Friday 31 October 2014

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage and Crispy Garlic Breadcrumbs

Look at me, being all seasonal! I was going to call this Pumpkin Gnocchi with Pumpkin Sauce and Extra Pumpkin, but I thought that might be overdoing it a little. If your only previous experience with pumpkin anything is in latte or lantern form, prepare to have your mind blown. But even if you’re a regular pumpkin eater, this gnocchi recipe is damn awesome. It can be made with pretty much any squash (butternut, gem, kabocha), but seeing as the shops are currently infested with those big orange bastards…

Brown butter, sage and pumpkin is apparently a classic combination. Who knew? But throwing in the crispy breadcrumbs really adds to the flavour, as well as giving a great crunch. Lemon with pumpkin is used a lot in desserts, so squeezing some on at the end lifts the whole…

Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh. Shhh. You had me at gnocchi.

    Alright, so cut at least a kilo of pumpkin into strips and bake on a bed of rock salt. While it’s cooking, make pangrattato. Which is fancy croutons. Which was already fancy toast. So this is like… fancy squared. Chop garlic and fry softly in plenty of olive oil. Add fresh thyme leaves and finely diced stale bread. Keep it moving and fry until crispy, then put it aside.

    When the pumpkin’s done, keep a few slices to one side and use a spoon to force the rest through a sieve into a bowl. Discard the skins, which won’t go through. Now pour all that pumpkin mush back into the sieve and leave it to sit over a pot or something so it can drain. Right now it’s got way too much moisture in it, and water goes about as well with gnocchi as it does with Group 1 elements. Any chemists in the house? No? ‘Kay… Meanwhile, grate some parmesan into a mixing bowl, add ground nutmeg, an egg yolk and some sieved flour.

    Put a big pot of water on to boil. Gently stir the pumpkin in the sieve to get out some more water, set aside two spoons of the mush (I mean, purée), then add what’s left to the mixing bowl. Mix it all together, slowly adding flour until you can just about work with it. Heavily dust your hands and the counter with more flour, pick up about half the sticky dough and roll it into a rope. Cut into individual gnocchi, make grooves with a fork, drop into the boiling water and cook for 2-3 mins. Remove with a slotted spoon. Repeat with the rest of your dough.

    Lastly, melt a serious chunk of butter in a frying pan over a medium-low heat. Dice your remaining pumpkin pieces, removing the skins. Arrange them on one half of the pan, and place the gnocchi on the other half. Chop fresh sage and add to the pan. After 2 minutes, add the remaining pumpkin purée and stir. Pour in a little cream and heat through. Serve, sprinkle with pangrattato, drizzle over some lemon juice and enjoy. Now that’s a Happy Halloween.

What is this, All Pumpkins' Eve? Pumpkins are only good for smashing.

Don’t like pumpkins, huh? Look, it’s Halloween, I dare you to try it. I wasn’t a big fan of pumpkin as a kid, and as delicious as pumpkin pie is, sweet pumpkin can get pretty tiresome after a while. But do yourself a favour and try salty, buttery pumpkin with sage, like this. It’s genuinely phenomenal.


For the Gnocchi
1kg of pumpkin (or other squash)
rock salt (or any large crystal salt)
100g flour, plus extra for dusting
20g parmesan
1 egg yolk
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
30g butter
a handful of fresh sage
60ml cream
1 lemon

For the Pangrattato
1 or 2 semi-stale slices of bread
2 large cloves of garlic
4 decent sprigs of thyme
4 tbsp olive oil

Normally, I have very little time for recipes that insist on cooking with fancy salt. Salt is salt for Christ’s sake. If you’re relying on the minuscule quantities of nutrients found in “healthy” sea salt, you’re in trouble. Bigger salt crystals, if undissolved, also mean a higher sodium-to-flavour ratio due to the relatively smaller surface area, so you end up with more salt in your diet.

The times when it actually makes a difference is when salt is used for water extraction (like in this recipe), or for texturing a finished dish. But again, be careful about inadvertently eating too much. If this actually interests you, check out this great run-down from Serious Eats, a brilliant site for anytime you feel like going all nerdy about food. So if you’ve already bought Organic Icelandic Grass-Fed Dolphin Friendly Sea Salt, by all means, use it here. If not, just use any old large crystal salt.

    Turn your oven up to 180ºC. Rinse the outside of your pumpkin and cut yourself off a chunk that weighs a bit more than a kilo. It might seem like a lot, but once it’s cooked, mashed and drained, it’ll only weigh half that. Scoop out the seeds and stringy stuff, and toss ‘em. Slice the pumpkin into slices about 2cm thick. Scatter rock salt into a greaseproof paper lined baking tray or two and throw your pumpkin on top. Bake in the oven for 30-40 minutes.

