Bread Gnocchi

Stuffing balls

These little dumplings are surprisingly light yet deliciously satisfying and heart-warming. They can be poached (as you would cook a potato-based gnocchi) until they bob to the surface. My favourite way to cook these gnocchi is to bake them until they are golden and crunchy. They are delicious served with winter salad leaves, on wilted Cavolo Nero, or bobbing on the surface of a steaming winter soup. They make an excellent alternative to dumplings on the top of a beef Daube or Carbonnade (added during the final hour of cooking).

My Sourdough Culture and I have recently been cooking in the Eastern Pyrenees. One of the main regional dishes is Boules de Picolat which are little pork and beef meatballs braised slowly in a wild mushroom, smoky hot paprika and tomato sauce. It occurred to me that bread gnocchi would be an excellent alternative to these little meatballs because they would absorb some of the sauce as they braised whilst becoming wonderfully crunchy on top.  I raced home to give the dish a go and as I tucked into the delightful and comforting supper of the bread gnocchi and the piping hot sauce served over winter lambs lettuce dressed in good quality vinegar (Vinaigre de Rivesaltes made at Chateau Valmy) I couldn’t have been happier!

Old sourdough bread can be difficult to tear, so if you have problems add it to the milk first and then cut into 1.5cm cubes when softened. If you don’t have any sourdough any good quality bread will suffice.

I often experiment with the flavours in this recipe and find that adding chopped chilli towards the end of the cooking of the shallots or a sprinkling of smoky paprika added with the herbs works very well. I gave this recipe to a friend who served these gnocchi on a fricassee of ceps and other autumnal mushrooms.

200g old sourdough, or similar bread, sliced and torn into 1.5cm pieces (including the crusts)

200g whole milk

3tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or butter, or dripping

2 banana shallots very finely chopped or grated

2 cloves of garlic crushed with a generous pinch of salt

4tbsp chopped parsley or chives (or a combination)

75g Mature Cheddar, Parmesan or Gruyere finely grated

1 egg beaten

Salt & Pepper

Makes about 20 gnocchi

Put the bread and the milk into a bowl. Stir the bread to coat evenly with the milk and leave to soak for an hour or until all of the milk has been absorbed.

Add the olive oil and two tablespoons of water to a frying pan and sweat the garlic and shallots over a very low heat with a lid on for at least half an hour (the longer and slower you cook them the sweeter they will become). You should check the pan regularly and stir frequently. If they start to fry instead of sweating gently add another tablespoon or two of water. When the shallot is soft, uncover the pan, turn up the heat slightly (medium) and allow any excess water to evaporate. Saute the shallots and garlic until they begin to turn lightly golden. Keep a close eye on them and stir occasionally to prevent the garlic from catching. Immediately tip the onion and garlic into the bowl with the bread and milk.

Stir in the herbs, cheeses and seasoning. Mix thoroughly and add the beaten egg a little at a time. It is likely that you will not require all of the egg. The mixture should be moist but just hold it’s shape. If you find it a bit sticky to handle add a few extra breadcrumbs. Dampening your hands before shaping the mixture into balls will prevent it from sticking.

Squeeze the mixture into walnut-sized balls. Lay the balls in a single layer on a large plate. At this stage you can refrigerate them for several days until you are ready to cook them.

To cook, lay the balls closely together on a lightly oiled shallow gratin dish. Drizzle with a little olive oil and place into a pre-heated oven (200C). Bake until golden brown- around 25-35 minutes.

The gnocchi are beautiful served with a salad of roast squash and mushrooms tossed in a little sherry vinegar.

Alternatively, layer them on top of your beef Duabe or stew about an hour before then end of the cooking time. If they haven’t become golden and crunchy on top in this time, finish them by turning up the oven to 200C for 10 minutes.