Seasonal cooking in Daylesford – pumpkin gnocchi with a sage butter – and more gnocchi cooking classes

I love autumn – the leaves are changing colour, with beautiful yellows and reds and the mornings are crisp. It is a time to celebrate the delicious produce – apples, pumpkins, potatoes, chestnuts, pears and mushrooms. This is just what the farmers, viogners and producers in the Daylesford-Macedon area did last Sunday. The doors of the Lakehouse opened for the Regional Producers day, which is part of the annual Daylesford Macedon Harvest Festival. This year it was run in April rather than February, making it an autumn festival rather than a late summer festival.

As well as having a market to buy the local produce, there were wine tastings, live music and cooking demonstrations. I was fortunate enough to be one of the six who cooked a seasonal dish (using market ingredients) in front of a small crowd. I chose to use a butternut pumpkin from solar-powered Mt Franklin Organics to make pumpkin gnocchi.

The recipe I used makes very delicate gnocchi, where the sweetness of the pumpkin really shines through. It is quite different from a pumpkin gnocchi recipe I posted last year which has a combination of potatoes as well as pumpkins in the dough. There are several tricks to making pumpkin gnocchi without potatoes. I do admit they are a bit harder to work. When you use both vegetables, the resultant dough is drier and binds together more easily however loses some of that delicate pumpkin flavour. However once you get the knack of using just pumpkin, you will really appreciate the sweetness and melt-in-your-mouth consistency that you don’t get as much of when you mix pumpkin and potatoes.

The tricks I use to ensure my pumpkin gnocchi remain tender (and are not rubbery) and hold together are:
(1) use a drier pumpkin variety – like a butternut squash
(2) don’t boil the pumpkin. I dry roast mine under aluminium foil until it is tender but still slightly firm when you test them with a fork. If you roast the pumpkin to a mash, it will be too wet.
(3) Mash the pumpkin with a ricer or a hand-held potato masher – don’t use a processor as it will turn into pumpkin soup.
(4) Place the pumpkin mash in a clean tea towel and squeeze hard, to remove any excess moisture . Then scoop it off the tea towel and into a bowl ready for use. You could easily put it in the fridge and use it in a few days – it keeps really well.
(5) If despite your best effort the gnocchi are too wet, have a little bit of potato mash on the side – made from roasted potatoes – and fold that through. It is much better to add potatoes, particularly older floury potatoes or Desiree potatoes, rather than additional flour, which will make the gnocchi rubbery.

If you would like a few more pointers on how to make the perfect gnocchi or to try making them yourself first hand with a group of other gnocchi-lovers, I will be running a gnocchi making class (we will be making four different types with matching sauces) on Saturday 11 July 2015 in my home in North Fitzroy. Click on this link for details.

Thanks very much to Ian for taking photos of me whilst I was cooking in Daylesford.


Pumpkin gnocchi with sage burnt butter (gnocchi di zucca con burro e salvia)

Serves 4 as a first course
400g roasted pumpkin (seeds and skin discarded), mashed with a ricer or by hand and strained through a tea-towel to remove excess moisture
1/2 small egg, lightly beaten (discard the other half)
120g plain/all-purpose flour
80g parmesan cheese, finely grated
extra flour for dusting and rolling
pinch of nutmeg, salt and pepper
100g unsalted butter
25 sage leaves (approx)

If there is excess water the in pumpkin puree, squeeze it through a clean tea towel until it is quite dry. Place the puree in a mixing bowl and fold through the half an egg with a spoon. Add the nutmeg, salt and pepper and then fold through the parmesan cheese and lastly the flour. Reserve a bit of flour to the side and only add it if the mixture is still sticking to the mixing spoon. Lightly flour a work surface and place the dough on it, which should have formed a ball. Knead it lightly so that you get an even shape. If the dough is sticking to your hands at this stage, add a tablespoon of mashed potato (as described in point (5) above the recipe) and resist the urge of adding a lot more flour.

Cut sections of your dough and roll them into thin logs, dusting the logs with extra flour if needed. Cut sections at about 1.5 cm (1/2 inch) and roll them on the curved inner side of a fork using your thumb to make a little concavity (which is to catch the sauce in). Repeat with the rest of the dough. Scatter some flour on the prepared gnocchi. If you are not making them immediately, cover them in a clean tea towel or freeze on a tray (and when frozen pop them in a zip lock bag for easier storage).

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. 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 on warmed plates. Drizzle the butter (see below) on the gnocchi when it has started to take on a bit of colour. Scatter on lots of parmesan cheese, some crispy sage leaves and serve on warmed plates.

Melt the butter in a small fry pan, then add the sage leaves and cook until they start to become crisp and the butter starts turning brown.

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