    As you wait for the pumpkin to cook, make pangrattato (the crispy breadcrumbs). To make breadcrumbs you ideally need white bread that’s a little stale. If you only have fresh bread (First World Problems, amiright?), leaving out a slice or two the night before will do the trick. Grating it or using a food processor will actually make the crumbs too small, so just use a knife to dice it into small pieces. Finely chop up the garlic and strip the leaves from your thyme sprigs. Hold the top and drag your fingernails down the stalk to do this quickly. Heat the oil in a pan to a low heat, too hot and the garlic will burn. Throw in the garlic and let it softly fry for a couple of minutes, stirring. Then add the thyme and the bread and keep tossing them around until uniformly crispy. Done! Put them in a side dish and leave out of the way.

    Once your pumpkin is done (it should be very, very tender when poked with a fork), take it out of the oven and set aside 4 or 5 slices. As for the rest, take a few at a time and mush them through a sieve with the back of a spoon into a bowl. The thick skins won’t go through, so this is also a really handy way of de-skinning them! When you’ve turned them all to purée, you should have a bowl of what looks like really wet baby food. Yum, right? Don’t worry, it’ll be awesome when you turn it into gnocchi. But the thing about making gnocchi is that you want to use as little flour as possible. The wetter your ingredients, the more flour you’ll be forced to use to make the dough. So drain that pumpkin, soldier! Scoop it all back into the sieve and leave it resting on the lip of a pot, with a space underneath for the liquid to drain into. A light stirring will help it drain quicker.

    While that’s doing it’s thing, start getting everything else ready. Grate the parmesan into a mixing bowl. If you have fresh nutmeg, grate some in, otherwise use the pre-ground stuff. Crack open an egg and drain out the white so that you can add the yolk to the bowl. Lastly, sieve in your flour and grind in plenty of pepper. Any flour will do, as long as it’s not self-raising. And while you have time (and clean hands) prepare a big pot of boiling water.

    Now the fun starts. Throw away the pumpkin-water and scoop out two spoons of the now drier purée in the sieve, leaving it with those slices of cooked pumpkin you set aside earlier. You’ll use those later for the sauce. As for the rest, add it to the mixing bowl. Stir everything together and you’ll get a mixture stickier than you think you’re real clever, don’t you? (Editor’s Note: Nope. You can’t say that. Even on the internet). Sieve in another spoon or two of flour, a little at a time, until it’s only just possible to shape it, but it should still be very sticky. As long as you’re still thinking to yourself “how the hell am I supposed to be able to pick this up”, you’re doing okay.

    Generously dust your countertop with flour, then coat your hands, and sprinkle some on the dough too. This will be just enough to keep the outside from sticking to everything. Pull off half of the dough and roll it on the counter with your palms, lengthening it into a rope. Keep rolling it, dusting with more flour as needed, until it’s about finger-thick. If you’re having trouble rolling it evenly, just stretch it out with your hands. I won’t tell. Now do the same thing with the second half of the dough.

    Use a flour dusted butter knife to cut the ropes into pieces about 2cm long. Once they’re all done, pick one up and push it with your thumb against the floured tines of a fork (yup, they’re called tines. Learn something new every day, huh?), then flick it off and put it on a floured chopping board or tray. Both the groves made by the fork and the dent made by your thumb with help the gnocchi to hold more delicious sauce. Do this to each piece of dough, remembering to dab the fork in flour each time. If it seems like everything in your kitchen is floured at this point… that’s because it is. These things are super sticky, and flour is the only thing keeping them from going all Borg and assimilating whatever they come into contact with.

    In two or three batches, cook your gnocchi in the boiling water. Just carefully drop them into the pot and boil gently. They should float to the top quite quickly, which usually means gnocchi is done, but give them another minute or two before taking them out with a slotted spoon.

    Once all the gnocchi are cooked, melt the butter in a large frying pan. Again, keep the heat low so that it doesn’t burn. Remember those extra pumpkin pieces you put aside? Remove the skins and cut them into chunks. When the butter stops bubbling, place the pumpkin chunks on one half of the pan, and the gnocchi on the other. Leave them both to fry on one side while you rinse and chop a handful of sage. Throw it on, add the pumpkin purée that you’d also kept aside and gently stir the whole lot. Cook for a few more minutes, then add the cream and stir it through.

    Spoon a portion onto a plate, throw a handful of the pangrattato on top, squeeze a wedge of lemon over the whole thing and serve. A little Halloween treat, without having to dress up as a sexy ladybug. Unless you want to. None of my business. Consenting adults and all that.

(If you make more dough than you want to actually use in one meal, you can freeze it. Either wrap the leftover ball and bung it in the freezer to be defrosted and shaped at a later date, or shape the gnocchi like you’re going to use it all, then space some out on a greaseproof paper lined tray and freeze those. Once they’re frozen, transfer them to a zip-lock bag and freeze as individual portions. When you want them, just empty the bag into boiling water and cook straight from frozen. Spacing them out at the beginning keeps them from sticking together in a big frozen lump. Which would be bad.

Fresh is best though, with frozen gnocchi running the risk of being a bit more dense and chewy.)

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