This is the month sprinkled with blossom, sprouting vigorously across the landscape. The fiery gorse is particularly striking at the moment, daring the sun to shine with its abundant yellow flowers. If you are a home brewer now is the time to harness these delicate petals to make gorse wine; their subtle scent of coconut and vanilla will reward you for your patience. It will require some time on your advisedly – gloved hands but is well worth the effort. My earliest memories of Easter was using gorse flowers (called ‘whin’ in the north) to dye the shells of eggs by strewing the petals into the water as they were being hard- boiled. The chocolate varieties were less ubiquitous then! If you are a fan of Dr. Bach you will also know that he prescribes gorse as a remedy for ‘uncertainty’ which is perhaps pertinent this month if you are facing the surge of spring chores; there are so many jobs lined up it is a challenge to know where to begin.
Young seedlings under cover are establishing their roots and stretching their first leaves upwards and out, some are ready to be hardened off but these can be anxious weeks while young delicate plants are still at risk from fluctuating temperatures and there is a constant need for diligence. While they are being nursed their eventual destination beds must be prepared and dressed; not just to fertilise them but to supress the growth of weeds which are also very eager to display their spring vigour.
Weeds aren’t all bad of course and the transition period between winter crops and new season growth is when we can relish the tonic of young nettle tops (gloves on again), dandelion, wild garlic and three-cornered leek. April is a forager’s delight. These wild greens are perfect for using in soups, salads and pesto to bridge the last weeks of the ‘hungry gap’. If you are bent on pulling weeds don’t waste them. They can be mixed or matched with juicy spring onions, broccoli tops, spinach and kales to fill a pie, pack a pancake or served as a side dish; simply sautéed with a good olive or sesame oil, spiced with chilli and fresh ginger or just plain in a quick breakfast omelette. It’s all tasty goodness.
A batch of wild garlic pesto has inspired me to make some Gnocci which are an Italian dumpling, designed to be dressed with any fresh herby sauce. It is a relatively easy process to make Gnocchi but it is worth taking care with proportions and details to avoid heavy, stodgy results. The basic mix of cooked potato, flour and egg should form plump but light pillows of dough that quickly cook and float in a pan of boiling water. The potatoes can be boiled, steamed or roasted as long as they are dry. I prefer to roast them whole, skin on, with a generous handful of course sea salt. The crisp skin is removed when they are still as hot as you can handle them and then pressed through a potato ricer. Some recipes use a 50:50 proportion of flour to potato but I used 200g flour with 600g cooked, peeled potatoes and it worked well.
They are classically served pan-seared with browned butter and sage, topped with shears of Parmesan.
3 or 4 medium sized potatoes, roasted and peeled
1/3 quantity organic pasta flour (oo grade)
1 egg, lightly beaten
Sea salt for roasting
½ tsp. fine sea salt for seasoning
Wash and dry the potatoes before placing them on an oven-proof tray with the salt. Roast in a medium hot oven for about 45 minutes, depending on the size. They should be light and fluffy inside with a crispy skin.
Remove the skins while the potatoes are still hot and pass them through a potato ricer. This will incorporate air to the mix but you can also use a mouli or course grater if you don’t have a ricer gadget. Do this over a large wide bowl. When the potato has cooled, tip it into a mound on a clean worktop. Add the measured sieved flour and salt. Make a well in the centre and crack in the egg. Whisk the egg with a fork and gradually work in the surrounding mixture with your fingers. Work gently to form soft dough and stop kneading as soon as it can form a ball. Cut the dough with a pastry cutter or blunt knife into manageable portions to roll into ropes. Use extra flour to dust the board as you work but avoid using too much or it will make the texture heavy. Cut the ropes into even pieces, about 1 inch, roll them against the tines of a fork to leave ridges and line them up on a floured tray or plate. The ridges will help to ‘carry’ the sauce but don’t worry if they aren’t consistent first time; it may take some practice. My first lot are quite free form!
Drop the gnocci into a pan of gently boiling water and remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as they are all floating. This will take about 4 minutes, depending on the size of the pieces. Cook in small batches, drain and serve immediately with the sauce of your choice. If you want to serve them later it is best to cook them and dress with some olive oil to store in the fridge.
They can be reheated in a sauce, under foil in the oven or pan fried in butter and herbs. They are very versatile little pockets of starchy but light bites that are the perfect vehicle for any number of punchy sauces.
So if you are having a bout of ‘uncertainty’ perhaps a warm cup of gorse tea might help you grasp the nettle.