Chestnuts, the first time. 54 years old. A Saturday morning in September 2008, beside Lago Maggiore. Local volunteer firefighters roasting chestnuts as a fund-raising activity.
The second photo has nothing to do with the chestnuts. No, I just wanted to show off about our hotel and the al fresco terrace where we sat to have our morning espresso.
Six years later, we have made our third dish of 2014 with chestnuts grown in the north-east of Victoria, purchased at Toscano’s and roasted at home
This began as another Patrizia Simone recipe that we have modified substantially to suit our kitchen, our expertise and our palates. It is fiddly work but it produces a very satisfying dish, rich in flavour and texture, best served as an entrée for four persons.
bunch of spinach, trimmed and washed
350g fresh ricotta (buy this from a good deli, don’t use a tub of ricotta)
70g peeled roasted chestnuts
small handful of parsley, finely chopped
salt and pepper
12 sage leaves (or more, depending on their size and your palate)
40g peeled roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
juice and finely grated zest of ½ a large lemon
50ml cooking cream
- Simmer the spinach leaves in salted water for about 5 minutes and drain. When it has cooled, squeeze out excess moisture and chop it. (Depending on the quality of the bunch, you might not need to use all of the spinach; we used 2/3 of a good bunch.)
- Put the ricotta in a large bowl and break it up with a fork. Crumble the chestnuts, by knife or hand, and add them to the ricotta. Add the spinach, eggs, pecorino and parsley and work the mixture with a fork until well combined, adding just a little seasoning along the way.
- Make quenelles of gnocchi using two dessertspoons and put onto a plate.
- To cook the gnocchi, we use a large dish of Corning ware that has its own grill rack; you will need your own equivalent. We cover the rack with baking paper and place the gnocchi on the baking paper; there is room for all of them. The oven is heated to about 165C, we pour boiling water into the dish up to 4-5cm and place the dish on the top shelf of the fan-forced oven. This method cooks the gnocchi in about 20 minutes, mainly by steam, with a little browning on the top. Reduce the heat if the gnocchi starts to brown early on and test for cooking progress by sampling a piece after 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, to make the sauce, melt the butter in a large, heavy-based non-stick pan over medium heat. When the butter is foaming, add the sage leaves and gently toss them until they are crisp. Remove the sage and reserve.
- Add the hazelnuts to the pan and stir them for a minute then add the lemon juice and zest. Over low heat, add the cream and stir; the sauce does not need to be runny or voluminous, as the gnocchi will be moist and creamy. Add the gnocchi and toss gently for a couple of minutes. (Ideally, the gnocchi will have been removed from the oven just prior to this step and still be quite warm.)
- Divide gnocchi and sauce between four warm bowls and sprinkle with the sage leaves.