“What’s your war horse?”
My what now?
“Your cavallo di battaglia. The thing that you do best, that you do to impress. Your speciality.”
Everyone has one. A trick to break the ice at parties, like juggling. An unexpected skill, an academic with a penchant for meticulous embroidery.
Most people also have at least one recipe for company. Even if they can’t cook. Maybe they are proud of their spaghetti carbonara with creme fraiche. (Blasphemy for an Italian, actually.) Maybe they can only make chocolate-banana bread, or breakfast pancakes, but really really well.
I think it would make a unique cookbook, one that was truly useful. A compilation of stand-by, fail-safe war horses.
Mine is almost certainly chicken, roasted or cooked slowly with cider and apples, with a simple dessert containing Nutella and mascarpone. If asked to produce proper patisserie, I would pick choux pastry swans because they are kitsch and cute, because I love the way choux goes PUFF in the oven from eggy liquid to air ball ready to be stuffed with cream and caramel.
Carrot gnocchi are not my specialty, they belong to someone else. They are special because they are vegetarian but interesting, a classic in an unexpected coat. I cheated a little, used sweet potato to make up for a dearth of carrots, tossed in some harissa and sundried tomatoes because they were in the fridge. I was impressed, though I say so myself.
They were a beautiful colour for a start, bright orange dotted with red. They are more like gnudi – naked ravioli – a delicate filling only just held together by dint of a little egg, a little parmesan. More cheese on top, a generous amount of melted butter and it makes a dish that you will be sad to finish.
Carrot and sweet potato gnocchi with harissa and sundried tomatoes
recipe from Sara, as published by Emiko – serves 4 as main course, 6 for a starter
1kg carrots and/or sweet potato
2 tbs semolina/polenta flour
2 tbs grated parmesan
4 egg yolks
salt, pepper, nutmeg
to serve: 100g butter – 1/4 tsp harissa – handful sundried tomatoes in oil
Peel, cut carrots and sweet potato into chunks. Steam until soft. Mash roughly with a fork, let cool.
Mix all other ingredients, stir in cooled mash. Add salt, pepper and grated nutmeg to taste.
(At this point I like to leave the mixture in the fridge for a couple of hours to firm up a little. But it’s not in the original recipe, so go ahead and make them straightaway if you’re hungry.)
Fill a large shallow pan with water and put on to boil. Heat a large serving dish in the oven with the butter and harissa in it. With two teaspoons, make small quenelles (lozenge shapes) not much bigger than a walnut in its shell and drop them into the water. Only put enough in the pan to make one layer or they won’t cook as well. Put the rest on a floured tea towel. When they float up to the surface after a couple of minutes, remove to heated serving dish. Repeat with the rest of the gnocchi. (Should be about 4 rounds unless you have an enormous pan.)
Gently toss gnocchi in the butter and harissa, sprinkle with sundried tomatoes chopped small.
Serve absolutely immediately. Have everyone waiting at the table, forks in hand. More parmesan is obligatory, extra harissa if you like it spicy.