Scarlett's Pumpkin Gnocci with Ginger-Cream Sauce Recipe

11 October 2010
As I was driving home from work the other day, I heard something on the radio that made me do a double-blink. I reached down for the dial and turned up the volume to the sweet strains of Tchaikovsky’s “The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. A few seconds later, an announcer came on to inform me that tickets for the Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker are now on sale and going quickly…fall, my friends, has arrived, and the winter holidays are chasing along right behind it.

Well, let’s just be honest. Isn’t fall just the awkward time between “Back To School” and Halloween? I walk through the aisles of the all-in-one grocery store, and between the Halloween decorations and the Christmas lights lies a three foot section of Thanksgiving decorations and tableware. I feel this is a pretty visible indicator of how quickly summer turns into winter with barely a pause in between.

When I was a kid, it felt different to me. We went back to school (new notebooks and pencils STILL make  my heart skip a beat!) , and then the conversations turned to what amazing Halloween costume we  were going to get and how much candy we could acquire in a matter of hours. We mapped out our routes, discussed which houses historically had the best candy, and strategized how to mix-and-match our costumes halfway through the night so that we could hit the same houses twice. Halloween was THE thing.

From Halloween, we weren’t even allowed to SPEAK about Christmas until Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving was also THE thing. I remember going to big family dinners (well, extended family), stealing olives from the kitchen table while the women hovered in the kitchen and the guys sat either upstairs, watching football or downstairs shooting pool. (Obviously, the gender roles were clearly defined in our world, weren’t they?) If we’d arrived early enough in the day, we kids got the privilege of taking priority over the TV for the few hours of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. As Santa came across the screen at the
end, riding in his sleigh and waving to the crowd, it was as if he were granting permission for the winter holiday festivities to begin.

I hereby protest this mowing over an entire season to get to the mad-crazy of consumerism known as the holiday season. There’s an entire month of opportunity in there, and a world of good eats that gets lost in the shuffle from Halloween candy to sugar cookie. There are so many missed opportunities to use the flavors of fall – the apples, pumpkins, squashes, nutmeg, cinnamon…so for this week’s recipe, I wanted to try to capture one of the traditional flavors of the season in a new and refreshing way:  pumpkin.

You think of pumpkin, and you instantly think of pie, that delicious blend of sweet and savory. This beautiful gourd is usually only captured in desserts and only rarely seen in a main dish, but today, we’re going to do just that.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Savory Ginger-Cream Sauce

To start, we’ll begin with the gnocchi. Now, gnocchi has always been sort of a favorite of mine, though I rarely can track it down. Traditionally made with potatoes, many of the store-bought brands are simply too flavorless and starchy for my taste. After scouting some recipes, I realized that the concept behind it is actually pretty simple, and I couldn’t understand why I’d been paying so much for it through the years.

First, combine the pumpkin, salt, and seasonings in a bowl. I chose to use pumpkin spice, but if you don’t like one of those (allspice, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg), simply mix-and-match until you find what you like. Or, get hectic and try something all together different! Sage, Thyme...who knows where you can take it.

Once mixed, you’ll add in the flour slowly. Now, you’ll notice a broad range on the flour measurement? That’s because you really have one goal here; use as little flour as possible to bind the pumpkin into workable dough. Too little, and you’re going to wind up with a sticky mess. Too much, and your gnocchi will be dense, flavorless little balls of dough. Depending on the amount of moisture in your pumpkin, you will use more or less flour. Me, personally, I wound up using about 2 ½ cups, all the while panicking that it was far too much. (It wasn’t)

Gently form the dough into a long roll on a floured surface. As I discovered, this dough won’t roll like your child’s play-dough does (though it IS a pretty color). No, you actually have to shape the dough into a roll about ½ inch wide using what I seem to remember as my mud pie technique – just squeeze and shape with the palm of your hand. Now comes the fun part – deciding how big you want you gnocchi “pillows” to be! Me personally, I prefer them small, about ½ inch wide. It’s a texture thing. Others prefer the big “pillows” about an inch long. You decide – your meal, your call!

You can also make them pretty by pressing into them with a fork, giving the tops the appearance of a peanut-butter cookie. If I were cooking for a group and wanted to be a little fancy, I’d probably do
this. However, for me and the roomie, it’s hardly necessary.

Once your gnocchi are done, here’s a handy tip – lay and extra out on plates or sheets, cover them, and slip them into the freezer. Once frozen, divide them into individual servings and slip them into plastic zippie bags. You’ll have a quick, delicious homemade meal with very little prep later!

Cooking your gnocchi is simple; just boil water and season it with a bit of sea salt. Once you’ve got a nice boil going, add several gnocchi to the water. Do this in small batches; you don’t want it to all stick together! In about three minutes (give or take), your gnocchi will rise to the surface, letting you know that it’s done. Simply scoop them out with a slotted spoon, drop them on a plate (careful not to let them touch or they’ll stick together) and they’re ready for their sauce.

Okay, so confession time. I had one horrific disaster in the kitchen, and it came to making the sauce for this recipe. I thought I was going to get all creative and whip up a creamy batch of pumpkin spice goodness. What resulted was a clotted, disgusting clump of mottled ooze on the bottom of my sauce pan. Remember, friends, adding flour slowly is important, as is adding water. I wound up scrapping that
sauce and taking a different tact altogether; abandoning sweet for savory. I went closer to something I’d found online, using ginger.

Melt your margarine in a saucepan, and whisk in the flour, water, salt, pepper, and garlic to taste. Keep whisking until it’s smooth and creamy, then remove from the heat and add your ginger. As noted in
other posts, I’m a big fan of flavor, so I went all out on the seasonings.

Pour the sauce gently over the gnocchi and voila! A delicious way to savor the season – the FALL season, that is!

Pumpkin Gnocchi

1 can (15 oz) pumpkin. If in water, drain as thoroughly as possible.
¾-2 c flour  (have extra on hand for your cutting board)
salt, to taste
pumpkin spice, to taste

Ginger- Cream Sauce

¾ c margarine
1 c flour
2 c water
salt and pepper
garlic powder (I used about ½ t)
1 ½ T dried ginger

Be sure to come back next week for another kitchen adventure with Scarlett. Until then, stop by Confessions of a Shieldmaiden and say hello.

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