Outside the church at the end of my street I recently spotted a small, carefully cultivated herb garden. Upon further inspection of this aromatic Cowley beacon, I found in and amongst the indestructible rosemary and rather sad looking mint, the tell-tale light green leaves of sage. I must confess, I couldn’t resist the temptation to return the next day and nab a few of them. Forgive me father, for I have sinned.
Call it divine inspiration, but as I picked out the best leaves my holy Cowley sage shrub had to offer, all the while taking furtive looks over my shoulder to check I was in the clear, I knew exactly what I wanted to make. Problem was, as a practising vegan, I realised I couldn’t savour this woody herb in what must be its purest, most delicious form, that is, fried with gnocchi in brown butter with lemon and enjoyed as is. I need not have been so dismayed, because as I’ve found out, not only is a vegan spin-off of this classic entirely possible, but (whisper it quietly) it’s better than the original. Here’s how to make it.
The actual cooking of this dish is pleasingly simple. Cook the gnocchi in well salted water until they float, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and fry them in a non-stick pan in plenty of good extra virgin olive oil – a competent and delicious stand in here for butter, that won’t burn if you get it too hot, and doesn’t involve cows. Don’t be shy with the oil, it is the base of the sauce. The idea here is to brown and crisp the gnocchi a little bit. Give them a head start before adding the sage, with an optional whole bashed clove of garlic, and cook until your kitchen smells amazing and the sage is slightly crispy.
Keep hold of some of the starchy gnocchi cooking water, as this can be added to the pan, then reduced and agitated to form a glossy emulsified sauce that coats the gnocchi and carries the taste of the sage brilliantly. The coming together of the sauce can also be helped along by a tablespoon or two of nutritional yeast, which acts as thickener of sorts, and lends what the packaging describes as a cheesy and nutty flavour. I couldn’t agree more. Once reduced and an emulsion formed, add the juice of around half a lemon, season to taste, and give it another toss. The lemon at this stage offers some very welcome freshness in an otherwise aggressively savoury meal. Serve and top with freshly black pepper and a drizzle of fresh olive oil if you’d like, and enjoy a shockingly delicious, simple and satisfying meal.
This recipe works well with pre-made gnocchi from the supermarket, but making gnocchi is easy and the texture is noticeably superior. Gnocchi from scratch also falls nicely into the surprisingly short list of hands-on meals that take around an hour, and are perfect to make with your friends. Having had a pumpkin spice donut from Crosstown earlier in the day, I was struck with autumnal fervour, so my gnocchi are made with sweet potato that placated my desire for something orange on my plate.
For around 4 portions, boil roughly 500g of peeled and chopped sweet potato in salted water until very soft. Drain the potatoes, and mash well in the pot they were cooked in, before laying them out on a chopping board or surface and mashing further with a fork until smooth. It’s a good idea to leave the potato spread out on the board to cool at this stage, as some of the moisture will evaporate, meaning your gnocchi will need less flour. Once cooler, begin working in flour to the potato, bit by bit, until a soft kneadable dough is formed – it will probably need more flour than you think. Before rolling it into shape, leave it to sit for at least 15 minutes, which will hydrate the flour and make the dough far easier to work with. After the dough has rested, split into smaller lumps, dust a surface with flour, and roll into sausages as wide as you’d like your gnocchi to be. Cut lengthwise with a sharp knife into pillow shapes and place on a separate plate so the gnocchi doesn’t stick to each other.
While this process is a little time consuming, the end result is worth the effort. Put on some music, crack open a beer, and thank yourself for escaping the tedium of pesto pastas and oven pizzas that might otherwise populate your kitchen.