As the autumnal color palette sweeps across the trees, the air grows crisp, and the sun slinks below the western horizon depressingly early, eating pumpkin is really the thing to do. As bread, pie, seed, or soup, a bite of pumpkin anything captures the essence of fall like none other (well, I’d throw apple cider and the first day you need to wear a scarf in there too. These are fall things, right? Keep in mind that the California falls of my youth were fairly indistinguishable from the summers, winters and springs, so these aren’t exactly childhood memories I’m harkening back to, but more like, last Tuesday). Pumpkin is something to look forward to when the darkness of night descends upon the city even before lunch. Pumpkin pie is the taste of Thanksgiving dinner and breakfast the next morning. Pumpkin bread is autumn’s finest breakfast, or, alternatively, when studded with chocolate chips, autumn’s perfect afternoon snack (accompanied by a glass of milk, or, let’s be honest, hot chocolate). Pumpkin seeds are the salted, blissfully crispy remnants of an imperfectly carved Jack-O-Lantern. And pumpkin soup? Well, pumpkin soup I kind of just equate with butternut squash soup, and we’ve already covered that fairly extensively.
Nostalgia aside, these classic treats are unparalleled showcases for the flavor of the pumpkin. Still, I wasn’t about to let that get in the way of a little experimentation. Inspired in part by Marko’s No Pumpkin Pulp Left Behind campaign to consume or use every last bit of her jack-o-lantern (sans skin, as apparently pumpkin skin leather is not a specialty of the local Charleston tanner), as well as a debate amongst friends as to an appropriate terminus for half a can of leftover pumpkin, I was determined to find a uniquely delicious pumpkin dish. Polenta was an early front runner, as well as some more dessert based options, until I came along and bowled everyone over with my suggestion of pumpkin gnocchi. Yeah. PUMPKIN. GNOCCHI. I thought this idea was quite inspired, but a quick Bing Google yielded the sad truth that I wasn’t exactly breaking new ground with this thought. Still, that’s no reason to not try something so delicious sounding, even if Rachael Ray did make something similar, probably called Pumpcchi or Gnocchikins (I dunno, I just made that up, but it sounds like her).
I culled through the small assortment of pumpkin gnocchi recipes available on the interwebs, and noticed there are two different schools of thought, or, as they shall henceforth be referred, Gnatures of Gnocchi. The first is taking the recipe for the more traditional potato-based gnocchi and simply adding pumpkin for color and a touch of flavor. This seemed like it would yield a delicate and hearty gnocchi, and had the advantage of adhering most closely to my past experiences.
The other recipes were based more on the ricotta gnocchi style – a decadent, lightly fried dish, last seen at the Lorimer Kitchen for Easter al fresco, paired with shrimp, potatoes, and an unfortunately coagulated parmesan sauce. The pumpkin recipes called simply for canned pumpkin, flour, eggs, cheese, and seasonings. However, as appealing as this sounded, I was intending to make this gnocchi as the main dish at dinner, and wanted something with a little more…body.
So, I did what I do best, and combined two recipes I’d never made before with the vague hope that it would turn out how I wanted. I determined that if I started with my standard gnocchi recipe, decreased the amount of potatoes, and made up the balance with extra pumpkin and cheese, I would have the ideal pumpkin gnoch – plenty of pumpkin flavor, but with enough body to hold its shape and not collapse into a gooey pumpkin mess. Actually, as I’m writing this, I come to realize that it really would not have been a gooey mess – the flour would give the dough enough body for it to be workable. I think I just had some potatoes lying around and felt bad making something called gnocchi and not using them. Well, for whatever reason, I pressed on with my plan to combine the two styles.
I began by boiling two large russet potatoes for about 30 minutes. They actually could have used a little more time – the pot they were in was a bit too small, but I was impatient and pulled them out after 30. I find it easiest to peel the potatoes immediately, generally using two forks so as to avoid massive burns and future skin grafts. As I am without a potato ricer (doesn’t that just sound like an oxymoron?), I use the very same two forks to break down the potatoes. I don’t really want to call it mashing, as it’s more of a delicate shred to yield a starchy mountain of fluffy tuber. At this point, I let them cool a bit while I mise en place the rest of my ingredients. The cooldown is essential, as eggs are the next ingredient to go in, and bits of scrambled egg never did much to enhance gnocchi. Potatoes cooled and ingredients assembled, it’s time to start combining. This time around, I combined 3/4 cup of canned pumpkin (I think that works out to about 12 oz), one egg, and a handful of parmesan with the potatoes. After gently stirring these together, I lightly mixed in the flour – adding about 1/4 cup at a time until the dough came together.
At this point, the fun starts. Working in sections, roll out the dough into long ropes, approximately 3/4 inch in diameter (clearly I’m not suggesting the use of a ruler, but eyeball it to about the thickness you’d like). Then, cut the ropes into bite sized pieces, and drop into boiling salted water. The gnocchi will surface when done.
As for adornment, I looked no further than my deck and its bounty of sage. A quick sauce of butter, adding minced sage just as it was browning, and then tossing in some porcini just for kicks, yielded a truly autumnal Italian dish, perfect for Ringraziamento?