Growing up I often ate potato gnocchi. My mamma made the best potato gnocchi and they were better than the ones that anyone else made. They melted in your mouth. It was always a special occasion when she made them as it was so much work – my sister and I would help by rolling them and curling them on a fork so that they would pick up more sugo when you were eating them. Lately I have been making gnocchi with different ingredients, such as with ricotta and last night I tried to make them with eggplant.
I love the taste of eggplants (also known as aubergine and called melanzane in italian). There are so many different shapes, sizes and colours – purple, black or stripy. They are very wet vegetables – in fact most recipes require that they are salted and drained prior to cooking (to allow the liquid to drain off). In last month’s Gourmet Traveller magazine (the Italian issue), there was a recipe for eggplant and potato gnocchi. It sounded delicious so I had to try – and I was intrigued by the taste and the concept.
I tried to followed the recipe in the magazine but I had to change it to get the consistency right – everything stuck to the bench when I was trying to incorporate the flour. The eggplant was so wet that I needed almost double flour to what the recipe called for. It ended up being a rather messy affair but it was absolutely worth the effort! The gnocchi were deliciously tender with a subtle taste of eggplant that made them a bit more complex than the regular potato ones. Mark and I ate them with burnt butter with crispy sage leaves and shavings of parmigiano. Serve this dish with a good pinot nero (otherwise called Pinot Noir). Buon appetito!
Eggplant and potato gnocchi
500g Dutch cream potatoes (2 large)
450g eggplant (1 large)
225 – 250g plain flour
50g parmigiano, grated
100g butter, unsalted
sage leaves, handful
Extra parmigiano, shaved, to serve
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees celsius. Cut your eggplant in half lengthways and score the cut surface in a criss-cross pattern. Place on a baking tray with the eggplant cut side up and cook for 40-50 minutes until the flesh is soft and can be scooped away from the skin with a spoon.
Wash the skin of the potatoes and place them in a pot of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer with the lid on until the potato is cooked (about 40 minutes – test it with a fork). Pass the cooked potatoes through a potato ricer (remove the skin if it is not removed by the ricer) so they are finely mashed. Set the potato aside in a large mixing bowl. When the eggplant is cooked, remove it from the oven and spoon out the soft flesh and place it into a strainer. Press the eggplant to remove as much water as you can. There will be some harder bits left from where the top of the eggplant has cooked in the oven – I left this to add a bit of texture. Add the eggplant to the bowl with the potatoes. Wait for the vegetables to cool before proceeding.
Add an egg, the parmigiano and a good pinch of salt to the bowl of mashed cooked vegetables. Add about 100g of the flour to the mixture and stir with a wooden spoon until it is mixed in. Place half of the remaining flour on your work board (I have a stone kitchen bench so I worked directly on that) and place the vegetable mixture on top of this. Incorporate the flour on the bench into the mixture folding it onto itself. It will still be fairly wet.
Take out a handful of the mixture and place it onto a floured surface. Make long thin rolls about 1 cm wide. Cut the rolls into 1 cm pieces with a sharp knife and place on a floured surface. Repeat with remaining mixture until you have made dozens of tiny gnocchi. Dust with a bit more flour if needed.
To cook, bring a large pot of water to the boil. Add the gnocchi one at a time to the boiling water and cook until they rise to the surface (2 or 3 minutes). You will need to cook the quantity of gnocchi in this recipe in two batches or use two pots of water. Remove the cooked gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon and place on serving plates.
For the burnt sage butter, place the butter in a small frying pan on medium heat. When the butter has melted add the sage leaves. Keep swirling the ingredients of the pan around and remove from the heat after the butter starts bubbling and turning slightly brown (4 to 5 minutes). The sage leaves should be crispy by then. Add salt and pepper to taste. Spoon the burnt butter onto the gnocchi making sure the sage leaves are evenly distributed between the plates. Scatter shaved parmigiano.