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Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter

I can probably count on my hands the number of times I’ve eaten gnocchi. Somewhere along the way, I believe I was instilled with “gnocchi fear,” that the little potato-pasta dumplings on my plate would be something gummy and gross and sit like lead bullets at the bottom of my stomach. The fear is well-founded; for every excellent plate of gnocchi in this world, there are probably five that should never be served.  All of which made gnocchi something I was curious—but a bit nervous—to make myself.

Like pasta, gnocchi has a short ingredient list of potato, Parmesan, egg, salt and flour. It takes a careful hand—not too much mixing, kneading and handling—and the confidence to work with slightly sticky dough.

For my first foray into gnocchi, I decided to adapt a butternut squash gnocchi recipe and use a pumpkin instead. I spread the prep work out over a whole day, during which I drummed up a last-minute dinner guest. I wanted to share my day of work with more than one. I dirtied a lot of dishes. And in the middle of the afternoon, with my hands and table coated in flour, I put fork marks on each piece of gnocchi dough, and channeled my inner-Italian grandmother.

For a recipe that does take a lot of time, it’s not difficult. Truly, the hardest part of gnocchi-making is waiting until they are boiled and cool enough to taste to see just how good they are. I must have eaten three while waiting for the butter to brown. But as we sat down to the table, with plates of gnocchi and little pools of brown butter, I ate my first bite and there was no more fear.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Sage and Brown Butter
Adapted from Lidia Bastianich, Bon Appétit, October 2010

1 sugar pumpkin
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large russet potato, peeled, quartered
3/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
Additional grated Parmesan cheese

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Cut pumpkin in half; scoop out seeds. Place pumpkin halves, cut side up, on baking sheet and brush with oil. Roast until very tender when pierced with skewer and browned in spots, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool slightly. Scoop flesh from pumpkin into food processor; puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan and stir constantly over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, about 5 minutes. Let cool. Measure 1 cup (packed) squash puree and reserve remaining squash for another use, like pumpkin cinnamon rolls (stay tuned!).

2. Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl; cool completely. Measure 2 cups (loosely packed) riced potato, reserving remaining potato for another use.

3. Mix pumpkin, potato, 1/2 cup Parmesan, egg, nutmeg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add 1 3/4 cups flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is very sticky, add more flour a tablespoon at a time. Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth, about 3 to 4 times. Divide dough into 8 equal pieces.

4. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle lightly with flour. Working with one dough piece at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Cut rope crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces, 10 to 12 per rope. Roll each piece of gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour, making ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours.

5. Working in two batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes (gnocchi will float to surface but may come to surface before being fully cooked). Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to same parchment-lined baking sheets. Cool. Note: The gnocchi can be cooked up to 8 hours ahead. Cover loosely and chill.

6. Cook butter in heavy large skillet over medium heat just until golden, stirring often, 3 to 4 minutes. Add sage; stir 1 minute. Add gnocchi; cook until heated through and coated with butter, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Sprinkle with 1/4 cup Parmesan. Serve with additional Parmesan.

Makes 6 appetizer or 4 entrée servings.

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