Saturday, October 29, 2011

Hello Gnocchi!

Dearest Readers,
if you have ever eaten dinner with me at an Italian restaurant, you know how much I love gnocchi. It's the kind of depth of feeling where if I see it on the menu and don't order it, I feel a little guilty- like I've betrayed the gnocchi. So you can imagine my excitement when, while at cooking school at Tasty Tuscany, I saw that we would be making pumpkin gnocchi. It was divine. It was pumpkin-y and light and melty and delicious.

The pumpkin we used was, as Patricia described it a "Cinderella" pumpkin which, according to All About Pumpkins, is "a unique French heirloom whose correct name is "Rouge vif D'Etampes".
The source of their nickname is that they resemble the pumpkin that Cinderella's fairy godmother transformed into a carriage. This pumpkin is recorded as having been the variety cultivated by the Pilgrims and served at the second Thanksgiving dinner. This is our favorite pumpkin variety. There is something magical about them. Cinderellas make a delightful decorative accent for the fall season, but additionally their flavor is good for any pie or winter squash recipe." The skin of the pumpkin we used in Tuscany was greyish (if I recall correctly), and the pumpkin flesh was very dense and dry. When we cooked it, it did not get stringy or watery at all. I spotted a pumpkin that I thought would work while passing a grocery store, it looked like the right shape, and not so orange as most of the pumpkins out there, so I bought a 2.4 lb section.

Following what we learned at Tasty Tuscany, I cut it into small dice, put it into a large pan with the bottom covered in olive oil, and salted the pumpkin, stirring and cooking until it was soft. In the meantime I put a large pot of water on to boil, and over the top of the pot, placed a large glass baking pan. In the baking pan I put 4 tablespoons of salted butter, 3 tablespoons of olive oil and miced fresh sage leaves (20). I also (separately) grated 1 and 3/4 cups of parmesan cheese, took 1 egg out of the fridge, and measured out 1.75 cups of wheat flour.

Once the diced pumpkin was soft, I put it in a large bowl, and used my trusty Cuisinart immersion blender to puree it until it was smooth, before adding in (with a spatula) the flour, 1 cup of the parmesan cheese, and the egg. The texture of the dough needs to move from stew-y to stickier, to the point where it can stick to a spoon and just start to hold a shape.
If you need to add more flour to get the dough to feel more "congealed" (for lack of a better word) add it tablespoon by tablespoon.It is important to add the flour to the dough while the pumpkin is hot, as it helps the protein/starch in the pumpkin and the flour to combine better and become more elastic. I just made up that protein/starch thing, I am not sure that that's the exact reason why you need to combine the flour and pumpkin while the pumpkin is hot, but Patricia said that the pumpkin (or potato, or whatever you are using in your gnocchi) needs to be hot, and the protein/starch thing sounds like a good explanation, so that's what I am going with. No, I am not great at chemistry, anybody else have an explanation?

So your dough is ready, your water is boiling- put the baking pan with the melted butter and sage that you have stirred up a bit down in front of the pot of boiling water. Take a tablespoon, and scoop up about a half of tablespoon of the dough. Using your finger, sweep the dough off into the boiling water. If you can push it off the spoon diagnoally using the side of your finger, you should be able to get the dough to almost roll off the end of the spoon and into the water in a small dumpling shape.It may take a few to get the feel for it, but once you do, you should be able to plop 10-15 into the water in about 30 seconds. When they float to the top of the water they are about done, I usually let them float for 30 seconds to a minute so they are in the water for 2-3 minutes. The larger they are, the longer you will want them in the water in order to cook all the way through. Fish out the gnocchi with a slotted spoon, and put them into the baking dish. Once they are all in the dish, sprinkle them with some of the remaining 3/4 cup of parmesan cheese and stir them up in the butter/oil/sage mixture. Continue forming and boiling the gnocchi, batch by batch, until you are through with the dough. Also continue to mix in the parmesan cheese and stir them in the sauce in the baking pan.

Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty straightforward, and guess what? You're making gnocchi! Unfortunately, the ones I made with the pumpkin didn't come out as tasty as the ones we made in Tuscany. I know it's shocking that food tastes better in Italy. But I think it had something to do with the texture of the pumpkin- it was a lot wetter than the pumpkin we used in Italy- it was stringier and released liquid, whereas the Tuscan Cinderella was very dense and didn't release much liquid at all (if any). Additionally, in Italy we used Durum Wheat Flour. In the grocery store I found wheat flour. It definitely wasn't the same thing, and the gnocchi tasted more like flour than pumpkin, they were also much less orange, and not as light.

So in debating the success/failure of the US pumpkin gnocchi, my friends who had sampled the gnocchi and I had a gourd discussion about what else we thought could work in the absence of a Tuscan Cinderella. Butternut squash was the best candidate mentioned, and think about it, how many times have you tried to put a knife through a butternut squash and ended up lever-ing your arm back and forth, trying to get some leverage only to go back and get "the big knife"? Imagine my joy when I stopped into my favorite produce place the next day and saw tons and tons of beautiful peeled butternut squash calling my name. It was taunting me in it's naked state- "Alyce, I'm perfect for gnocchi, pick me up now!" Yes people, I think about gnocchi a lot and have imaginary conversations with gourds. don't judge me.

So yeah, I tried it again with butternut squash, and about 1/3 white flour to 2/3 wheat flour. They came out better! I think when I make it again- and you know I'm going to make it again- I would do 1/2 white flour, 1/2 wheat flour. I like the texture of the wheat flour for the gnocchi, but it does have a stronger flavor than the white, and I don't think it would be hurt by a little more dilution. The gnocchi progress is exciting, and I'm looking forward to giving potato gnocchi another shot. I will keep you all posted.

PS- If any Tasty Tuscany attendees have any better notes on the recipe for the sauce, let me know, I don't have any notes on the strategey for combining the butter, olive oil, sage, cheese, so let me know if you think i'm re-creating this the right way.

PPS- Hey! It's our 100th post! Yay!


  1. MMM that is a delicious dish!! We were able to find Cinderella Pumpkin! Had the last of the sage from my garden! We added more flour. we used 00 duram wheat.We were very pleased as well as my family. We make the Lemon herb chicken as well. VinSanto was hard to find and very expensive. Tastes like a glorified marsala! Biscotti was a hit! Cant wait to see you!!

  2. Hi Diane!
    I will keep a lookout for 00 flour. I made the Bunet and it came out really well! Thinking we should do one of the dishes on Thursday (I am dying to try (again) the gorgonzola-cauliflower), but haven't scoped it all out yet.
    so jealous you found the Cinderella pumpkin, I thought I had (it looked like it had the right shape) but I guess it was a fake! haha.