Christine Smallwood is a food and travel writer who has written about Italy’s food gastronomy and led food tours in Italy. In Italy: The World Vegetarian, she takes what she’s learnt from the Italians she spent time with – the way they buy, make, view and eat food and turned it into a cookbook that celebrates Italian food, specifically fresh produce.
In her intro she shares words a restaurant owner once said to her; ”Why are our mothers such great cooks? Because they know how to shop well. They know how to recognise good, fresh produce because that’s the basis of everything.”
Fresh produce is the basis of each recipe in her cookbook – Italy: The World Vegetarian. Christine encourages you to enjoy produce when it is at its freshest, to learn and appreciate good quality olive oil – an ingredient that comes up over and over again. She encourages you to engage with the process of cooking – to stay in the kitchen while your food cooks, mixing it, tasting it and adjusting each recipe to your own liking.
The recipes are split into three sections, small plates (snacks and salads), large plates (pasta) and condiments. I’ve recently gotten into making homemade pasta and her recipes for pasta (and note that Italian kitchens aren’t packed with appliances) has gotten me exited to try more pasta variations using the tools I have. Her cookbook is a savoury, not sweet cookbook and the recipes are not difficult to make. All are vegetarian, plant-based and many are vegan or could easily be adapted to be. The only Italian recipe you won’t find in this cookbook is Pizza. According to Christine, it’s because most Italians know that to have good pizza, you need to go out to a good pizzeria. It’s a wonderful recipe book for those who love Italian foods and do currently or want to eat more plant-based meals.
The recipe I am sharing is the one for Mushroom stuffed gnocchi or gnocchi di patate ripieni di funghi. It is the very best gnocchi I have made and since eating it I’ve been dreaming up various gnocchi fillings. As explained in the cookbook, gnocchi stuffed with minced meat is found in various regions of Italy. Mushrooms which have a meaty texture and umami flavour work brilliantly instead of minced meat. Christine uses Desiree potatoes as they hold together without needing too much flour. I used the potatoes I had and have no idea what variety they were, but they worked so don’t worry about looking for a particular type. Do make sure that you cook out all the liquid of the mushrooms before adding them as a filling, so you don’t get soggy gnocchi.
Mushroom Stuffed Gnocchi from Italy The World Vegetarian
- 2 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
- 180 grams mixed mushrooms finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove crushed
- 1 handful fresh thyme
- cracked salt and pepper to taste
- 450 grams potatoes (about 3-4 medium), peeled and cut into pieces
- 85 grams all purpose flour
- splash extra virgin olive oil
- 120 grams butter
- 1 handful fresh sage leaves
- Start by making the filling. Heat the oil in a pan on low heat. Add mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Season to taste with salt and pepper and cook for 4-5 minutes, until the mushrooms are browned and have released their liquid. Tip them into a sieve set over a bowl to drain and leave to cool. Reserve the liquid.
- Make the gnocchi. Boil the potatoes in salt water until tender. Drain and mash them until they're smooth and creamy with no lumps. Season with salt and pepper.
- Mix the flour into the warm potatoes. Tip out the mixture onto a very light floured surface (you want to add as little extra flour as possible) and knead together to form a dough. Roll out to about 4mm thick with a rolling pin, and using n 8cm pastry cutter (or glass), cut out discs, rerolling the dough when necessary. You should get about 20 discs.
- Place a small amount (about a teaspoon) of the mushroom mixture onto each disc and then gather up the edges over the filling and press together to form balls.
- Bring a saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi a few at a time and leave for 4-6 minutes, until you have cooked out the flour and they are heated through. They will rise to the surface when they are ready. Remove them gently one by one, with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on a kitchen paper (you can also let them drain in a colander placed over a sink).
- Heat the butter in a pan over a medium heat. If you want browned butter, heat until the butter starts browning and then add gnocchi and sage in batches. Cook for 3-4minutes, turning gently to brown them on all sides.
- Serve immediately.
Italy The World Vegetarian was given to us by Jonathan Ball Publishers and is available here. Opinions and images are our own. Recipe is reprinted from Italy The World Vegetarian with permission.