Risotto with Nettles, the memoir of Anna del Conte, was leant to me by a friend. After reading of her love not only of food, but of swimming, all I needed to do was to learn that her loves extended to dogs for her interests to match mine. I turned the page, and sure enough, there was my affirmation that my main interests were paralled by hers. I hasten to add that Anna is more high brow than I am and her interests extend widely beyond mine, but food, swimming and dogs were enough to prompt my writing to her.
I knew that Anna lived in Dorset; I did not know that she lived in the adjacent hamlet, just over a mile away. Connections with my Italian godmother, kitchen suppers with my warm and effervescent mother, and occasional lunches with Anna and Poppy, her lurcher, have lead to us becoming friends and my gaining from her foodie and historical knowledge in my quest to write a book on my great great grandmother’s work magazine article.
This lead to gnocchi and pasta making with her, so that I might see the master at work. I follow this with 2 recipes. One is for gnocchi which we served with sage from the herb pots our house and the other is for chocolate pasta, Anna’s surprisingly delicious idea.
500g floury potatoes such as Desiree or Maris Piper
100g 00 flour
3/4 tsp salt
1. Boil the potatoes with their skins on until a knife pierces through them easily but not so they break up.
2. Drain and when not too hot to handle, rub the skin off the potatoes. Do this with rubber gloves on.
3. Put the potatoes through a ricer or a food mill, straight on to a work top.
4. It is not possibe to be exact on quantities of flour because it really depends on the potato and room conditions, how much is needed so start off with about 2 thirds of the amount.
5. Sprinkle flour onto the work top and work it in to the potato. Keep kneading the flour in until it is smooth and not very sticky, though the less flour the better the gnocchi. It will be a little bit sticky, just not so sticky you cannot form it into a shape.
6. Roll the mixture into long thin sausages, sprinkling more flour to help you with this.
7. Cut pieces of gnocchi from the sausage.
8. Take a fork, and take each piece of gnocchi and push it down the prongs of the fork, making a well on one side with your thumb, and fork indentations on the other. (I did this for the first time last week with Anna and it took me a while to get used to the technique. You need to listen to the word ‘flip’ and do exactly that from the end of the fork. It allows the sauce to be held by the gnocchi.)
8. Test a piece by boiling it and removing when it rises to the surface. If it is too soft, add more flour.
9. Place a pan of salted boiling water on the heat, and put a serving dish in the oven to warm. Look at the sauce suggestions below before you do this.
9. When the gnocchi is ready, rid it of excess water, and put it in the warmed buttered serving dish.
There are so many sauces you could use and I will just include those that are traditional.
– Sage and butter – my favourite – Put a large knob of butter into the serving dish with a handful of sage leaves and half a clove of garlic. (see top tips). Leave it in the oven to melt while you prepare the gnocchi. Toss the gnocchi in it when it has cooked. Add parmesan and season according to taste.
– Fresh tomato sauce
– Taleggio or Fontina – put a nob of butter in the serving dish and let it melt in the oven. Toss the gnocchi in the melted butter and add strips of tallegio or fontina cheese. Place the dish back in the oven at 180 degrees C and wait for the cheese to melt.
Serve all of the above with a crisp green salad tossed in virgin olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt. Anna uses the traditional Italian saying in her dressing a salad:
It takes a generous man to add the oil,
A wise man the vinegar
A mean man the salt,
A mad man to stir it – 32 times!
150-220g Italian 00 flour
50g best unsweetened cocoa, sifted (buy really good quality like Valrhona. It makes an enormous difference. You can buy it from Amazon)
1 tsp sea salt
2 eggs and 1 yolk
30g unsalted butter
3 heaped tbsp Muscavado
50g pecan chopped
4-6 tbsp single cream
extra cream for serving
1. Put the flour and cocoa on a work surface and make a well in the centre.
2. Break the eggs into the well and whisk with a fork, gradually bring in the flour.
3. Knead the pasta dough adding more flour until it is smooth and not sticky.
4. Put is through your pasta machine, gradually working through each setting from thickest to second from thinnest. Put it through the first setting 6 or 7 times, turning the pasta by 90 degrees before each time.
5. Cut it into tagiatelle and lay it on a chair to dry for a bit before you plunge in into boiling water for just 2 or 3 minutes.
6. While it is drying, make the sauce by melting and bubbling the butter and sugar and adding the cream. You may like to dry fry or roast the pecans. We served this with vanilla ice cream as well. You could just add your own butterscotch sauce to reduce one step. I had no pecans in the larder so made do without.