Meatfree Monday: Parsnip Gnocchi with Rocket and Walnut Pesto

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Although the rush of the kitchen in autumn has almost passed, when every day sees a new glut of ingredients landing in our larders, eating seasonably always means that there will be times of feast and famine. Times when you will have a rush on and will have to do something quick to make sure you can still benefit from those lovely ingredients when the pace has slowed down and your larder isn’t quite so overflowing. Right now,  I am awash with parsnips, but I’m sure I’m not the only one. This shouldn’t be a problem, but I can’t say the idea of eating parsnips excites my children, even served up my favourite way; roasted in the fat of the roasting joint and glazed with a bit of maple syrup or honey and, of course, some thyme. They do, however, keep quite well for a couple of weeks, so we are not talking the full scale panic that occurs when the pears or plums come into season, but with a good few weeks left to go before they are past their best, I thought I’d better start using some up in some new and innovative (well for us at least) ways.

For some reason, I’m always surprised at how healthy parsnips are for you. Maybe it’s their lack of colour, or their long shelf life. Either way, I couldn’t be more wrong. Parsnips are not only, as its usual for most vegetables, a great low calorie source of dietary fibre, they also contain several key vitamins and minerals:  potassium (great for reducing blood pressure), folate (to help reduce the risk of heart disease), vitamin K and manganese (for bone health) as well as the anti-oxidants vitamin C and E to help lower the risk of cancer and heart disease. All good reasons for making sure you make the best of these sweet roots then at this time of year when they crop up in your veg box.

Now, I’ve talked about how I feel about ‘hiding’ vegetables before in food, as I am never really sure whether it is a good idea or not, so when I came up with the idea of making parsnip gnocchi I decided to be honest about it and call a spade a spade. But knowing how mine all feel about parsnips, I just waited till they had all finished the meal. If I were to say that you really couldn’t taste any difference to normal gnocchi I’d be lying, but they really couldn’t put their fingers on it, as the mixture of the parsnip and potato produced a very light, slightly sweeter version of these Italian dumplings, without the overpowering parsnip flavour that obviously doesn’t appeal to my children. I paired them with some griddled courgettes and a rocket and walnut pesto that couldn’t be easier to make, but added the perfect amount of spicy pepperiness.

As usual, I made double the amount we needed, so this recipe would feed 12-14 very easily, but if I’m going to make something like gnocchi I want some leftover to pop in the freezer. You could very easily half it.

Rocket and Walnut Pesto Recipe

Please note this quantity of pesto would be enough for half of the gnocchi recipe, or enough to serve 6 if you were tossing it through pasta.

100g rocket (arugula)

75g walnuts (toasted first if you have the time or inclination- I didn’t)

75ml olive oil

1 tsp sea salt

1 clove of garlic

Blend all the above ingredients to a semi smooth paste in a food processor. Add extra olive oil, or cooking water from your pasta or gnocchi if the consistency is too thick.

Parsnip and Potato Gnocchi Recipe

1 kg parsnips, peeled

1 kg potatoes,  NOT peeled

400g flour (I used 250g buckwheat, 150g 00 flour)

Salt to taste

A knob of butter around 30g

Boil your potatoes in their skins for around 12- 15 minutes, then leave to cool to handle. Peel the skins off using a knife to help. This helps ensure that the dough  doesn’t get too wet, which can be an issue when your adding other ingredients to your gnocchi.

Boil the parsnips until tender.

Press both potatoes and parsnips through a potato ricer, or mash until very very smooth. Do not be tempted to put them in the food processor; this will mess up the texture of your potatoes.

Add the knob of butter and half the flour and beat to get a smooth dough.

Knead in enough of the rest of the flour using your hands until the dough is cohesive enough to roll out a long sausage.

Roll the dough ‘sausage’ in some flour and cut small sections (about 2 cms) off. Using the tines of a fork, press gently on one side to form ridges for the sauce to stick to. They don’t have to be huge, so don’t over exert yourself and squash them.

At this point you can freeze some if you want to. Spread out in an even layer on a baking sheet or similar and put in the freezer. When they are frozen, bag them up. Remember to cook them from frozen, for slightly longer.

When all of the gnocchi are formed, cook in simmering water until they float on the surface of the water, about 5 minutes . Do not overcrowd the pan, rather keep a batch warm in the oven.

When they are all cooked, combine with the griddled courgettes and rocket pesto. Delicious, enjoy!

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