Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

I don’t think there is a nicer way of cooking spinach than Gnocchi Verdi. Also known in different parts of Tuscany as malfatti (badly made), ravioli nudi (naked ravioli) or topini verdi (little green mice). Gnocchi are among the oldest foods in Italy, and the spinach ones are a specialty of the Casentino, an area east of Florence where greens grow wild on the hillsides.

Although easy to make, I have to admit, that I do have a few horrific memories of gnocchi dissolving into a spinachy mush whilst cooking. There are a few key points to remember – really squeeze all the water out of the spinach. I used 700g of spinach and ended up with 300g with which I made half a batch of the recipe. I got 22 gnocchi which would serve I suppose 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course. The next point is to chop the spinach really well. And finally, it is really important that the water does not boil fast when cooking them. It should simmer, not boil and the gnocchi will eventually float to the surface when they are done. Be patient, it will happen and they will be delicious.

Spinach & Ricotta Gnocchi

Adapted from The River Cafe Cook Book

Serves 4 as a main course

50g butter

a bunch of fresh marjoram

500g blanched spinach leaves squeezed dry (about 1.25kg raw spinach)

sea salt

300g fresh ricotta cheese

90g plain flour

3 egg yolks

1/2 nutmeg grated

150g parmesan freshly grated

sage butter

Blanch the spinach in a large pan of salted water for a minute or two. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well in a colander. When cool enough to handle squeeze out the water really well. Chop well.  Melt the butter add the marjoram and cook for a minute. Add the spinach and stir to combine the flavours. Season well and leave to cool. In a large bowl lightly beat the ricotta with a fork then sieve in the flour. Add the egg yolks the nutmeg and parmesan and finally fold in the cooled spinach mixture until well combined. Taste for seasoning. Dust a baking tray with flour or semolina.

Using 2 dessert spoons take a small spoonful of mixture and using the one spoon mould the mixture so that it forms a gnocchi. Place on the floured baking tray. The gnocchi should all be the same size about 2cm diameter.

Bring a large pan of water to the boil then lower the heat to a simmer. Gently place the gnocchi in the water in batches it is important not to overcrowd the pan. When the gnocchi come back to the surface remove carefully with a slotted spoon and briefly place the spoon on kitchen paper to drain off excess water.

Serve immediately in warm plates with sage butter and extra parmesan.

Home-made V8

I have been desperate to make my own tomato juice ever since I got a juicer so I was waiting to have a glut of tomatoes. Obviously I had to wait until winter was over to have any decent tomatoes at all, but then this week I seemed to have somehow collected three punnets. So without hesitation I chucked one punnet into my juicer. Absolutely nothing came out and when I peered inside, I seemed to have made little more than some tomato froth. Turns out you really have to cook the tomatoes to get the sort of juice I had in mind. There is a raw version but it is just not the same. So you simmer your tomatoes for about 25 minutes and push them through a sieve. No juicer required. However, if like me you wanted to use your juicer, there are all sorts of favours you can add to make your tomato juice a bit different. Mine ended up tasting a bit more like V8, but I didn’t mind, because I love the stuff. I added a little beetroot, which is great as it gives it a better colour, celery, parsley, spinach, watercress and a couple of carrots. Obviously salt, onion, pepper, sugar, Worcester sauce or tabasco can help add a kick, but that is up to you.

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Sausages with Lentils, Crème Fraiche, Mustard & Spinach

Usually I have a glut of vegetables of one sort of another, but at the moment I appear to have a glut of lentils. I must have read some article proclaiming the virtues of lentils and how super good they are for you and then subconsciously I must have picked up a bag every time I went shopping for the next month. Subsequently, this week, I have not one, but two lentil dishes for you. The first is a classic combination of lentils, crème fraiche and mustard served up with spinach and sausages. It is not exactly a stew, but it is nice to keep it a bit soupy. You can use any sort of spinach or some other greens, such as chard, kale or cavalo would work too, but you might like to blanch them first.

Sausages with Lentils, Crème Fraiche, Mustard & Spinach

Serves 4

8 good quality pork sausages

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

6 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1 large leek, shredded, washed and drained

2 sticks celery, finely chopped

Small bunch of fresh thyme, tied into a bundle

2 cloves garlic, grated

250g lentils

Couple of large handfuls of fresh spinach, striped from stems and washed

250ml crème fraîche

1-2 tbsp Dijon mustard

Preheat the oven to 180C. Cook the sausages for 15-20 minutes, turning occasionally, until they are evenly browned and cooked through.

Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Fry the bacon until crispy and then stir in the chopped vegetables and the thyme bundle. Cook over a medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened and are beginning to brown. Add the lentils and the garlic. Stir well and add 1 ½ pints of water. Simmer for about 20-25 minutes until the lentils are tender. Add water if necessary but by the time the lentils are cooked, you want most of the water to have cooked away. Season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove the thyme bundle, squeezing out the remaining juices. Stir in the crème fraiche and mustard and then the spinach. Return to the heat and cook the spinach until just wilted. Taste and adjust seasoning and add the sausages. Serve hot.

Spinach Wilted With Raisins, Pinenuts and Balsamic

The spinach looks so pretty at this time of year with its pink tinged stems and lush green leaves, I thought that I would cook a dish just in honour of it.  And I was particularly pleased with this Sicilian influenced dish with chilli, pinenuts and balsamic, lending the spinach a delicious sweet and sour flavour. Works well with others greens, such as chard too. You can use either true spinach or baby spinach but if using baby spinach you also have the option of turning it into a salad and leaving it raw.

Spinach Wilted With Raisins, Pinenuts and Balsamic

1 red onion

2 cloves garlic, very thinly sliced

extra virgin olive oil

350g spinach

50g pinenuts, toasted

50g raisins

1 tbsp. balsamic vinegar

Pinch chilli flakes

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Peel and finely slice the onion. Sweat it gently in a little olive oil and some salt for about 10 to 15 minutes until beginning to caramelise. Meanwhile, strip the spinach from the stems, wash it and left to drain in a colander for as long as possible.  Soak the raisins in a little boiling water. Add the garlic to the onions and fry for a minute or two more. Add the spinach with another pinch of salt and wilt until cooked. Add the balsamic and reduce until dry. Check seasoning and add the drained raisins, pinenuts and chilli flakes. Serve hot or warm.

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans

Sad to get back from holiday but lovely to get home to a lovely box of fresh vegetables. It is such a great time of year for produce, it really is a pleasure cooking and not the chore that I have to admit, it sometimes does feel.  First up, I knocked up a really quick and easy recipe of Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans. You can use any mixture of greens you like from mustard greens to kale to Cavalo Nero, but if you are not only using spinach and your greens are tougher, you will have to blanch them first in boiling water for about three minutes. Then drain and when cool, squeeze out the excess water before adding to the garlic oil. I decided, rather decadently, to add a little cream during cooking, as it goes so well with spinach and cannellini beans alike. You could serve this pilled on to a piece of Bruschetta or equally delicious, alongside a grilled lamb chop or a piece of roast fish. Adapt your herbs, depending on what you are serving it with. An anchovy might be nice too!

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans 1

Braised Spinach and Cannellini Beans

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

1/4 teaspoon dried crushed red pepper

1 large bunch greens (such as spinach, mustard greens, kale, or Cavalo Nero) thick stems removed, spinach left whole, other greens cut into 1-inch strips and blanched first

1 can cannellini or haricot beans drained

2 teaspoons of very finely chopped rosemary

100mls double cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat 4 tablespoons oil in large heavy bottomed saucepan, over a medium heat. Add the garlic and dried crushed pepper; stir until garlic is pale golden, about 1 minute. Add the spinach by large handfuls and stir just until beginning to wilt before adding more, tossing with tongs to coat with oil. Add a good pinch of salt and any blanched, drained greens you might have. Remove the greens with a slotted spoon and gently squeeze any juices back into the saucepan. Add the beans and the rosemary, the cream and a little salt and pepper. Reduce down until you have a creamy consistency. Add the greens back and stir well. Allow to boil for a minute or two. Adjust seasoning to taste. Serve warm.

Braised Spinach

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal

I wonder sometimes that my recipes are getting too long and that you may be too pushed for time to give them a go, so this week I am going to keep it simple. First up a really delicious Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal. Although it takes an hour or so for the chickpeas to cook, the prep time is minimal and the result super satisfying.

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal 2

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal

You do not have to use chickpeas (Channa). If you prefer you could make Moong Dal (split yellow lentils), Toor Dal (yellow pigeon peas), Masoor Dal (red lentils), Urad Dal (split black lentils) or Mung Dal (mung beans).  You could cook this in the slow-cooker.

