It’s markdown season at the grocery store, now that the tourists are in absentia for a while, joined by the locals who migrate to parts warmer during mud season too. So it’s time for the good deals—such as the $1 bag of slightly soft “Red Skin Yellow Flesh Colorado Sunrise” potatoes that Gregg and I argued over in the grocery store last week.
“They’ll go bad,” he said.
“I’ll use them all once,” I countered, throwing them into the cart.
Everything gnocchi without moderation
A few days later, as the universe would have it, I came into a wealth of dried nettles and porcini. I won’t say how I came by them, but you can probably guess. So it was logical that I should decide to make nettle gnocchi.
Gnocchi flavored with stinging nettles (Urtica sp.) is kind of a rite of passage in the wild edible community. Some time or another, if you’re serious about edible wild plants, you have to learn how to make this dish.
Of course, I learn all my normal cooking through wild edible plants, so the first time I made gnocchi was motivated by an acquisition of nettles. But I was pretty amazed that you could use your leftover mashed potatoes for such an awesome, pasta-like creation.
There are plenty of recipes around for nettle gnocchi, such as these instructions by Langdon Cook at Fat of the Land. They’re approximate and I followed them loosely, of course, for my first-ever nettle gnocchi last year. In a nutshell, he has us boil the nettles briefly, boil the potatoes in the nettle water, peel them and mash the innards, combine those with nettles, egg, and flour to make a dough, roll that into dusty snakes, cut into pillows, and drop into boiling water until they float.
I know from experience with frozen gnocchi that they can be served that way or pan-fried to make the diminutive, mind-blowingly fantastic potato dumplings. I decided to make them in every flavor I could think of.
So after the first batch, I made a second with dried garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), an idea I got from Crystal, who adapted a gluten-free version from a few recipes. I’d gathered a small batch of garlic mustard when I was on the east coast with mom, drying it for later experimentation after finding all other preparation attempts grotesque. But I was surprised how much I liked it in the gnocchi. It’s a good thing, too, because garlic mustard is a nasty invasive that takes over native habitats, which should be pulled before it flowers, according to Sam Thayer in Nature’s Garden (2010). He explains that garlic mustard is allelopathic, which means it chemically inhibits the growth of competing plants. So I might as well be motivated to pull and dry and pulverize the lot into a cooking spice when I’m visiting my hometown in Connecticut, where there is a ton of garlic mustard in my old forest roaming grounds that did not used to be there.
But let’s not get distracted. Never mind the wild edible plants—gnocchi is the real hero here.
So two nights ago with Butter’s bounty, I did a reprise of the nettle gnocchi, this time using dried, pulverized nettles. I cleaned them from their stems with rubber gloves after first stinging my bare hands, nose, and cheek, then chopped them in the spice/coffee grinder before adding to the potatoes. The dough came out dry, probably because I made no moisture adjustments from Cook’s recipe, which calls for boiled and therefore wet, albeit squeezed, nettles.
Logically, porcini gnocchi popped into my head next, and there were plenty of boiled potatoes left. I followed Cook’s recipe again, changing the central ingredient from nettles to the strong, dried porcini spore bits Butter bequeathed me. These I pulverized in the food processor (to make 1/2 cup powder) and then poured into a bowl, mixing in just enough boiling water to cover and let stand, covered, for 5 minutes. Then I spooned the resultant porcini paste into my potatoes (4 cups mashed) and kneaded together with 2 slightly beaten eggs and 1.5 cups organic wheat flour, with additional flour until I could roll the dough out into snakes.
Both gnocchis came together in the end, especially when I coated my hands with egg to deal with the dry nettle one.
I thought the porcini tasted quite a bit like porcini, but Gregg found the flavor mild. An online search after the fact returned a few recipes for porcini gnocchi (and here I thought I’d come up with it on my own), but—surprise, surprise—all contained more ingredients than just porcini and potatoes. Like Italian cheeses, salt, and pepper. Added ingredients—what a novel idea!
Pan-fried porcini gnocchi with wild onion, butter, Balsamic, and cheese
So last night, a day after the giant nettle and porcini gnocchi production followed by a testy taste test (Gregg is often under pressure to say the right thing in these situations), I asked: “Do you want to have porcini gnocchi again tonight?” Fortunately, he is a good fiancé, and he acquiesced.
“Make them crispy this time,” he said. “Brown ‘em good.” Done.
On top of that I made a rich, wild oniony Butter Balsamic coating for the well-browned gnocchi using her fresh, wild onions, pepper, Hawaiian lava salt, a splash of Balsamic vinegar, and Parmesan cheese at the end.
“Wow, those look good—like little meatballs” said a peak-sneaking Gregg. Not exactly what I was going for, but I’ll take the “wow” and the “good.”
Verdict: Really good—the salt and butter brought out the porcini flavor. Even better perhaps served with a dipping sauce, Gregg opined.
Spruce Salt Potato Skins
Never one to waste food if I can avoid it, I was also able to reuse the refuse skin peeled off in the gnocchi-making for some on-the-fly oven-baked potato skins. I tossed these skins in olive oil with (too much) spruce salt, baked them in a 350-degree oven until they turned golden brown and crispy (about 20-25 minutes), then pulled them out and yelled “Snacktime!” in the middle of the gnocchi mania.
Verdict: Gregg said they were “like something they’d serve at a gourmet restaurant” (ooh!) and “I can’t believe how little potato is on them.”