Sweet Potato & Sage Roman Gnocchi

gnocchi romaine

Sweet potato & sage gnocchi (Roman style)

As some of you may know, I’m married to a Frenchman but whether he’s a true Frenchman can be a bit of a debate.  He’s Corsican.  Although the island of Corsica officially belongs to France, their cuisine is more Italian in spirit.  More on that subject later…  In our house, we tend to eat a lot of pasta.  The children LOVE to get covered in flour making homemade tagliatelle: I prefer that the flour coats the pasta. 😉

This has to be another of my favourite Italian-style dishes.  We all know gnocchi as the round little potato dumplings but this version is baked in the oven, Roman-style. I found this recipe for Baked Butternut Squash Gnocchi by Jean-Christophe Novelli in a magazine ages ago and since then I’ve been playing around with it, as it’s so versatile:  in place of the butternut squash I’ve used pumpkin, parsnips and here I’ve used sweet potato.  They all work wonderfully.

In summer I’ve even tried this with roasted red peppers (skins removed.) It completely transforms this dish.  Serve it as bright red gnocchi with fish for a real treat.  Don’t forget you can also chop and change the herbs – with lemon thyme, basil and rosemary, depending on your accompaniment.

Serve this as a starter or a main course, top with some good melting cheese and finish off under the grill.  Serve with a rocket salad tossed in olive oil, balsamic vinegar and toasted pine nuts.  You could use polenta instead of the semolina but I personally find the semolina is lighter.   Use wholemeal semolina, if you’re wanting to be particularly healthy.  I love serving this as a side dish (without the cheese topping) to accompany saltimbocca or roast chicken.

Serves 4 people as a main dish or 8 as a side dish or starter.
Adapted from a recipe by Jean-Christophe Novelli

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes + 40 minutes

2 sweet potatoes (about 550g), peeled & chopped
3 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
100g semolina
50g  Parmesan cheese, grated (or grana padano)
65g butter, softened
3 large organic eggs
125ml carton crème fraîche
Fontina, gorgonzola or taleggio (good melting cheeses)

  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C.
  2. Throw the sweet potato, garlic and sage in a roasting tin.  Cover with foil and roast for 45 minutes. There’s no need to use oil if you cover with the foil.

    No need for oil since roast covered in foil 

  3. Whiz the potato, garlic and sage in a food processor until smooth.  Transfer to a bowl and add all the other ingredients.  Season to taste.
  4. Spread the mixture in a brownie tin lined with baking paper, cover with foil and bake for 40 minutes (I use the roasting option on the oven).

    Spread the mixture in a brownie tin

  5. Cool in the tin then cut into squares, triangles or circles (circles are pretty but I prefer the squares as there’s no waste.)
  6. If serving as a main vegetarian dish or a starter, put the slices on a baking tray.  Cover with the cheese of your choice and grill until melted.
  7. We ate this at home thinking of Manuela’s event for the 150 years of the Unification of Italy at Manu’s Menu on 17 March but I didn’t get around to writing it up on the site.  Sorry, Manu!  Mieux vaut tard que jamais, as they say here (better late than never) 😉

roman gnocchi side dish

Fish, Chorizo and Black Pudding

We just came back from Scotland yesterday morning.  I’m suddenly trying to return to grips with an azerty keyboard after 10 days of qwerty!  What a wonderful time, full of precious moments catching up with family around the table.   I also ended up being pretty emotional during a visit to my school, George Watson’s College, after 25 years (gosh, that hurts!) It was wonderful to catch up with old friends and to connect again.  I’m hoping that the budding cooks in Home Economics will now be inspired to make a special burgundy “Ex Corde Caritas” (love from the heart) macaron to match their school uniforms and motto.  I think teaching macarons in schools should be compulsory, don’t you? 🙂

We just made it back in time for Antoine’s birthday.  Poor thing has been living on dinners-for-one from our freezer store, Picard, while we were away.  So with a suitcase stocked with one of his favourite’s, Stornoway Black Pudding (Boudin Noir or Blood Pudding) and having stumbled across this wee street recently, I knew this was “a sign” and so decided to work around this pudding for a quick and easy birthday dinner.

Passage Boudin Paris

My family adore black pudding (Stornoway is the best from Scotland, bien sûr) served traditionally as part of a HUGE Scottish breakfast along with potato scones, bacon and eggs.  The fully monty.  In France, however, we just don’t do that for breakfast.  Instead, we sip from large bowls of coffee or hot chocolate along with croissants or homemade brioche and jam.  If we want to be totally French about serving black pudding, serve it as part of a main dish.

Following a quick jaunt to the market and taking our pick from the seasonal produce on display, it didn’t take long to come up with the menu.  My children and I discovered a new breed of aubergine, lighter and rounder from Italy, the Violette de Florence.

