Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Eating Organic carrot gnocchi

Last Friday saw the start of the Soil Association’s Organic Fortnight 3 – 17 September 2010. It is the UK’s biggest celebration of all things organic
Unlike Slow Food, many people have heard of the Soil Association and are aware of the significance of the ‘organic’ stamp label (see below). However, for some, the organic-mark remains an indication of something beyond their budget. Therefore sadly it tends to be perceived as something accessible only to a certain strata of society.

The Soil Associations strapline is ‘choose organic every day’. I like it and would so dearly love to Choose organic everyday, but some things like buying organic clothing and treating myself to an organic holiday are off the radar for me. Things that are feasible and that I can do realistically are visit organic working farms, shop at the farmers markets and buy organic vegetables, but saying all that, I have to honestly admit that my shopping basket is not 100% organic, simply because some of the price tags are outwith my budget.

My awareness around the whole organic movement was enhanced because of my diet. As a person whose diet consists primarily of vegetables and therefore values the quality of the vegetables I eat, I began exploring local farmers markets, but this eagerness quickly turned to disappointment. For two reasons, there was a severe lack of vegetables stalls selling fresh, local and seasonal produce; and secondly those that were present tended to be from the East of Scotland and I live in the West of Scotland. So I signed up for an allotment plot and after a couple of year of waiting, I was granted one. This was the one place I was able to practice and part fulfil my urban organic dream. Growing some of my own organic vegetables and herbs on my allotment plot became a reality. Then from scratch I would create flavourful meals I wanted to eat. I was also able to avoid the over packaging of ready made convenience foods. Sometimes, I would cook in bulk. Make meals in larger batches such as these vegetarian pies and then freeze them or make jams, chutney and pickles with glut vegetables and fruit like courgettes and apples. Growing my own taught me many lessons, but one significant lesson it taught me was ‘how to eat with the seasons’ and the difference in flavour and freshness was vast. It was also doing magic to my physical health and mental well-being.

But that urban organic dream came tumbling down early this year, when I lost my allotment plot in a fire. To fill that gap, I decided to sign up for an organic vegetable box. I found it a little disappointing for a number of reasons, but namely ‘nothing could replace the pleasure of harvesting and eating your own home-grown produce’. I had got the organic growing bug and the taste of an affordable ‘good life’. Like many, I aspire to move to a house with more garden space where I would be able to be a bit more self sufficientish, and maybe keep some of my own chickens. But for now, to feel some kind of closeness with the organic principles, I’ve started growing again, this time on a much, much smaller scale in my tiny garden plot which measures about 7 foot by 10 foot. I also utilise growing pots. This has meant that I have had to heavily supplement what I was growing, so I try to plan in advance my weekends and importantly what is going to be on my shopping list. I always try where I can to buy local (Scottish, British) and seasonal through farm shops, farmers markets, green grocers, supermarket, Pick your own (PYO) and places like Geilston Gardens; and importantly I stay within my budget. Alongside this, I have also begun to learn how to identify and forage a little for free wild food with wild garlic being this years star recipes.
I know in reality, becoming organic for some is not easy for a host of reasons, but I also know the Soil Association would support me in encouraging everybody to try and make at least ‘one small change towards being organic’. For example, as a mature student in the mid-1990s on a rather limited budget, I made a commitment to buying one produce that was organic. Do you know what I picked: organic supermarket carrots, plus I could really see, taste and smell the difference (honest). Organic carrots have remained on my shopping list, (except when there not British). This simple decision slowly evolved to bigger things. If your not already buying organic, I think a small start like this may encourage you to discover bigger things such as why eating organic can be good for your well-being and how this impacts on the wider environment. For me it is the small changes that matter, as it’s the small changes that lead to the big things.
So talking of organic carrots, here is a recipe featuring organic vegetables. The leek and onion came from Geilston Gardens and the garlic and mint were home grown in pots. I have to admit, halfway though making the carrot gnocchi I had decided to myself that I was not going to like these. Thinking they were going to be heavy and more dumpling, than gnocchi. To convince myself that I was going to try and enjoy them, after cooking, I opted to gently fry them in a little minted butter, so that the texture was not just doughy, but a little crisp on the outside. Well I have to admit, I actually enjoyed them very much. In fact, I am thinking of making them again but with slightly different flavours. Oh the cheese is optional, I only added it because we had a piece of mint flavoured cheese to use up. It came from an independent cheese shop.
Minted Carrot Gnocchi served with caramelised leeks and onions
serves 3 - 4
Ingredients
600g carrots
100g-150g plain flour
100g mint cheese (optional)
1 organic, free range medium egg yolk
salt and pepper, to taste

