Phoebe was slicing asparagus and spring onions with proved skill, you could tell she had a past in a kitchen and that she was not intimidated by sharp knives. In a short time, next to her cutting board, she formed a heap of thinly sliced green and white spring onions and thin slivers cut from the asparagus stems. I could not summarize my idea of spring cuisine any better.
During a cooking class, once in a while, I cut myself off from what is happening in front of my eyes and I see a dish coming to life. It can be a texture, a colour shade, or the delicate sizzle of garlic frying in the olive oil. In a game of references and associations a dish appears and goes on its way, free.
These potato gnocchi with asparagus and spring onions, born by simply teaming up what we had bought in the morning at the market, became the representation of Spring in the kitchen and imposed themselves as first course in my Easter menu.
Meanwhile chats and questions continued during the cooking class, we prepared a cheese board as antipasto, we cooked a main course and we baked a dessert, we toasted and took pictures, but in the back of my mind that bowl of gnocchi made a small miracle. It awakened a longing for lightness associated with the good season and laid the first step of an Easter menu, maybe not quite traditional but certainly inspired by the seasonal market produce.
Potato gnocchi with asparagus and spring onions
Last year I had a revelation for Christmas, whether dictated by age, by the fact that I spend most of my awaken time in the kitchen or by a bad flu which had struck me right in the hours prior to the big day. We have never been a traditional family for what concerns holiday menus: there are rules and pairings which are carved on the stone in our daily eating habits, but when it comes to what to cook for Christmas or Easter we have always been quite free.
Always seasonal, always Tuscan, but not necessarily tied to the traditional braised capon, roasted lamb or stewed cardoons. We have decided not to cook an endless meal which would invariably leave you exhausted at the end of the day, but to opt for an essential menu, with a few key dishes. That’s how I came to the idea of this Easter menu, which begins today with gnocchi and will end next week with a main course and a dessert: three elegant recipes, with a short ingredient list. All the ingredients can be found on the market stalls in these days and work nicely together.
Gnocchi with asparagus and spring onions is a seasonal first course. The vegetables are cooked just enough to soften and embrace the gnocchi, so pillowy that melt in your mouth. Fresh herbs add an herbaceous hint that perfectly complement the asparagus, while pecorino, a true classic, brings this dish back on the tradition track.
- 1 kg (2,2 lb) of potatoes
- 200 (7,05 oz) g of potato starch + that to form the gnocchi
- 1 egg
- 1 kg (2,2 lb) of asparagus
- 4 spring onions
- 4 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil
- Semi aged Tuscan pecorino
- Choose potatoes of the same size: we are going to leave them whole while boiling, to prevent them from absorbing too much water. This will assure equal cooking times. Rinse the potatoes under running water to remove all traces of dirt and collect them in a large pot. Cover with cold water and put them on the fire, cooking them over medium heat until you can easily pierce a potato with a knife.
- Drain the potatoes, cool them under running water and peel them, then mash with a potato masher or a ricer, and collect the mashed potatoes on a wooden board.
- Knead the potatoes with a fork with a beaten egg, add a generous pinch of salt and a some grated nutmeg: it should give a remote nutmeg smell to the potatoes. Slowly knead in the potato starch until it has been completely absorbed.
- Clean the wooden board with a scraper and, with clean hands lightly dusted with potato starch, roll the dough into thin sausages, which then will be cut into chunks. Roll every chunk of dough in between your hands to form a gnocco, which will be slightly larger than a hazelnut.
- Arrange the gnocchi on a cutting board dusted with potato starch: you can eat them now or store them in the refrigerator for a few hours at most.
- Clean the asparagus, remove the woody ends and keep aside the tops. Slice the asparagus stalks into thin rounds. Thinly slice the spring onions up until the end. Do not discard the green part but use it as well.
- Gather in a pan sliced asparagus and spring onions, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and cook over medium-low heat for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon.
- After about ten minutes also add the asparagus tips and bring to the set boil a large pot to cook the gnocchi.
- Cook the asparagus for another ten minutes, adding a few tablespoons of cooking water if they tend to dry out.
- Cook the gnocchi in boiling water in batches. As soon as they float to the top fish them out with a slotted spoon and transfer them into the pan with the asparagus and spring onions.
- Sauté the gnocchi for a minute to blend them with the sauce, add a sprig of parsley and some chopped chives and finished with a few slivers of pecorino. Serve immediately.