One of the most beautiful and isolated retreats in the world lies in the Casentino mountains in Italy, about 50 km from Florence. The Sanctuary of La Verna was founded there by St. Francis of Assisi in 1213. If you’re lucky enough to visit, you’ll be invited to taste Gnocchi del Casentino, the traditional dish made with wild greens from the forest. For centuries the Franciscan monks have gathered wild dandelion, chicory, curly endive and nettles to make these gnocchi.
This recipe is adapted to be Gluten-free, Vegan and Paleo, using no cheese or flour. Instead it uses coconut, nutritional yeast, and lemon to re-create the traditional flavor. These are also nightshade free, meaning they contain no potato flour or tomatoes, which are common allergens. (See my article Beware of Nightshades.) Gnocchi are a wonderful dish for a gathering, not hard to make, and they satisfy my longing for Tuscany. Fresh sage is traditional, but basil is also delicious. Makes about 52 gnocchi. Serves 6.
- 1 pound fresh greens, such as kale, dandelion, arugula, chard, chicory
- 1 large egg
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- 1/2 cup coconut butter (soften it in a bowl of lukewarm water)
- 2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
- 1/4 teaspoon unprocessed salt
- 1/4 teaspoon Vitamin-C crystals – optional (Buy in supplements section of any healthy grocery)
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
- Ground black pepper to taste
- 1/4 cup coconut oil, melted gently by putting it in a bowl of lukewarm water
- 1/2 to 1 cup almond meal for the batter
- 1 cup almond meal for rolling the gnocchi
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 6 leaves fresh sage or basil
- Wash and trim the greens, removing any large stems. Place them in a large pot or steamer 1/4 cup water. Bring the water to a boil and turn it down very low to simmer for 5 to 6 minutes. This allows the greens to steam gently. Drain the greens well by pressing them into a colander. Chop finely and put them into a large mixing bowl.
- In a mixing bowl with a whisk, or in any style blender, or an electric mixer, add the egg, garlic, coconut butter, nutritional yeast, salt, Vitamin C, lemon juice, nutmeg, and black pepper. Mix well until smooth. Add the coconut oil last and mix well.
- Pour cheese sauce into the greens and mix well together. Add 1/2 to 1 cup almond meal a bit at a time until the mixture is stiff and firm enough to hold together in balls. You may refrigerate for 1 hour or more if you wish, which makes it a bit easier to shape into balls.
- Prepare 2 trays covered with parchment paper –one for the raw gnocchi balls, the other for the cooked ones. Boil 1 quart of filtered water in a saucepan on the stove, and turn it down to barely boiling. Put 1 cup almond meal into a medium bowl for rolling the gnocchi. Dust your hands with almond meal. Roll the batter into 1-inch balls, roll them in the almond meal, and place them onto the first tray.
- With the water barely boiling, drop the gnocchi, 3 to 4 at a time into the pot. A few at a time prevents them from sticking to each other. Cook about 2 minutes until they float to the surface and stay on top. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and place on the second tray. Keep rolling the batter into balls, placing them on the first tray. Keep the pot barely boiling, cooking all the balls, placing them on the second tray.
- Heat olive oil in a large shallow pan over low heat. Add minced sage leaves and a pinch of salt. Cook briefly to infuse the oil with sage flavor. Add some of the cooked gnocchi to the pan. Brown them briefly over medium heat. Put them on a serving platter. Repeat until they are all browned. Pour remaining herb butter on top. Garnish with sage leaves and serve.