100g unsalted butter
1 tablespoon minced mint
Method
For the carrot gnocchi
Preheat oven to 200 C. Wash carrot and pat dry. Trim ends and cut into 1/2 inch-thick slices. Line a baking tray with baking paper and scatter carrots. Sprinkle with salt and roast for 25-30 minutes or until soft.
Puree carrots and set aside to cool for 15 minutes. Season with salt, pepper, and add the optional crumbled cheese. Add 100g of the flour and yolk. Mix well, then add additional flour gradually until the dough is formed.
Line a baking tray with baking paper and sprinkle with flour. Dust a work area generously with flour. Take a handful of dough. Form into finger-thick rolls and chop roughly into 1 inch pieces. Transfer onto prepared baking tray and repeat until dough is used up.
To cook, bring a large pan of salted water to boil. Gently drop gnocchi into boiling water and let them cook until they float to the surface. Remove with a slotted spoon. Set aside and prepare the caramelised onions.
For the caramelised onions and leeks
2 – 3 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and sliced
1 large white onion, finely sliced
1 large leek, washed and cut into slices
Salt and pepper to taste

Place the oil in a wide pan, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes, then add the onions until they begin to soften a little. Finally add the leek and cook gently until all the vegetables are soft. Season to taste. Keep warm whilst you bring the dish together
Heat a wide frying pan, add the butter and the minced mint until melted, then toss in the gnocchi, shaking gently so that the gnocchi does not stick to the pan, after a minute, flip the gnocchi over and cook in the butter for another minute before serving. Spoon the caramelized onions and leek between 3 – 4 plates, then evenly scatter over the carrot gnocchi and serve. My homely version of minted carrot gnocchi was inspired by Paul Gaylers rather gourmet recipe Sardinian carrot gnocchi with minted caramelised cipollini onions and leeks in Pure Vegetarian.

If you were interested reading this, you may be interested in reading my review of Eat Slow Britain: Special places to eat, inspirational chefs, gifted organic producers by Alastair Sawday with Anna Colquhoun. It does not focus on Michelin star restaurants. Rather it recommends and celebrates several dozens of places that abide by the slow food principles of ‘good, clean and fair’ food, all of which have been given Soil Association accreditation.

15 comments:

  1. Ok that sounds amazing! I love that carrot picture of the fresh carrots! I LOVE gnocchi too! What in the world is mint cheese?

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  2. Yum! I made squash gnocchi last year, I have also made spinach and beet (in order for my daughter to have something pink to eat), but I've never done carrot. I will have to try this.

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  3. Thank you for posting this! I have way too much carrot in the house right now and these look delicious! :P

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  4. Wow! Im impressed! Beautiful dish Mango!!!

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  5. This is an excellent post, thanks very much for blogging for Organic Fortnight! I'll link to your post from Crafty Green Poet and from the Soil Assocaition mini-blog.

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  6. yum yum yum yum yum - carrot gnocchi. Would never have thought of it but it looks delicious. Just as good as the gourmet recipe, I'm sure. As for the allotment tragedy, have you tried the Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall landbank register? A friend of mine signed up and now has a huge piece of land to use practically next door to her house.

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  7. You know how much I loooovvvve gnocchi! I havent tried making carrott gnocchi, were they sweet? I always like to try and fry my gnocchi to make them a little crisp on the outside too.

