This week’s Dandelion and Mustard Green Gnocchi recipe features a sauce made with wild Texas onions. My brother Bob and his wife Monika have have a small ranch, which they call Lucky Boy, in the Hill Country a couple of hours from San Antonio.* In one of those weird six-degrees of separation confluences friends of ours were visiting family in Texas, who were in turn friends with my brother and his wife. Everyone ended up at Lucky Boy for the weekend. Our friends flew back to Boston with a Texas goodie bag filled with long slender wild onions picked from the banks of the Llano River. We used the bulb and the pointed flower head (what locals call “the garlic”), and a few inches of tender green stem attached to each. Most of the stem is too woody for cooking, like the tough parts of lemongrass. If you look closely at the plate of gnocchi photographed straight down there’s a closed flower head sitting atop the dumpling in the seven o’clock position.
Something wonderful falls in your lap, you take advantage of it.
The spring onions available in markets right now make a fine substitute for foraged wild onions. Spring onions are closely related to scallions or green onions. They both share the same hollow green leaves (no woody stems) and don’t have bulbs. Depending on the variety, they may be more or less pungent than regular bulb onions.
Don’t be afraid if you’ve never made ricotta gnocchi before. Jody provides you with some tips below. The main thing to keep in mind is to squeeze as much liquid as possible out of the ricotta and the greens. If the dough is too moist then the gnocchi will fall apart when you try to poach them. Make a single test gnocchi to poach before transforming all of the mix into dumplings. If it’s too loose, mix in a bit more flour and try again. In our alternative to the usual spinach, we considered trying just dandelion greens, but added other greens for fear some people might find the end result too bitter. To our surprise the gnocchi were mild (and delicious). Next time it’s damn the torpedos and full speed ahead with a batch that’s ALL dandelions and, if need be, I’ll eat them myself. And speaking of leftovers, we baked ours in a gratin dish with a sprinkle of grated pecorino as an accompaniment for some inexpensive lamb shoulder chops. Enjoy.
*There is a Texas dude ranch also called Lucky Boy. No connection. Bob and Monika don’t raise cattle, sheep, ostriches, elk, wild boar, llamas or dudes. They manage their property as a wildlife habitat.
Lucky Boy wild onions on the left; conventional spring onions on the right.
Dandelion and Mustard Green Gnocchi with Lucky Boy Onions and Pine Nuts
Makes 42 – 46 gnocchi.
- 1½ pounds greens such as spinach, kale, mustard greens, Swiss chard, dandelion greens–trimmed of tough ribs and stems to yield 1¼ pounds. I used ¾ pound Swiss chard and ½ pound each mustard greens and dandelion greens
- 3 large garlic cloves
- 1 pound dry whole milk ricotta, squeezed dry in a tea towel or cheesecloth to yield ¾ pound–use a rubber spatula to scrape the cheese from the cloth
- 1 egg + 2 yolks
- 1½ cups (2¼ ounces) freshly grated pecorino cheese
- 1/3 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 cup semolina flour
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup pine nuts
- 1 large bunch small spring onions or scallions, sliced. There should be a total of 2 cups sliced onions. The onions I used had tiny bulbs so I simply cut them off and then in half. I sliced the remaining tender white and green crosswise. I left the flower heads whole.
- ¼ teaspoon hot red pepper flakes
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- ½ cup chopped parsley
- Freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Smash the garlic and remove from the skins. You want the cloves in pieces.
- Add the firmest and most bitter leaves (e.g. dandelion) and the garlic pieces to the boiling water and cook 2 minutes. Add the remaining greens and cook 3 minutes or until tender.
- Drain the greens and garlic and then plunge into a bowl of ice water. Drain in a colander and squeeze well. I used an old dish towel to squeeze them.
- Pulse the greens with the garlic in a food processor until finely chopped.
- Wring dry in a second towel to remove all the moisture. The greens should be very dry. If they remain too wet, you’ll need to use more flour and that will change the flavor and texture of the gnocchi.
