Sunday, January 24, 2010

Pumpkin Gnocchi


I first tasted gnocchi at the Stinking Rose restaurant in San Francisco (in a garlic cream sauce of course) when I was in college, and fell deeply in love with their creamy, delicate texture that melts in your mouth... that is, if they're done right. The packaged ones you can buy at the store just never have that perfect texture. Gnocchi are little dumplings, typically made with potatoes and flour, but they can include all kinds of other ingredients from walnuts to nettles! Now I order them anytime I see them on a menu, just on principle. My friends' restaurant, Vivace, recently started serving gnocchi, and they are absolutely perfect.

I have been trying pumpkin gnocchi recipes for a while now, trying to get one that works properly, and I think I've finally succeeded!  I wanted to use fresh cooked pumpkin or squash, rather than canned, because there's always such an abundance of beautiful winter squash from our CSA. Actual pumpkins, even the little sweet pie pumpkins, release so much water when you cook them that it is really tricky to use them for gnocchi.  You have to be careful with how much water the pumpkin releases, and the ratio of pumpkin to flour - if there's too much liquid or too much pumpkin the dough is sticky and falls apart in the cooking water, if there's too much flour they are tough.  Once I figured out the right squash to use, it was exceptionally simple and delicious! I've decided baked kabocha squash is the best bet for gnocchi, because it is very sweet and quite dry - when mashed, it has a texture similar to mashed potatoes.

There are a lot of pumpkin gnocchi recipes on the internet, and not all are good - the Food Network has one that is mostly just potatoes with just 1/2 cup pumpkin thrown in! Most recipes call for cooked pumpkin, and I'm sure they work pretty well because the texture would be consistent from can to can. But that's not what I was after. Here is the recipe I based mine on, although I am skeptical of how well it would turn out with just any squash, especially when they direct you to boil it, because I think it would turn out too moist. It turned out well, although I think I will keep trying for a lighter texture.

For gnocchi:
1 1/2 pounds kabocha squash (or 1 1/2 cups puree)
1 1/4 cups flour
1 egg yolk
Salt to taste, about 1/2 to 1 tsp

For sage butter:
1/3 cup butter
8-10 sage leaves
2 cloves garlic, sliced

Cut the squash in half and bake, cut side down, about 40 minutes in an oiled baking pan, until tender.  Scoop the flesh out and mash with a potato masher while it is still hot. Stir in flour and egg yolk, just to mix in - don't knead the dough too much or it can become tough. With floured hands, roll teaspoonfuls into oblong balls and set them on a floured plate.


Boil a large pot of salted water and drop them in, no more than a dozen at a time. They are done when they float to the top (just a few minutes).  Remove the gnocchi from the water with a slotted spoon and set directly onto the serving plate.

When the last batch is in the pot, melt the butter in a skillet, and toss in the garlic and sage. Let it bubble for a few minutes, until the garlic is golden brown, and the sage leaves are a little crispy. Drizzle the whole mixture over the gnocchi and serve. Next time I might try serving them with similar-sized chunks of parsnip, rutabaga or turnip mixed in, for even more winter veggie goodness!
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