Aubergine-wrapped gnocchi with sage butter

Aubergines are a gift to all vegetarians. I eat mainly vegetarian and have no qualms or prejudices, but seriously, nothing beats a good sea bass or roast beef fillet. Normally it is quite hard to find great and I mean GREAT vegetarian dishes but now that Ottolenghi has emerged it seems that we are spoilt for choice. I have noticed that Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi love using aubergines in their recipes. This is a fabulous thing as everyone loves a good aubergine. Aubergines are great. They are especially tasty when drenched in butter or soaked up with oil. Mmm oil. Ottolenghi: The Cookbook really should have been included in the Observer Food Monthly’s 50 best cookbooks of all time issue (Aug 2010). The list, although it included many great cookbooks, didn’t seem as comprehensive as it could have been. Madhur Jaffrey has so many interesting and flavourful cookbooks, and the one and only included was her An Invitation to Indian Cookery, when I think the Ultimate Curry Bible is her best one yet—her cooking isn’t solely Indian cookery. Everyone I am sure will have their two cents to add about what was left out, but it was a really interesting read and OFM did pull out some obscure cookbooks and opened my eyes to ones I hadn’t thought to look at.

Since recently moving to the ‘big smoke’ of London, I thought it was a necessity that we visit the flagship Ottolenghi based in Islington. As to be expected, the place was stunning: huge colourful meringues and beautifully tasty apple maple cakes on display. I was drooling as soon as I stepped in the door. I had to order the famous beef fillet—and was an instant convert, especially so because I love my red meat on the rare side. I also had an amazing samphire and baby new potatoes salad that was coated in extra virgin olive oil and some sumac. Of course I had to get the roasted aubergine salad which was mixed with tahini … mmm it was a mighty good day that day.

Aubergine-wrapped gnocchi takes a bit of planning in advance. I (at times regretfully) never seem to read the recipes through before starting them. I always find something to make, post-it note it then compile my market list of what I need to buy for it. The reading of the recipe is done when I am already in the kitchen, an hour before I hope to eat dinner. For this dish that was a bit of a shame as we didn’t get dinner till really really late. The recipe should be started ideally the night before but 4 hours in advance will do. The thing I found about the dish is that if you don’t slice the aubergine slices uniformly and neatly the end result won’t look so appetising! But it will always taste absolutely fabulous.

Aubergine-wrapped gnocchi with sage butter

1 small to medium aubergine

4 Tablespoons olive oil

20g unsalted butter melted

15g Parmesan cheese, grated

Ricotta gnocchi

30g pine nuts

250g ricotta cheese

2 free-range egg yolks

35g plain flour

40g Parmesan cheese, grated

1 Tablespoon chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon chopped basil

1/4 teaspoons grated nutmeg

salt and pepper

Sage butter

90g unsalted butter

20 sage leaves

pinch of salt

1/2 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Dry roast the pine nuts till golden in colour. Transfer to a bowl and add ricotta, egg yolks, flour, parmesan, herbs, nutmeg and salt and pepper. Stir well and cover, refrigerate for at least 4 hours or overnight.

2. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Cut the aubergine lengthways into 5mm-thick slices. Lay on to a baking tray and brush with oil. Roast in the oven for 15-20 mins or until the aubergine is tender and golden. You could always chargrill them instead.

3. Shape gnocchi and roll into 8 or 12 long balls. Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and drop a few dumplings in at a time. When they rise to the surface this means they are done, take them out and drain on kitchen paper, then brush them with the melted butter.

4. When the gnocchi has cooled down, wrap the aubergine piece around one and do the same with all other gnocchis. Place them into a greased oven dish and sprinkle with Parmesan. Place them into the oven 10 mins before serving time giving them about 10 minutes in the oven to heat through.

5. To make the sage butter, put the butter into a pan over a moderate heat. Simmer for a few minutes until the butter turns a light golden brown, remove from heat and immediately add the sage, salt, lemon juice. Return the pan to the heat, giving it a few seconds to cook lightly.

Serve gnocchi with the sage butter drizzled on top.

Recipe from Ottolenghi: The Cookbook (Ebury Press).

Pumpkin gnocchi with sage butter

I think one of the nicest things would have to be pillowy lumps of gnocchi smothered in sage butter. What I love about this recipe is that pumpkin is included, one of my many loves. I had never tried Stephanie Alexander recipes before this, and once I had made this simple and delicious dish I became a Stephanie convert. I especially love how you can experiment with the kinds of pumpkin or squash that you can use for this and you can get a variety of different flavours. I used onion squash and it was just delicious. Onion squash has a really nice perfectly smooth texture, brightness in colour and intense sweetness along with a nuttiness which I think it works well here. Although a lot of gnocchi recipes say to boil the pumpkin, I prefer roasting it covered with some foil.

Pumpkin (or onion squash) gnocchi with sage butter sauce

250g potatoes (desiree)

300g pumpkin, butternut or onion squash (any dry-flesh variety)

160g flour, plus extra for dusting

2 Tablespoons grated parmasan

20 large sage leaves

150g butter

sea salt and black pepper

Preheat the oven to 190°C. Peel the potatoes, cut into chunks then place into a saucepan with some salt, cold water, and cover generously. Bring to the boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Once they are tender, drain and set aside. Peel and deseed the pumpkin and weigh to ensure you have 250g cut into bite-sized chunks. Place on a baking tray and drizzle with a small amount of olive oil. Sprinkle over a few sage leaves. Cover loosely with tin foil and bake in the oven for about an hour or until the pumpkin is soft and slightly browned at the edges.

Using a potato ricer, add the pumpkin and potato and squash through into a bowl. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and add some pepper. Sieve most of the flour over the vegetable mound and quickly but lightly combine. Knead briefly till the dough is smooth, using more flour if necessary. Be careful not to over knead because this will kill the pillow-like nature of your gnocchi. Cut the dough into four pieces and with your fingers, roll each into a sausage 2cm-3cm wide. Cut each ‘sausage’ into pieces 2cm long and place on a floured baking tray. Fill a large pan with water and a teaspoon of salt. Bring to the boil and drop in as man gnocchi as will fit in a layer. Adjust the heat to a simmer. When the gnocchi rises to the surface (after 3 minutes), lift out with a slotted spoon and place into a warmed serving dish. Return to the oven to keep warm after each batch of gnocchi.

To make the butter sauce, add butter to a non-stick frying pan and fry the sage leaves till crisp. Check the butter has become a medium-brown colour and spoon over the gnocchi. Serve with parmesan grated over the top.

This recipe was adapted from ‘Pumpkin gnocchi with sage-butter sauce’ published in The Independent, 28 August 2008.