Credit: recipe, styling & photography by Ilse van der Merwe www.thefoodfox.com
This creamy casserole is oozing with umami – a decadent mixture of melted nutty mature gouda, shitake mushrooms, baby spinach, pillowy gnocchi, herbs and cream with a hint of smoked paprika. It is a heavenly bowl of meat-free comfort food any day of the week, but it can also serve as a posh vegetarian side dish at your next braai. It pairs beautifully with the Perdeberg Endura Cape Blend 2020 – a smooth and elegant vegan/vegetarian-friendly red wine that stands up well to rich dishes.
Ingredients: (serves 4 as a main)
30 ml olive oil
300-400 g brown or mixed exotic mushrooms, sliced
3-4 sprigs thyme, leaves only (stalks discarded)
a few sage leaves, chopped
salt & pepper, to taste
60 ml dry white wine (or chicken stock)
500 ml long-life* cream
a pinch of ground nutmeg
5 ml (1 teaspoon) smoked paprika (optional)
200 g baby spinach
500 g store-bought gnocchi
1 cup grated mature gouda cheese (or parmesan), plus extra
flaked almonds or toasted breadcrumbs
Place a pan over medium-high heat, add the oil and fry the mushrooms, thyme and sage until brown, seasoning with salt & pepper. Add the wine and stir to deglaze the pan, simmering until the wine is reduced by half. Add the cream, nutmeg and paprika, stirring. Bring to a slow simmer, then stir in the spinach. Before it is completely wilted, remove from the heat and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 220 C. Cook the gnocchi briefly in a large pot of salted water, then drain. Add it to the creamy mixture in the pan, along with the gouda, stirring. Transfer to a deep baking dish/casserole (mine is 26cm), top with some extra cheese, then bake for 20 minutes until golden on top (or divide into 4 ovenproof wide bowls and bake the individual portions). Remove from the oven and leave to stand for 5-10 minutes before serving hot.
Garnish tip: Reserve a few pan-fried mushrooms for topping and a few crispy fried whole sage leaves.
*Note: I use a carton of UHT-process long-life cream for this recipe because it is naturally thicker than fresh cream and yields a beautifully luscious sauce texture without the need to thicken it.