Sunday, December 2, 2012

Potato-Spinach Dumplings: Njoki or Gnocchi, Not Just For Italians!

Gnocchi have been on my mind.

I have been reading a wonderful "food-and-roots" memoir called The Lost Ravioli Recipes of Hoboken, by food writer Laura Schenone, who sets out to find the authentic version of her Italian-American family ravioli recipe. Along the way, she provides a couple of recipes for gnocchi.

So, when it came time to plan my Week 42 Dinner, her book got me thinking.  I knew Slovenians also made gnocchi.  They call them njoki.

I found a recipe in my newest cookbook, borrowed from the library of the Slovenian Hall in San Francisco: Slovenian Cookery (1996, 2001) by a top Slovenian chef named Slavko Adamlje.  In English, the dish is called potato and spinach dumplings.

The recipe looked good, especially with that rich gouda and gorgonzola sauce. Then I remembered that our friend Marie, whose background is Portuguese and Italian, had recently sent me a recipe for  gnocchi.  When I checked, her recipe (for the dumplings, not the sauce) was very similar. And she used American measures.

In adapting the Slovenian recipe, I got a little mixed up with the metric conversions.  I should have used more spinach and less flour, I suspect.  This was my first-ever attempt at gnocchi, so it was all uncharted territory.

But it all worked out in the end.  Read on!  

Potato and Spinach Dumplings (Njoki) with Gorgonzola-Gouda Sauce

1 c. mashed potatoes (you will need 2 potatoes)
¾ lb. fresh trimmed spinach (2 small bunches), cooked and minced
1 c. white wheat flour
1/3 c. semolina flour
1 egg
dash of salt
dash of pepper
nutmeg, freshly grated
fresh basil, 2 t. minced


2 c. milk
2 oz. gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
2 oz. smoked gouda, cut in cubes
1 oz. parmesan, grated
salt, pepper, basil to taste
1 t. corn or potato starch

For the potatoes: I began with 2 large Idaho potatoes, cut in chunks and boiled. After cooking, peel and mash, using as little of the cooking liquid as possible. Measure out one cup, saving the leftovers if desired.

(Some recipes suggest this method, to keep the potatoes as dry as possible:  Bake or microwave the potatoes. Then mash them and  spread out on a platter to dry.)

Cook spinach and press out excess water. Chop finely.

Mix all the ingredients together.  Knead, adding more flour to make a soft dough.  (I had to add quite a bit more flour.)   Form into ball.  Let rest for a half hour.

Divide dough into 4 pieces.  Roll on floured board into ropes, about the thickness of a finger.  Cut into ¾ inch pieces.  Press each with thumb or mark with tines of a fork.  (This is to allow sauce to collect better. ) Place pieces on a pan lined with waxed paper.

Cook in boiling salted water, not too many at once,  for about 20 minutes or until the dumplings float to the top.  Drain and coat with olive oil.

For the sauce:  Heat milk.  Add cheeses and seasonings.  Stir to let melt.  Add corn or potato starch to thicken.

To serve: top with sauce and add some fresh tomato relish (my husband's adaptation) on the side.

Tomato Relish

fresh tomatoes, cut up
lemon juice
olive oil
fresh basil
pumpkin seeds
salt and pepper

The Verdict:

These gnocchi were good.  Perhaps a little more dense than they might have been.  The sauce was amazing!

It was a good and simple meal, in a labor intensive kind of way.

All in all, one of my most successful dinners!