Sunday, 12 June 2011

Poco Loco!

Gnocchi al' Annato, con Salsiccia, Rucola & Ricotta
Annato Gnocchi, with Sausage, Arugula and Ricotta

Yes, I describe this dish as being "a little crazy"... it really is! Annato seed is a typically Mexican / South American ingredient. These tiny, deep red, seeds that look like little stones, are often used in many traditional dishes there- but hardly anywhere else. They give a rich, almost supernatural red coloring to any meal and have a mildly peppery, earthy flavor which is vaguely reminiscent of nutmeg. It is hard to describe! You really have to try it yourselves...

So please don't ask me WHY I decided to experiment with it and prepare something as typically Italian as gnocchi with it... but I did. And I am very glad that I did! You will be too!

Annato is available as seeds, powder or paste- I had bought the paste quite a while ago to make a Mexican dish and have had the jar sitting at the back of my fridge ever since. Don't you hate it when you buy an ingredient or spice to make one particular meal with and never find use for it for anything else? Exactly. Life is too short to not be adventurous and to not go where no man has gone before. If Captain Kirk and pointy-eared Mr. Spock can do it- then so can I!

I put 2 tablespoonfuls of Annato paste into a cup and half-filled it with boiling water to dilute it. I set this aside and prepared the gnocchi... get ready- this took all of 5 minutes to do so watch carefully or you might miss something!

I diced very finely, a little Italian spicy sausage, a little onion, celery, carrot and garlic, and popped all of this into my Teflon pan. Once the sausage had started to do it's stuff, I added the gnocchi and made sure they got well coated in everything. Just when things started to look critical- as if they might be starting to stick, I squeezed the juice of 1 lime into the pan and poured in the diluted Annato paste. Immediately everything turned a deep orange-red- wow! That really is quite a color that the Annato gives off! It is really unique and quite amazing!

The gnocchi soon took up the liquid and I added a little more hot water- maybe a half a cup, not too much. I also added some cumin seed and a little Tabasco sauce as well as regular pepper. After 2-3 minutes, the gnocchi were firm but cooked and had thickened the water and Annato paste into a wonderful sauce. I then added a tablespoon of lemon marmalade, to balance the mildly earthy flavor with something tangy, fruity and bright- it was the perfect addition!

All I needed to do now was to serve it up and I thought that a little arugula would go well. The fresh, peppery greens were a great contrast to the rich, spicy sauce... and a little salted ricotta added the seasoning to make everything taste more than perfect!

Muy loco - muy delicioso- muy bien!

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