Mark and I went to visit friends Paolo and Verdi a few days ago, so they could help us plan the “central Italy” part of our trip in March. They are both from Umbria and were pretty excited to show us books about their beautiful home land and give us tips on where we might go for day excursions and meals. We talked about Spoleto, Orvieto, Spello and other wonderful places we plan to visit. Verdi made us a delicious Umbrian-style dinner, which we ate in their tiny backyard. There was a simply enormous sage plant in the corner of the yard and I asked Verdi what she uses it for. She told me that she makes a sage pesto with it, using walnuts rather than pine nuts. What a brilliant idea! Imagine sage pesto with potato gnocchi – I couldn’t wait to try it. Since mamma also has an enormous sage plant in her garden, I went over the following day, to pick several leafy branches.
The best thing about pesto is that you can make pretty much anything into a pesto. You start with the predominant taste, often a leafy green or herb like rocket, mint or basil. Then you add a nut, like pine nuts, almonds or walnuts. Add olive oil, maybe some garlic and a salty hard cheese like pecorino and hey presto, after a blitz with a food processor (or the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle), you have a jar of pesto.
The taste of sage is fairly strong, so for the sage pesto, I had to balance the ingredients carefully to make sure it wasn’t overpowering. I included a few more things than what Verdi had suggested: almonds and lemon zest (which I add to practically everything as it lifts and balances the taste of whatever you add it to. However you could leave this out if you are not partial to lemons). I was more than happy with the result.
I made some gnocchi with a couple of Desiree potatoes I had in the pantry and stirred through the pesto, scattered on some crispy sage leaves (quickly fried in olive oil) , extra parmigiano and drizzled on a bit more extra-virgin olive oil. Just lovely and the perfect dinner with a glass of Nebbiolo. The pesto would taste equally nice on some orecchiette pasta or rigatoni.
And now for the REALLY exciting news: as I had mentioned in my first blog post in 2015, I will be running cooking classes this year, both in my home in North Fitzroy and at Prospect Cottage in Chewton near Castlemaine. I am super excited to announce the launch of classes in North Fitzroy and I will be starting off with a gnocchi class.
We will be making regular potato gnocchi, a gluten free version and ricotta gnocchi, plus some matching sauces. We will also be making less traditional gnocchi with beetroot. After preparing the gnocchi, we will be sharing lunch with a glass of wine. Classes are on Saturdays and will be a whole lot of fun! I can’t wait. The gnocchi class will be held in early May, a few weeks after my return from Italy, so I may even get out some of my holiday snaps! Click HERE for more details. There will be several more classes through the year, which I will write more about closer to the time. I hope to see you there!
10g sage leaves, stalk and spine removed and washed Place all the sage leaves, nuts, cheese, garlic and lemon zest (if using) in a small food processor and process for about a minute until a nuts are ground. Add the olive oil, about 1/8 cup at a time until the desired consistency is reached. It should be fairly runny so you can easily mix it in pasta or gnocchi or on bread. Place it in a clean glass jar, cover with more olive oil and store in the fridge for up to a week.
Pesto con salvia e noci - sage and walnut pesto
20g parmesan (or pecorino) cheese, grated
1 clove garlic, chopped
zest of 1/2 lemon (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 – 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
10g sage leaves, stalk and spine removed and washed
Place all the sage leaves, nuts, cheese, garlic and lemon zest (if using) in a small food processor and process for about a minute until a nuts are ground. Add the olive oil, about 1/8 cup at a time until the desired consistency is reached. It should be fairly runny so you can easily mix it in pasta or gnocchi or on bread. Place it in a clean glass jar, cover with more olive oil and store in the fridge for up to a week.