    Rose

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  8. It always makes me sad to read about the loss of your allotment.

    I agree with so much that you say. While I would dearly love to have organic cotton sheets on our beds and organic clothing on our backs it's just not possible. I think our supermarkets here are far behind those in the US (and possibly UK) in terms of organics as well. The small organic stores can have outrageous prices (the most ridiculous being a $21 pineapple) and the larger supermarkets still tend to have small organic selections limited to some of the usual basic fruits/vegs.

    But I buy what I can afford and grow what I can. Funny that you mention the taste difference of carrots - I find these and strawberries are critical to buy organic. The difference in taste is night and day.

    Lovely looking gnocchi btw. I've made pasta numerous times but never gnocchi - it actually looks much easier!

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  9. That carrot gnocchi looks darned good, and much more appealing than it's potato version can sometimes look.

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  10. Thanks Carissa.
    The carrot picture was taken at the allotment last year.

    Mint cheese is simply cheese flavoured with mint :D


    Thanks Mama.
    Carrot was new to me too.
    I like the sound of your spinach and beet gnocchi. I've made beetroot gnocchi and actually did not mind the taste, but some of my fellow readrs commented that is looked like meat pieces.
    http://allotment2kitchen.blogspot.com/2010/03/mottled-beetroot-gnocchi.html


    Thanks Mo :D
    If you make them, just bare with when combing the flour and the carrot puree - it will be sticky, just add more flour to combine.


    Thank you so much Morgan.


    Thank you so much Juliet.
    Its been a pleasure and rather thought provoking for me on a personal level.

    I'll put another link in my side bar for the Soil Association Organic Fortnight.


    Thank you so much Lou.
    Yes, I think it was just as good as the gourmet recipe :D, but I don't what the chef will think.

    Yes, I am aware of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall landbank register and am so pleased to learn that your friend has gained a huge piece of land through it and so close to her home. I'm just not ready (yet). Thanks though :)


    Oh Rose,
    I'm so delighted to learn that you 'loooovvvve gnocchi!' - made me smile your comment.
    NO the carrot gnocchi was not particularly sweet. Your just like me, frying the gnocchi to make them a little crisp on the outside too.
    :D


    Thank you so much Christine for your comment re the allotment plot. Yes, it still hurts, but as you can see I am/have moved on. Just missed those tomatoes a lot this year :)

    I really appreciated reading of your experience around 'organic' too. It does sound like your supermarkets are lagging behind the ones in the U.K (surprisingly). Organic is such a niche market, hence the reason some small organic stores charge outrageous prices, as if your buying an designer label, rather than a food produce. I am shocked to read that an organic pineapple is $21.

    I'm pleased to read that you too note the taste difference of soem fruit and veg. Its not just in our heads :)

    Have a go at gnocchi. Easy for sure. Takes a little practice to roll out and cut even size shaped, but that doesn't really matter.

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  11. Thank you so much Kath. I agree it does, but the potato version does have a place. Imagine covered in pesto sauce or a garlicky sage butter. Making me lick my tongue.

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  12. gorgeous! i've pulled up all but two of my carrots though (obviously need to plant more next year!), sadness! i've gotten so spoiled 'shopping' in my backyard it seems sad to pay for it...

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  13. Thank you so, so much EcoGrrl for your comment and so much for becoming a follower. I am truly humbled and honoured.

    I share your sadness, its a blessing to have been able to 'shop' for veg in your backyard, now you have to spend the notes in the supermarket.

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  14. Such an awesome blog! :-) I love it -- great post! That recipe sure does look good! Come check out my blog. If you like it, I would super appreciate it with all of my heart if you (and anyone else that drops by) would become a follower.

    http://www.idealcharity.blogspot.com/

    Thanks!

    Alex

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  15. Thank you so much Alex Trumpe.
    I'll be over in a little while to check out your blog space. Thank you for introducing me to your space.

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