I was reading an article today about comfort food in which several famous people were asked to write a little about what the notion of food as comfort means to them – and indeed which foods they find comforting.
Roast chicken and pies are typically the sorts of food that was listed, along with bacon sandwiches, chip butties, and takeaway junk. But sushi, miso vegetables with rice and marshmallow-baked yams also featured.
The general consensus seemed to be that your perfect comfort food, that meal you eat that’s like a soothing, reassuring hug, is inextricably linked to memories from your youth. Things your mum cooked you. But one writer noted that what makes a food so perfectly comforting Is the circumstances in which you are eating it.
Which brings me to today’s recipe. This for me is the best and perfect comfort food, ever so needed today, and just brilliantly well suited to my needs and desires at this moment.
To explain – I’ve just gotten home from a nice weekend in Manchester with friends. As lovely as it was to go up and see them, go out and drink far too many glasses of prosecco and dance until the early hours, this excursion came after one of the worst working weeks of my life. The one prior to that was also pretty testing, and the one to come will, I fear, break me. I’m utterly exhausted.
To most, the idea of making gnocchi after a couple of weeks like this might seem mad, but not to me. I find cooking enjoyable and soothing (clearly, otherwise I wouldn’t write a food blog!) and haven’t eaten a single meal at home for over a week (bought meals at my desk is not my idea of fun) and as such was craving some time in my kitchen. I didn’t want meat as I have eaten a fair amount this weekend but really craved strong cheese – specifically in a white sauce setting, which always reminds me of home. But I also wanted vegetables. For me, no meal is complete without vegetables, even comfort food. So spinach, that versatile flavour vehicle, entered the arena. And, surely, no comfort dinner is without carb? Pasta is kind of too refined. I wanted bloated little potato gnocchi – easy to make, kind of bland in a good way and chunky enough to fill you up on a cold night.
So this for me was the most comforting, perfect dinner for tonight. Spinach gnocchi with rich (but not too rich – no cream thanks) Stilton sauce with leeks and garlicky spinach on top. Soft and satisfying.
I’ve made gnocchi only once before this, last weekend, and followed a recipe in Home Made by Yvette van Boven. Her recipe was good in taste but gave slightly sloppy looking dumplings. I consulted a recipe in the Polpo cookbook, plus Felicity Cloake’s ‘How to cook the perfect xxx’ series on the Guardian to check ratios. It seems there’s a sort of non-precise art to getting them right, and recipes vary a great deal. I think the below recipe is a pretty good starting point after a very successful attempt, tweaking the first recipe I tried.
You will need:
For the gnocchi:
1 medium egg, beaten (or substitute 1/2 of this for 50g spinach that’s been wilted and blitzed to a paste)
150g pasta 00 flour, plus extra as needed
For the sauce:
1 tbspn butter
1 tbspn plain flour
1 spring rosemary, leaves finely chopped
1 bay leaf
A grating of nutmeg
100g Stilton cheese (approx – depends on the strength of your cheese and how cheesy you like it!)
For the spinach:
150g spinach leaves
1 small leek, chopped
1-2 garlic cloves
Knob of butter
1 – Start by putting your potatoes whole into a large pot of boiling water; cook til soft then peel the skins as soon as you can without burning your hands
2 – Set aside the potato to cool
3 – Meanwhile make your sauce by heating the butter in a pan and adding the flour once melted and bubbling; cook for a few minutes before gradually whisking in the milk and adding the bay leaf
4 – Gently simmer the milk until it thickens then remove from the heat, season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and stir in the cheese; set aside
5 – Now you should prepare the spinach; melt the knob Of butter in a frying pan and add the chopped leek and then the garlic and spinach once softened
6 – Cook until the spinach had just wilted, season and set aside
7 – Now back to the gnocchi; mash the cooled potato very well and mix with the egg and 150g flour and the blended spinach if using (adjusting amount of egg used to 1/2 the quantity if so)
8 – Use your hands to form into a dough, adding a little extra flour (no more than 50g) if it’s too sticky; roll the dough into sausages and cut into 1-2cm squares
9 – Once formed, through the gnocchi into a large pan of boiling salted water and cook for a minute or so until the gnocchi float to the top; meanwhile reheat your sauce and vegetables
10 – Drain the gnocchi, reserving a little water in the pan, and stir in the cheese sauce; serve immediately topped with the spinach and lots of black pepper