- In a large bowl, beat the ricotta, eggs and 1½ cups grated pecorino together.
- Add the greens to the cheese mixture and season generously with salt and pepper.
- Bring a small pot of salted water to a boil.
- Spread the semolina over a piece of parchment on a baking sheet.
- Stir in half the flour to the gnocchi mixture. Roll a spoonful of the mixture in the semolina flour as a test gnocchi and drop it into the water. It should bob back up to the surface of the water and puff up to about double its original size. It will take about 5 minutes to cook thoroughly. If it falls apart in the water, add the rest of the flour to the mix and test again. Taste the gnocchi as soon as it cools and adjust the seasoning in the mixture if necessary.
- When you’re happy with the gnocchi mixture, form into tablespoon-size pieces with two spoons, dropping each piece onto the parchment covered with semolina. Roll in the semolina and then using your hands, form into football shaped gnocchi. If the mixture sticks to your skin, dust your hands with semolina. You should have between 42 and 46 gnocchi.
- Put them in the freezer to set for 30 minutes. While the gnocchi are chilling you can make the sauce.
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large saute pan with the pine nuts and spring onions. Cook over medium-high heat until the nuts are toasted and the onions are tender, 3 – 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from the heat, add the remaining oil, the hot red pepper flakes, the zest and the chopped parsley.
- Bring a large shallow pan of salted water to a boil. Add 1/3 of the gnocchi and poach 5 minutes. They’re done when they float to the surface and have puffed up to about double in size. Use a slotted spoon to transfer them directly to the pan with the onions and pine nuts. Continue until all the gnocchi have poached.
- Turn the heat on under the pan, add ¼ cup of the gnocchi water and toss gently until the gnocchi are evenly coated with the sauce.
- Serve on warm plates with lots of grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and freshly ground black pepper. Four gnocchi make a nice appetizer or side dish; six or more will serve as an entree, depending on what else you’re serving and the size of everyone’s appetite.
Whenever I make these gnocchi, I have to take a couple of deep breaths to stave off anxiety before I start. “Will they work or will moisture beat me out?” The goal is to make them as light and flour-free as possible. So a couple of critical tips: 1. Squeeze, squeeze, squeeze. Consider this part of your culinary work-out routine. Use those upper arms to squeeze moisture out of the greens and the ricotta. The drier they are, the less flour you will need. 2. Test, test, test. They do need some flour, but unless you can make these blindfolded, it will take some testing to get just the right amount of flour. Have a small pot of salted boiling water ready before you start mixing the dough, add just half the flour and poach a spoonful. See what happens. Does the dough blow apart in the water? If so, add a bit more flour. Continue to add flour until the dough holds together and emerges from the water in the form of a dumpling. If you want to master these, make a batch every week for a month. You’ll get a feel for the dough, become an expert and in the future will have to test just once or twice. You can freeze the unpoached gnocchi.
I love the crunch of the onions and pine nuts in this recipe with a nice kick from the lemon and hot red pepper flakes. Think greens, garlic and hot pepper. I put the garlic in with the greens. Raisins are a natural player in this combination too, but for some reason I held back. If you give them a try, let me know how it goes. At the same time, these gnocchi would be fabulous with a mushroom sauce, a meat ragu, a tomato sauce, a cream sauce or simply done the very traditional way… tossed with brown butter and sage.
One final alternative way would be to poach them all, then arrange them in large gratin dish with some chopped tomatoes. Drizzle a little cream over them and then top with grated Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake in a 450 degree oven until bubbling and toasty.
P.S. The best part of this gnocchi day was Roxanne. It was April vacation so she was in the house and made her way sleepily downstairs just as I was forming the gnocchi. The shout-outs on our t-shirts to our friends at The Diesel Cafe in Somerville and Ile de Pain in Knysna, South Africa, was purely coincidental. But if you happen to be in either town, check out these restaurants.