Eggplant Violette de Florence

Aubergine Violette de Florence

Following numerous inspirational blog posts from Chef Dennis, I decided we really need to eat more fish.  It’s amazing how I’ve got out of the habit of eating good old healthy fish.  Can you imagine?  Shame on me, especially since my Grandpa was a fishmonger, too!

One of his favourites was Ling:  it’s meaty with very few bones and not too expensive, either.  The French call it Julienne and at the market it was the first time I’d seen it translated simply as Lingue.

Ling

Lingue or Ling at the market

I already saw the mix of Boudin Noir with Sea Bass in a restaurant last year and so decided to try my hand at making a quick version of this at home. So simple:  I sliced the aubergines, sprinkling them well with salt to get rid of excess water, then rinsed and patted them dry after a few minutes.  A quick flash fry on the griddle pan on each side, then placed them in foil with a clove of garlic and baked them in the oven for 20 minutes while I prepared a Black Pudding Sauce.

To make up the chorizo chips or “scales” of the fish, I simply took extra thin pre-sliced chorizo and dry-fried them in a pan for a few seconds on each side then placed them on kitchen roll to take out the excess fat.  They crisp up once cool:  it’s magic!  Then cooked the fish for a couple of minutes on each side brushed with olive oil in a frying pan.

ling chorizo

So in the space of 30 minutes I had my main prepared:  just needed to place the garlic aubergine on a serving plate, top with the fish then chorizo chips and serve with the black pudding sauce – and extra black pudding since we were feeling greedy!

Antoine found the perfect partner and served it with a bottle of  Savigny-les-Beaune from Burgundy.  He’s good: it needed a light fruity red to cope with the strong flavours.  What nectar!

ling fish fillet with chorizo and black pudding (blood sausage)

And for a quick birthday pudding/dessert? I didn’t have time to make his favourite chocolate fondant birthday cake, so we’ll leave that for this weekend since it needs to mature for at least 24 hours.  Instead, I reached for my macaron bank in the freezer.  This is just so handy to have and for a speedy simple dessert took out some giant macaron shells to serve as a base.

Caramel au beurre salé

I topped it with carmelised apples, homemade caramel ice-cream and dribbled over some warmed salted caramel sauce (again, this was a handy stock in the fridge since had made it a couple of weeks’ ago).  You can find the gluten-free recipe, Giant Macaron Tatin Style, on page 113 of the book.

And needless to say, we enjoyed that with a wee glass of chilled Rivesaltes Ambré by Monsieur Cazes for a glorious sticky finish.  Hm.  Not the easiest of mornings to get up today but I’ll just have to make more caramel desserts this weekend, now that the bottle is opened.  As they say here, Quand le vin est tiré, il faut le boire…

Pigeon with Whisky, Ginger and Apricots

Whisky Pigeon

Pigeon with Whisky, Ginger & Apricots

This is a quick and easy dish for entertaining. First, find a pigeon!  It’s easy to find here at our French markets but now I appreciate that it’s not plain sailing to find it perhaps where you live.

I tend to use apricots in this dish but when in season, this is delicious served with roasted figs.  I normally get the butcher to prepare the pigeon and ensure that there are no feathers left on it.  The filets or suprèmes are beautifully tender and should still be pink in the middle.  The photo is terrible here, I apologise.  But when serving and juggling with a camera, I’m not used to doing this like a pro!  Rest assured that the taste is absolutely delicious …

Preparation Time: 20 minutes
Cooking Time: 45 minutes

2 pigeons (prepared by your butcher)
20g butter
1 tbsp fresh ginger, grated
1 tbsp honey
100ml Whisky
100ml mango juice (or apple juice)
12 dried apricots, halved
sprig of thyme

Pigeon
1 With a sharp knife, cut off the thighs then the wings.  Extract the filets (suprèmes) by cutting at the middle on either side of the bone, letting the knife feel the bone.  Keep the skin on.  You will have 4 filets for 2 pigeons.  Chill in cling film until needed.

2 In a heavy lidded casserole dish, heat the butter and quickly stir in the ginger until golden.  Add the honey, thighs, wings and carcasses for about 2-3 minutes until golden and sealed in the glaze.

3 Add the Whisky, mango juice, apricots and thyme.  Cover and simmer gently for 35 minutes.  Take out the carcasses, leaving the wings and thighs in the reduced sauce.

4 10 minutes before serving, warm the plates.  Season the pigeon filets then fry skin-side down for 2-3 minutes in a knob of butter and dash of olive oil.  Turn over and fry for another 2 minutes then turn skin side down for one more minute.  Leave to rest in the pan for 2 minutes as you prepare the rest.

Serve with a mellow red, such as Crozes Hermitage and a good French baguette.  Here I’ve served the pigeon with sweet potato chips (French Fries).

See related blog post: Flaming Pigeon for Another Romantic Meal.