1 cup (235g) yellow split peas (Channa Dal)

2 tablespoons coconut oil

2 medium onions, finely chopped

1 large knob of fresh ginger, peeled and grated

2 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon cayenne

1 teaspoon salt

2 large handfuls of spinach, stem and main veins removed

½ tin of coconut milk

4 large garlic cloves, very thinly sliced

small bunch of fresh coriander, finely chopped

Heat a large saucepan over a medium heat and add 1 tablespoon of coconut oil and the onion. Fry gently for about 10 minutes until just beginning to caramelise and add the ginger. Cook for a minute more. Add the spices and briefly fry. Add the channa and about 3 cups (600mls) water and salt and bring to the boil.  Cover and cook very slowly on the stove top for an hour or so. I like my dal to have a little texture but it is up to you. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of salted water to the boil. Add the spinach and boil for 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and spread out on to a clean dry tea towel to quickly cool. When cool, use the tea towel to squeeze out the excess water and roughly chop the spinach. When the chickpeas are cooked to your liking, add a couple of tablespoons of the creamiest part of the coconut milk and the spinach. Stir well and adjust seasoning. Add the freshly chopped coriander.

In a little saucepan put the last tablespoon of coconut oil and add the garlic slithers. Heat over a medium heat until the garlic is golden brown.  Remove immediately and spoon straight over the dal.  Do not leave the garlic in the saucepan for long as it will carry on cooking and may burn.

Coconut and Spinach Channa Dal

Pizza Fiorentina

Of all the meals I make my family, home-made pizza night is their favourite. I have got it down to quite fine art. The most important thing is to give your pizza dough a good hour to prove and make sure your oven is hot enough. Turn it up full heat and place a baking tray or pizza stone inside to get hot to transfer the pizza straight onto. I barbeque with a pizza stone is great as it can get much hotter than a conventional oven. You will also need a baking sheet or a pizza peel to transfer your pizza directly onto the hot tray or stone in the oven. Other than that, it is simple. All you have left to do is come up with your favourite toppings. Here’s a start. A classic Pizza Fiorentina. A fabulous way of using up the spinach in your veg box.

Pizza Fiorentina 1

Pizza Fiorentina

You can make up the pizza dough and once it have proved, knock it back and freeze it in individual portions. Take them out the freezer a couple of hours before you need them. Personally I make the whole dough, and need it in the magimix, but here is the proper method.

Pizza dough

500g strong white bread flour

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 x 7 g dried yeast sachet

1 tablespoon golden caster sugar

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

325 ml lukewarm water

Sieve the flour and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth or an oiled piece of clingfilmand place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about three or four medium pizzas.

Pizza Fiorentina 2

Toppings

300g bag of baby spinach

Mozarella (the cheap blocks actually make better pizza, If you want to use better quality bufala mozzarella then make sure you let it drain well before using, otherwise your pizza will be too wet) Cut into small cubes. Never use ready grated mozzarella.

Passata (I use Pizza Express but any good quality passata will do)

Garlic oil (made by whizzing up some peeled garlic cloves and some extra virgin olive oil with a hand blender)

Organic Free-range eggs

Freshly grated parmesan

Black Olives

Pre-heat your oven as hot as it will go and add a baking sheet or a pizza stone. Heat a little olive oil in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Add the spinach and a good pinch of salt. Cover and cook until just wilted. Stir well and remove to a colander. Gently squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible.

Roll out your dough, as thin as it will go. Dust another completely flat baking sheet or peel with flour and put your pizza base straight on it. You need to work quite quickly now so that your base does not have time to stick. Spread passata on the base. Next scatter with spinach, then drizzle with garlic oil. Scatter on mozzarella, sprinkle over the parmesan and season lightly with sea salt and black pepper.

Transfer your pizza quickly to the tray in the oven. There is a knack to this. Your first one may not be beautiful but you will get better each time. Try not to leave the oven door open too long or you will lose all your precious heat. Crack on your eggs and add your olives and cook until done to your liking. Slide onto a board and serve.

Spinach

Chilled Salad Soup with Crème Fraiche & Herbs

Finally some real sunshine at the weekend, almost summeresque and as always in the heat, I get to thinking about chilled soup.

Here is a recipe for one of the best and a great use-up of any salad leaves you happen to have. You can use anything from rocket to batavia, watercress to baby gem. I like a big handful of fresh spinach too, for a beautiful deep green hue. There is baby spinach in the boxes now so you can just chuck it straight in. Don’t forget the herbs. I particularly like basil or chives. For the base you can use spring onions, leeks or bunched onions, whatever you have. The potatoes can be any variety too and you don’t even have to serve it chilled – it is delicious hot too!

