For some reason, gnocchi has always filled me with fear. I could never see why the little potato cylinders didn't just disintegrate into the cooking water and had a vision that if I made them, that might well happen. Yesterday evening, then, I was psyching myself up for disaster. I was also in a good mood because I bought a new cookbook - I know, I know, I need some sort of therapy - this time Jo Pratt's book, In the Mood for Food. It is gloriously and unashamedly girly, with a pink cover and enticing sections like 'lazy food' and 'extravagant food' and 'romantic food', as well as hangover breakfasts and the most seductive ice cream and chocolate sections. I came home, put potatoes into the oven to bake to make gnocchi, and read my new book. In my defence, I had already made the oxtail stew that the gnocchi accompanies in this particular recipe and thus half of the work was already out of the way. Nonetheless there remained the nagging worry that I might mess the gnocchi up, exacerbated because I felt that Jamie's book could give more details of amounts and method and therefore turned to Giorgio Locatelli, who warns that small amounts of gnocchi dough are notoriously difficult to work with, which in turn scared me further.
Fear aside, the gnocchi turned out fine. I scooped the potato flesh out of the baked potatoes and Simon mashed them; we added nutmeg powder and egg yolk and then pasta flour, until the mixture felt like dough. Then we tore a piece off and tested it; miraculously it didn't fall apart. I teased the dough into 2 sausage shapes, cut each one at 2.5 cm intervals as instructed, and transferred to a floured baking tray to set in the fridge for 10-20 minutes. Finally I boiled the gnocchi for a few minutes and served over the oxtail stew.
To make the stew, I seared an oxtail until brown all over, adding celery, leek, onion, and carrot and cooking until golden brown. I then added white wine, crushed fennel seeds and juniper berries, a crushed dried red chilli, tomato puree and tinned plum tomatoes. I removed from the oven and lifted the meat out of the stew, shredding the meat off the bone, and replacing it in the pot. I added oregano and simmered for 15 minutes.
Everything came out as it should, I think. The gnocchi were delicious - light and tasty. The stew was a real winter warmer, with all the flavour you'd expect from oxtail. I feel as though I have jumped another hurdle in food terms, although admittedly one successful batch of gnocchi doesn't actually mean that I am the gnocchi expert. Still, I am making progress, and that was part of what my project was all about. I suppose I might have to tackle meringues soon, and they really scare me, not least because I don't like them that much so I've never particularly wanted to try. I will, though - what I've learnt recently is to suspend prejudice and try things, and see how they turn out.