Espelette gnocchi and meatballs

Dark and fruity espelette peppers grown by Joanne of Day Brighteners Farm.

Dark and fruity espelette peppers grown by Joanne of Day Brighteners Farm.

I no longer seek out face-destroying heat. Don’t get me wrong, I still like having some heat in my food. But I don’t need to sweat, go red and start crying. It’s not really my definition of fun.

That’s why I love espelette peppers like those grown by Day Brighteners Farm (Full story here). These dark, fruity, slightly spicy peppers have just the right amount of heat to be present but pleasant. Kids can eat them. People who don’t care for spiciness can accept them. This recipe combines the warming flavour of espelette peppers with the cooling anise flavour of tarragon. In my humble opinion, it’s a perfect balance.

In addition to the flavours, there’s the texture element of the gnocchi and meatballs, both of which I like to form in bite-sized oblong balls. You have the meaty chew of the meatballs with the pillowy softness of the gnocchi. Again, perfect balance.

Oh and don’t be intimidated by making gnocchi. Of all the homemade pastas you could make, it’s by far the easiest. As far as I’m concerned, it just so happens that it’s the best...after dumplings. I love me some dumplings!

Espelette gnocchi and meatballs. Flavours and textures all in perfect balance.

Espelette gnocchi and meatballs. Flavours and textures all in perfect balance.

INGREDIENTS FOR MEATBALLS

1 pound (500 g) medium ground beef
1 tbsp espelette pepper powder
1 tbsp dried tarragon
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp black pepper

INGREDIENTS FOR GNOCCHI

2 pounds (900g) russet potatoes
Olive oil
1 large egg yolk
1 to 2 cups all purpose flour
Salt and pepper to taste

INGREDIENTS FOR ESPELETTE SPIKED SAUCE

2 tbsp olive oil
1 large clove garlic, thinly sliced
1 tbsp espelette pepper powder
28 oz (798 ml) best quality canned, diced tomatoes you can find
2 tbsp tomato paste
Salt and pepper to taste

GARNISH

⅓ cup (~ 5-6 sprigs) fresh tarragon leaves

METHOD

With your hands, mix together all ingredients for meatballs. You want to work the mixture till it becomes sticky. This will help the meatballs to maintain their shape once you cook them. Marinate the meatball mixture in the fridge for 2 hours.

Pierce the russet potatoes with a fork, smear with olive oil and bake in a 400°F oven for an hour. If you plan ahead, you can incorporate this step into a previous meal. Just bake a few extra potatoes for your gnocchi party! 

Once the potatoes have gone soft on the inside and crispy on the outside, split them in half and empty the flesh into a bowl. Mash with a fork until smooth and let cool.

Once the mashed potato flesh is cool, add the egg yolk, salt, pepper and a handful of flour. This is where you get your hands messy. Work the flour into the potatoes and add more flour until the dough comes together. You’ll know it’s ready when the dough is smoother than it is sticky. If you’re not sure when to stop, don’t worry about it. Gnocchi are very forgiving.

Sprinkle flour onto a baking sheet. Roll the gnocchi mixture into a snake shape. Portion off bite-sized pieces and roll into an oblong shape; like a football with rounded tips. Place the gnocchi onto the floured baking sheet and pop them into the fridge for 30 minutes to set. 

Take the meatball mixture out of the fridge and form into the same shape and size as the gnocchi. Gently heat olive oil in a pot with a pinch of salt. Fry meatballs until well browned, being sure not to move them till they’ve formed a good crust. Remove the meatballs by placing them on a paper towel. Drain excess fat from pot.

In the remaining fat, add garlic and espelette pepper powder. Fry until fragrant and the oil has gone red. Careful not to burn anything...garlic goes from delicious and aromatic to bitter and disgusting really quickly!

Add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste. Bring to a boil, scraping the bottom of the pot to dislodge all the delicious meatball bits. Reduce heat, place the meatballs back into the pot and simmer for 10-15 minutes until the sauce is thick and the meatballs are cooked through.

While the sauce and meatballs are simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Remove the gnocchi from the fridge and place them gently into the boiling water. Swirl gently to make sure none have stuck to the bottom. Once they float, they’re ready.

Strain the gnocchi and portion them into bowls. Ladle over the meatballs and sauce. 

Garnish with lots of tarragon leaves and serve. Finely grated parmesan would definitely be welcome to the party if you happen to have some on hand.