Chilled Salad Soup with Creme Fraiche & Herbs

Chilled Salad Soup with Crème Fraiche & Herbs

Good glug of extra virgin olive oil

2 onions, peeled and chopped (could be a few spring onions)

250g potatoes, peeled and chopped into even sized pieces

450g to 500g assorted green lettuce & salad leaves (such as batavia or baby gem lettuce, sorrel, watercress, rocket, spinach and nettles)

Herbs of your choice – mint, chives, basil etc,

250ml Crème Fraiche

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper (to taste)

Sweat the onion down in a good glug of extra virgin olive oil for about 10 minutes or so until just beginning to colour. Add the potatoes and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook for about another 10 minutes or so. Cover with water and cook just until the potatoes are soft. Add more water if necessary.  Remove from the heat and stir in all the greens/herbs and whiz up with a hand blender. Adjust the consistency. It should not be gloopy but also not too thin. Add the Crème Fraiche and check seasoning. Serve hot or cold. You can add a swirl more of Crème Fraiche or add a few freshly chopped herbs.

Spinach

Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg

And for my final spinach recipe of the week, a real suppertime favourite in our family. Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg. This is founded on real nursery (minus the mustard) comfort food and bound to cheer you up after a hard day.

Try and find undyed smoked haddock. The smoking process should give the fish a delicate tinge, not an alarming deep shade of orange.

“en papillote”

I like to cook my fish simply steamed in the oven. This is called “en papillote” in French which translates as in parchment. There is no great description in English, but it is a super quick and easy way to cook your fish to perfection. You can use traditional greaseproof paper, or even easier tin foil. If you seal it well the package will puff up when cooked so you know when it is done. (Make sure the package is quite flat before it goes in the oven, as in the  picture below, so you know when it has puffed up.)

“en papillote” 1

I have given you a brief description of how to make a parcel but if you want more help, have a look at youtube.

Preheat the oven. Bring your oven up to 350F/180C. Add a tray to the oven. Take a large sheet of tinfoil or grease-proof. The tinfoil should be a rectangle, the grease-proof cut into a circle. Lightly grease the paper or foil with a little olive oil. Place the fish in the middle and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dot with a knob of butter and fold the paper or foil in half. For tin foil, neatly double fold each edge. For the grease-proof, start at one edge and start folding the edges in small inch sized folds until you have reached the other side of the semicircle.

Place on the hot tray in the oven and cook for 10 minutes or until well puffed up.

Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg

Serve with some mashed potato with a teaspoon or two of Dijon mustard stirred in at the end, some wilted spinach (see spinach)  and a freshly poached egg.

Smoked Haddock, Mustard Mash, Spinach and Poached Egg 2

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Next up, and still on the spinach theme, another really easy supper. I have got this recipe down to a fine art now and can have the whole dish made and on the table in less than an hour.

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni 2

Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni

Serve 2

Béchamel Sauce

25g butter plus an extra knob

25g plain flour

250mls milk

50g cheddar cheese, grated

8 dried cannelloni

250g picked spinach (stalks removed) washed

150g ricotta

50g grated parmesan

Preheat the oven to 200°C/fan 180°C/gas 6. Put a large pan of salted water on to boil. When boiling, add the spinach and immerse in the water. Bring back to the boil and allow to cook for a minute or two. Remove the spinach with a slotted spoon and spread out onto a dry tea towel to cool down quickly. When cool, use the tea towel to squeeze out any excess moisture. Finely chop. Melt the knob of butter in a large pan. Add the spinach. Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper, then set aside.

Meanwhile make your béchamel. Begin by melting the butter gently – don’t over-heat it or let it brown, as this will affect the colour and flavour of the sauce. As soon as the butter melts, remove from the heat and add the flour. Stir well and return to medium heat and cook until your mixture resembles sand. Now add the milk and whisk. Return to the heat and bring to the boil, stirring all the time. Remove from the heat and add your grated cheese. Season to taste with salt.

Stir the ricotta and parmesan into the spinach and check seasoning. Tip the mixture into a disposable piping bag or a clean plastic bag and cut an edge off the corner about the same size as the holes in the cannelloni. Squeeze the mixture into the cannelloni tubes. Lay them in a gratin dish and pour over the béchamel. Bake in the oven for 30 minutes until golden brown.

Spinach and Ricotta