August 05, 2010
Pumpkin: It's Not Just For Hallowe'en
In North America, pumpkin is primarily used for pie and jack-o-lanterns. That’s pretty much it. In New Zealand, where pies are usually savoury and Hallowe’en doesn’t exist, pumpkin takes on an infinite number of other roles. It’s available in the supermarket pretty much year round and it’s just your ordinary, everyday vegetable. However, as anyone who’s ever carved a pumpkin will know, they’re difficult to dissect. If you’re planning on roasting your pumpkin, there’s a much, much easier way than taking a knife to it, which I learned from my favourite baker/cook/awesome person, Dorie Greenspan. Simply wash and dry your pumpkin, place it in a roasting pan, rub it with a little oil and then roast it whole in the oven until a knife can easily be inserted into the skin. When you take the pumpkin out, it’s soft and easy to cut into. The guts can be scooped out and discarded and the perfectly roasted pumpkin flesh can be scraped away from the skin, ready to use in whatever you’re making. I chose to turn it into some delicious pumpkin gnocchi.
Gnocchi is a relatively new addition to my everyday cooking repertoire. I used to think it was difficult and fiddly to make, but like most things, the more you practice something, the easier it gets. It also helps if you learn some tips along the way that simplify the process. The first few times I made gnocchi, it was of the plain potato variety and I used both flour and eggs. I’ve since eliminated the use of eggs, to no adverse effects. I’ve also found that I like different flavoured gnocchi, like sweet potato, squash, or in this case, pumpkin.
Making consistently good gnocchi doesn’t require a recipe so much as a feel for what you want. Because the water content in your potatoes or pumpkin can vary quite a bit, it’s difficult to give according measures of flour. If you add too much floor, your gnocchi will be tough and if you don’t add enough it will fall apart or turn to mush in the boiling process. Knowing how much is the right amount requires practice, trial and error or a good teacher who can help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to mess up gnocchi a few times before getting it right, because once you do, there will be no stopping the flavour combinations that you can come up with. And with only 3 ingredients, this gnocchi is about as simple as it gets so there‘s no reason not to give it a shot.
Simply roast a pumpkin, scoop out, mash and salt the flesh and then begin adding flour until you’ve got a kneadable dough. Let your dough rest for a bit, (you can use this time to get some sauce underway or maybe even clean up the kitchen) and then divide the dough into manageable sections, roll it into a snake and cut your gnocchi to desired size. If you want to be fancy, you can roll each piece of gnocchi with a fork to give it that cool, grooved look, but if I’m feeling lazy, I skip that step. All that’s left is to cook the gnocchi like pasta, in a big pot of boiling water. The gnocchi will initially sink when you put it in and then float to the top when it’s done. That’s all there is to it! I chose to let the natural sweetness of the pumpkin shine and went with an easy butter sauce with cinnamon basil, but there’s no end to the different sauces you could pair with gnocchi.