I spent most of last week working as a food stylist on set, filming Season 2 of Anne’s Kitchen – I say that with a casual nonchalance that I hope gives you the impression that I am ‘oh-so-very-cool’. Said casual nonchalance in no way reflects the little voice inside my head which, as I write this, squeals with over-excitement.
One of the recipes that we were shooting was a dish of baked dumplings, topped with fried onions and melting gruyère. Seriously good. As in, seriously, had me revise my long held position on dumplings as a stodgy and bland food, good. And now has me questioning why exactly it is that we’re not all eating dumplings for lunch and dinner pretty much every day.
For what it’s worth – I have decided that it’s a branding issue. The name ‘dumpling’ just says ‘stodgy’. There’s no getting round it. In a you-are-what-you-eat kind of a world, no one wants to be a dumpling.
The Italians, of course, have got this one sorted: they’ve branded their dumplings – they call them gnocchi and make them out of potato flour – as a type pasta. Cunning. They serve them, cooked like pasta, often with a smooth tomato sauce, drizzle of olive oil and a mountain of freshly grated parmesan. Or with a pumpkin purée, melted butter and pan fried sage.
Post dumpling epiphany, I am now revisiting how I eat gnocchi in a major way. So, this weekend I tried something new. I boiled them for a few minutes, as I would normally, but then I tossed them in the oven with a creamy mascarpone sauce. I had some leftover stilton in the fridge, and I was on a creative live-on-the-edge roll, so I added that too. Once blue cheese was in the mix, I needed a few walnuts. You can’t have blue cheese without walnuts – one of the ten cooking commandments that are set in stone somewhere just south of Mt Sinai. And then, to assuage my guilt at all the cheese and all the starch, I tossed in a handful of baby leaf spinach – just a touch of token greens. Suddenly I had myself a complete, one-dish-wonder meal. Topped the whole lot with breadcrumbs and a sprinkling of parmesan, put it in the oven until enticingly crispy – and just golden on top. Voilà: dumpling delicious. Shall we call it a ‘gnocchi gratin’?
- 900g - 1kg gnocchi
- 400g mascarpone
- 100ml milk
- 150g stilton
- 100g fresh baby leaf spinach
- 100g chopped walnuts
- 4 heaped tbsps breadcrumbs
- 3 heaped tbsps grated parmesan
- Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Fill a saucepan with water, add a pinch of salt and bring to the boil. When the water is galloping, add the gnocchi and leave them to cook. When the float to the top, they're done. Meanwhile turn to your sauce, spoon the mascarpone into a deep pan, then crumble in the stilton and pour over the milk; set on a medium heat and stir occasionally until you have a creamy sauce. When the gnocchi are ready, drain the water and toss the pasta into an ovenproof dish, toss the spinach and the walnuts on top of the pasta and then pour the cheese sauce. Use a spoon - or your hands - to mix the sauce in well, so that all the gnocchi are soaked in creamy cheese. Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs and the parmesan and put the dish in the oven for 15-20 mins or until the top is crisp and golden.