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Sweet potato gnocchi with crispy chestnuts and wild garlic pesto

I have two favourite signs of spring. The first, of course, are daffodils, their cheery yellow heads radiating a sense of seasonal promise as they emerge boldly from the ground when winter is drawing to a close. The second, and rather more edible (as supermarkets have kindly been reminding us recently, daffodils are poisonous and should not be ingested), is wild garlic. Here in the Yorkshire countryside, these pungent, strappy green leaves are abundant for the months of March and April, arriving in perfect time for Easter, where they make a fabulous addition to roast lamb. Picking them guarantees literal green fingers and the lingering aroma of garlic about your person for hours, but the reward is a beautiful ingredient that can be used to brighten so many spring recipes. If you’re not sure where to find wild garlic, head to the countryside and follow your nose – the scent is hard to miss!

My favourite way to use wild garlic is to blitz it in a food processor with some lemon, olive oil and salt to make a vivid green paste that can be smothered onto a lamb shoulder before roasting, dolloped onto a fillet of white fish with some boiled new potatoes, or tossed through hot pasta. I recently decided to try making it into a proper pesto, mixing the aromatic leaves with basil, lemon salt (a favourite JustIngredients seasoning of mine), oil (I used local rapeseed oil to keep with the Yorkshire theme) and pine nuts (you could also use walnuts). The result is fabulous, rich and zingy and lemony and so versatile in the kitchen. It freezes well, too, so you may as well make a double batch (and believe me, you’ll want to).

I saw these sweet potato gnocchi on the excellent blog Top With Cinnamon recently, and knew I had to make them to go with my wild garlic pesto. The last time I made gnocchi was about five years ago, and they were a lumpy, soggy disaster that went straight in the bin. These, though, are beautiful. A vivid orange from the sweet potato flesh, they are light and fluffy but don’t lose their shape or turn into mush. I added a little smoked paprika to bring out the sweet potato flavour and contrast with the sweetness. They’re very easy to make: you just roast the sweet potatoes, scoop out the fudgy flesh, and blitz everything in a food processor to make the dough. They’re a little tricky to shape initially, but make sure you use lots of flour and you’ll get the hang of it. It doesn’t really matter if they’re not finely shaped; as long as they’re all roughly the same size, you can make them any shape you like.

I served these with some chestnuts sautéed in butter, adding the cooked gnocchi to the pan to crisp them up before tossing everything with the pesto. I love the combination of sweet chestnut with pumpkin ravioli and risotto, and figured it would go well with sweet potatoes too. It really does, adding little crispy nuggets of sweetness to complement the buttery pesto and fluffy dumplings. The end result is absolutely stunning: those hearty little gnocchi are rich and satisfying, gooey on the inside and caramelized on the outside, coated in salty, fragrant garlicky pesto with the sweet burst of chestnut and the salty, addictive taste of parmesan. It’s one of the best dishes I’ve made this year, and I’d urge you to try it.

Not your conventional Easter recipe, perhaps (although it does involve an egg!), but one that I think is perfect for this time of year, celebrating one of our most beautiful natural ingredients. Why not go for a little forage over the Easter weekend and get some wild garlic to try this at home?

Instructions

  • Heat the oven to 200C. Prick the potatoes with a fork and bake in the oven for around 1 hour, or until completely tender to the point of a knife. Remove from the oven, cut the potatoes in half and leave them to cool completely. When cool, scoop the flesh out of the potato skins (discard the skins), place it in a food processor and pulse to a puree, then add the ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg, paprika, salt, pepper and egg and pulse again, then add the flour, blitzing to a thick dough. Spoon the dough into a bowl and refrigerate for at least 3 hours (or you can put it in the freezer for an hour if you’re short on time) – it needs to be cold so it will be easier to shape.

  • Meanwhile, make the pesto. Put all the ingredients in a food processor and blitz to a paste. Taste to check the seasoning. Transfer to a jar and refrigerate until ready to use (this freezes very well if you have any left over).

  • When you’re ready to make the gnocchi, dust a work surface and a baking sheet with a generous amount of flour. Divide the dough into eight pieces, and roll each into a sausage around 1 inch thick. Slice these into pieces an inch wide, then shape these pieces into small ovals using floured hands. Use a fork to press down on each oval to leave little indentations, then transfer these to the floured baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, adding more flour where necessary to stop it sticking. Refrigerate the gnocchi for 15 minutes before cooking. (These also freeze well – put them in the freezer in a single layer on a plate or baking sheet for a few hours until frozen, then transfer them all to a freezer bag).

  • When ready to cook, heat the butter and a splash of olive oil in a large frying pan and sauté the chestnuts over a medium heat. Meanwhile, bring a large pan of water to the boil and add 1 tsp salt. Add the gnocchi and cook for around 2-3 minutes, or until they start to float to the top of the pan. Drain well, then add to the butter and chestnuts and turn the heat up. Pan-fry the gnocchi for a few minutes on each side until they turn slightly golden (be careful when turning them as they are quite fragile), then add the pesto to the pan and toss with a little more oil to coat the gnocchi.

  • Divide between plates and garnish with a drizzle of oil, some fresh basil leaves and some grated parmesan. Serve immediately.

Recipe and photographs courtesy of Elly McCausland, Nutmegs seven

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