So it seems that a lot of people know that they have heard of gnocchi before (pronounced “nyo key”) but they don’t really know what it actually is and have never tried it. Despite being listed alongside pasta dishes, gnocchi is not a pasta, but is actually a kind of Italian dumpling. Also worth noting is that gnocchi is not stuffed with anything, but rather incorporates all of the major flavors into the actual dough, which when cooked just right, can give you that tender center. It is usually based on a starch and flour-centric dough, containing things like potato, squash, ricotta, spinach, or today’s focus (what with October rolling around the corner): pumpkin.
Now if you’ve heard anything about gnocchi being hard to make, its not–its just a time consuming endeavor that requires care and patience (sounds believable, right? 😮 ). But if you’ve ever had a really good plate of gnocchi before, you know that its worth it. And another up side to gnocchi: you just might already have all of the ingredients at home, and even if you don’t, this is still a cheap meal to cook. This is also my entry in Presto Pasta Nights, hosted by Ruth at Once Upon a Feast.
- ~2 cups of pumpkin puree
- 2-3 cups of flour
- 1/4-1/2 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
- dash of nutmeg (to taste–I really like it, so I add a big dash)
- ground cinammon
- ground coriander
- ground allspice
- 3/4 – 1 stick of butter
- 10 fresh sage leaves
- leaves from several sprigs (5-10) of thyme
- 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese
First, we need to make the dough. In a large bowl, simply mix your pureed pumpkin, dried savory spices, grated cheese, and some (not all) of the flour together. This part sounds deceptively simple, but is probably the most important part of this entire recipe and requires the most care. You need to mix all of this together by hand, taking great care not to overwork the dough (surely heeding such a dire and vague warning is easy enough!).
You want to spend as little time working on the dough as you can and you don’t want to work it hard and fast (e.g. like you would with a blender/food processor/hand mixer/etc). You also don’t want to just dump all of the flour in at once, but rather, fold it in as you mix, ultimately using somewhere between 2 and 3 cups of flour until the texture is right. The goal is to have a dough that is somewhat sticky but also fairly smooth. Overworking and/or over-flouring the dough will result in gnocchi that will ultimately be gluey, chewy, tough, or in some way, disappointingly subpar texture-wise. When that happens, you won’t know it until you’ve sat down to eat. What’s even more frustrating is to think that the problem came from the very first step in preparation.
Once your dough is mixed together, you want to divide it up into 5-10 pieces and work them into long rolls, roughly 1/2-3/4 inch in diameter. I simply rolled these between the palms of my hands, and then, once no longer easily manageable, laid them on a lightly floured surface, rolling and working gently from the center of each roll out towards both ends. Like when mixing your dough, you want to try to keep the handling to a minimum.
Then, with a sharp knife, make quick strokes, cutting off 1/2 – 1 inch sized pieces. Take each piece, press/rake it using a fork, and set each one aside on a lightly floured surface. These dimples are more than just for aesthetics–they’re little sauce reservoirs. If you can convince/trick someone into helping you in the kitchen, this is a good time to do so because this step can be tedium at its finest.
Once you’ve gotten this far, you’ve really done the bullk of the work and the end is near. Get some water boiling and lightly salt the water.
While you’re waiting for the water to boil, prepare for the sauce. After all of this hard work, the sauce is simple. The idea is that we want to support but really present the gnocchi and not detract from it with an overpowering sauce. So simply dice up your sage and thyme leaves and grate up your cheese. Also, a tip if you’ve never worked with fresh thyme before: stripping the leaves can be a royal pain. An easy way to get them off is to simply take a sprig of thyme between both of your hands and rub it quickly back and forth like you’re trying to start a fire. Most of the leaves should come right off. Some other flavors that would work really well (not all at once, of course): rosemary, mint, parsely, pine nuts, and/or walnuts.
So now for the final stretch. In a saucepan, melt the butter down on medium-high heat. Keep it cooking just until it starts to brown around the edges. Add in your herbs and cheese, stirring periodically and only cooking for a few minutes (we don’t want to burn the butter, just brown it). While this is all going on, cook the gnocchi. Simply place each piece in the boiling water–they will sink to the bottom.
At this point, you’ll have perfect timing because each piece of gnocchi includes a built-in timer. As each piece is done cooking, it will float to the surface somewhere between 2 and 5 minutes. Fish them out as they’re ready and set aside in a bowl. Do not wait for all of them to be done at the same time–if you give up and overcook the gnocchi, the gnocchi will give up on you and fall apart.
Finally, toss your gnocchi in your sauce, plate it, grate some cheese on top, and enjoy!