I was an adult when I first ate pumpkin. Growing up we never ate zucca (Italian for pumpkin) at home, probably because my father disliked its sweetness (he felt the same way about sweet potato). As he was responsible for the weekly shopping, he just didn’t buy it. Mamma would prepare a long shopping list on a Thursday night and as papa’ finished work early on a Friday, he would do the shopping before picking her up from work. Invariably he would not buy some of the items on the list. Maybe he didn’t think they were necessary, or they cost too much or most likely, they were not to his taste. Things changed when both he and mamma retired as they started shopping together and mamma could buy the items she wanted. They also started eating and experimenting with ingredients they had not previously used, like chilli and tompinambur (Jerusalem artichokes). Even pumpkin started making an appearance on the shopping list for her delicious pumpkin soup.
Maybe because I did not grow up eating pumpkin, I don’t use it in cooking very often. One thing I do love making is pumpkin gnocchi. I like to use potatoes as well as pumpkin in the gnocchi. The recipe is based on one in the Phaidon book “Vegetables from an Italian Garden, season by season recipes”. Pumpkin is so watery; using potatoes mean the consistency of the gnocchi is more predictable (as getting the proportion of flour correct can be tricky – if you use too much, your gnocchi will be rubbery). I also squeeze the cooked pumpkin in a clean tea towel to drain out as much water as I can before mixing with the cooked potatoes. The resultant gnocchi are tender and with a hint of pumpkin sweetness. I like serving them with a simple orange butter and lots of grated parmigiano cheese – a lovely winter meal.
Gnocchi di zucca al burro e succo d'arancio (Pumpkin gnocchi with orange butter)
600g (21oz) pumpkin (weight after seeding, peeling, chopping)
400g (14 oz) floury potatoes (eg. Desiree’)
1 small egg, lightly beaten
150g (5 and 1/2 oz) plain flour (and a bit more for dusting)
for the sauce
1 large orange, juiced
75g (2 and 1/2 oz) butter
Parmesan cheese to serve
Reserved orange rind for garnishing
Roast the pumpkin in an oven tray, covered in foil, at 180 degrees for about an hour or until tender. You can roast the whole potatoes at the same time, also covered, though they might take a bit longer to cook through depending on the size.
Mash the pumpkin (I put it through a potato ricer), then strain off the excess liquid by placing the mashed pumpkin on a clean but old tea towel and squeeze out the excess liquid. I had around 250g remaining. Once the potatoes are cooked, peel and mash them and mix them with the strained pumpkin in a large bowl. Add the egg, the flour and salt to taste. Stir with a wooden spoon and then with your hands on a floured work surface. The dough should stick together and not be too wet. Try not to work the dough too much or you may need to add extra flour and the gnocchi will be rubbery.
Make a large log with the dough, adding a bit more flour if it is too wet. Shape the dough into one narrow log at a time and cut into 2.5cm/1 inch lengths. Press the little rolls of dough lightly against the prongs of a fork to make them curved and ribbed on one side (to better catch the sauce). Place the prepared gnocchi on a floured surface and cover them with a clean tea towel whilst preparing the others.
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. In the meantime, place the butter in a non-stick fry pan at medium heat and melt the butter until lightly coloured. Add the orange juice and lower the heat. By now the water for the gnocchi should be boiling. Add the gnocchi a couple at a time until half are in the water and cook a couple of minutes until they rise to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon and place in the frypan with the sauce, tossing the gnocchi to make sure they are well covered by the sauce. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi.
Serve the gnocchi on warmed dishes, spooning on the orange butter and scattering on black pepper, parmesan cheese and garnishing with orange rind.