veg and cutting out processed and refined ingredients left right and center, I kinda missed out. Eventually I found the time to try a gnocchi recipe and as I was having a ‘cheat day’ and really craving a cheesy hit I decided to go for a quick and simple recipe based on macaroni cheese, a lovely rich cheese sauce, lots of sharp cheddar on top and of course the macaroni was replaced with an equal weight of gnocchi.
My mistake was thinking that just because gnocchi is found in the pasta aisle, it’s to be served like pasta. WRONG! Whilst I did enjoy my dish to start with, half way through it was getting tiresome. The chewy starchiness of the gnocchi was becoming bland and lackluster. I quickly realized that gnocchi needed a different approach, whilst it’s a perfectly enjoyable ingredient, it’s not to be the sole star of the show. I needed to do more research into what gnocchi actually is in order to come up with a much better gnocchi recipe. P.S. Don’t forget to subscribe and follow me on socials so that you never miss any of my healthy recipes for weight loss.
So what actually is gnocchi?
“Gnocchi are a varied family of dumpling in Italian cuisine. They are made of small lumps of dough composed of semolina, ordinary wheat flour, egg, cheese, potato, breadcrumbs, cornmeal or similar ingredients, and possibly including herbs, vegetables, and other ingredients.” According to Wikipedia. Now whilst my shop bought gnocchi doesn’t contain cheese or vegetables i was not surprised to hear it contains potato. My first description of gnocchi was that its kinda like a cross between pasta and instant mashed potato. If you were ever served instant mash or ‘Smash’ as a kid in the UK you’ll know what I mean. Now that I’ve seen it described as a dumpling I can agree, that if anything, it’s most like a dumpling.
This recipe is dairy free when made with plant based milk.
So with that in mind I started treating it less like pasta and more like a mini dumpling. I wasn’t about to see gnocchi floating around a beef stew though. I chose other ingredients to pair it with and decided on chicken, spinach and some sun dried tomatoes along with a light creamy sauce. That’s how I came up with a really good gnocchi recipe.
Step 1: Preparing the ingredients
Firstly we need to prepare a few ingredients ready for cooking. Weigh out 150g of gnocchi and leave to one side. Dice 200g of raw chicken breast into small cubes and again leave to one side. If, like me, you are using frozen spinach then defrost your 4 spinach cubes in a microwave, if you’re using fresh, wilt your spinach down using an amount that would equal just over ½ a cup of cooked spinach. Next you need to mix up your sauce ingredients, combine 125ml of chicken stock, 30ml of milk and 1 teaspoon of cornflour before mixing well. You may need to stir this again before adding to the recipe as corn flour tends to settle in the bottom.
Step 2: Brown the chicken
Now we’re ready to start cooking. Warm up a frying pan or wok to a medium heat. I personally choose not to use oil but if you do, then you can add a small amount here. Add your diced chicken and brown all over. This should take roughly 3-5 minutes. Whilst this is cooking, cut up 4 sun dried tomatoes into small pieces and crush one garlic clove. When the chicken is cooked add these and cook for a further minute.
Step 3: Add the gnocchi
Add the gnocchi and the spinach and stir well. Cook the gnocchi until it has a crispy coating. I think getting the outside of the gnocchi crispy is a really essential step as otherwise the slightly chewy doughiness of the gnocchi can come off as under cooked and a crispy edge really offsets this. This should take around 15 minutes, don’t forget to stir regularly or your ingredients will stick.
Step 4: Create the sauce
Add your liquid ingredients, stirring first to move the corn flour if necessary and leave to reduce, stirring regularly. The sauce should be light and should be ready within 5-10 minutes. Serve in a pasta bowl. This recipe creates 1 portion so if you are feeding friends and family don’t forget to increase the ingredients.
1. Pesto Perfection
Elevate the flavors with a spoonful of basil pesto. Stir in the pesto just before adding the sauce, adding a burst of fresh and aromatic herbaceousness to the dish.
2. Mediterranean Magic
Infuse a Mediterranean twist by adding chopped Kalamata olives, artichoke hearts, and crumbled feta cheese. The combination of these ingredients brings a savory and tangy richness to the gnocchi.
3. Creamy Spinach Dream
Transform the dish into a creamy spinach delight by stirring in a bit of cream or Greek yogurt along with a handful of fresh spinach. This variation adds a velvety texture and a pop of vibrant green color.
4. Lemon Garlic Bliss
Enhance the dish with a zesty kick by adding lemon zest and a squeeze of lemon juice. This variation brightens up the flavors and adds a refreshing citrusy element.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
What other proteins can I use instead of chicken?
Feel free to experiment with different proteins such as shrimp, diced sausage, or tofu for a vegetarian option. Adjust the cooking time based on your protein choice.
Can I make this dish ahead of time?
While the gnocchi is best enjoyed fresh, you can prepare the sauce and ingredients ahead of time. Cook the gnocchi and assemble the dish just before serving to retain its texture.
Are there alternatives to cornflour for thickening?
Yes, you can use arrowroot powder or potato starch as alternatives to cornflour for thickening the sauce. Use them in the same quantity as you would cornflour.
What can I serve as a side with this gnocchi dish?
Serve this gnocchi with a side of garlic bread, a simple salad, or roasted vegetables for a well-rounded and satisfying meal.
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