Credit: Photography: Earl Carter

Potato gnocchi with brussels sprouts, hazelnuts and kaiserfleisch

I love the pride small Australian country towns can take in their heritage. My life now straddles two small towns – Lyonville, where I live and garden, and nearby Trentham, where the restaurant is. Two towns with similar heritage, fiercely proud of their history. There is not much left in Lyonville these days, just a bloody good and wacky pub and a community of residents.

Lyonville hasn’t always been like this, however. In the middle of the 19th century it was just starting to come into its own. The gold rush and the building boom in Melbourne created an enormous appetite for timber and many brave souls took off to these hills and started to fell what must have been the most impressive of old forests. They cut and they cut and they cut, until some sensible person had an eye to the future and created the Wombat State Forest, instituted a replanting program, and the timber fellers and millers had to find other work.

Lyonville still holds a woodchop every February to honour the woodcutters who came before. But the shift from tree felling, along with a suitable local soil and climate, led the community to turn their attention to farming – in particular, potato farming.

Trentham has always been the bigger town of the two but, by the grace of not being connected by a major highway, has managed to keep its tiny, timbered town feel in place. Like Lyonville, Trentham started out as a timber town. As the forest was cleared, the rich seams of red dirt were farmed and planted with potatoes. It’s no surprise that the area was settled with families from Ireland, England and Scotland as the climate was, and still is, reminiscent of the old country with its fog, mists and snow. It must have been a real test of strength and character to clear and then to farm this region.

The tiny spud-pickers’ cottages dotted around the farms are testimony to a world where creature comforts were non-existent. And now at the beginning of May each year, when the harvest of potatoes is settling into full swing and the temperature is starting to drop, Trentham celebrates its heritage with a yearly Spudfest. So, to feel part of the local pride on May 5, here is a potato gnocchi dish, resplendent with brussels sprouts and hazelnuts – all things that thrive here in the hills of central Victoria.

Potato gnocchi with brussels sprouts, hazelnuts and kaiserfleisch

Serves 6

– 45g hazelnuts

– olive oil

– 200g kaiserfleisch, cut into lardons

– 100g butter, coarsely chopped

– 200g brussels sprouts, about 10, trimmed and separated
   into leaves

– grana padano, for garnishing


For the potato gnocchi

– 1kg potatoes, scrubbed (I’m using local kennebecs)

– 325g plain flour

– flaked salt

– fine semolina


Preheat your oven to 180ºC.

Place the hazelnuts on a baking tray and roast until golden (about five minutes), then rub in a tea towel to remove the skins. Coarsely chop and set aside.

Place the potatoes in a large saucepan of cold water, bring to the boil over high heat and cook until tender (about 30 to 40 minutes, depending on the size). Drain well and cool slightly.

Place a large pot of salted water on the stove and bring to the boil.

When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel and pass through a ricer or Mouli into a bowl. Turn the potato onto a bench and start working in the flour and about two teaspoons of flaked salt, working quickly to create a sturdy but not overworked dough.

Divide the dough into four, then, working with one piece at a time, roll on a lightly floured surface to form a two-centimetre-wide cylinder. Cover the remaining dough with a tea towel to keep it warm. Cut the dough cylinder into 1.5-centimetre lengths. Roll each piece over the back of a fork with your finger and thumb to make an indentation and place on baking trays dusted with semolina. (You can just cut into little cylinders if you don’t want to roll the dumplings over a fork.)

Cook, in batches, in the boiling salted water until the gnocchi floats to the surface (two to three minutes). Remove from the boiling water and place in an iced-water bath. When all the dumplings are cooked, drain the gnocchi, toss in a little oil and set aside.

Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat, add a little olive oil and then the kaiserfleisch and cook until light golden. Add the butter, brussels sprout leaves and gnocchi, and gently sauté until the gnocchi is warmed through (about five to seven minutes).

Scatter with hazelnuts, toss to combine, season to taste, shave grana padano over the top and serve hot.


Wine pairing:

2015 Cobaw Ridge chardonnay, Macedon Ranges ($50)

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Apr 21, 2018 as "Darling spuds of May".

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Annie Smithers
is the owner and chef of du Fermier in Trentham, Victoria. She is a food editor of The Saturday Paper.

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