Sunday, May 29, 2011

Homemade Pumpkin Gnocchi

Something about gnocchi has always fascinated me.

Maybe it's the funny shape, the funny name, or maybe just the way they don't really fit in with the rest of the pasta family.
Not like our favourite lasagna... *mmm*

But hey, I'm an open-minded individual so I went to my (Italian) nonna and demanded asked for gnocchi.

"Nonna, let's make gnocchi!  I want to try it...again.  It looks weird."

[Insert answer in southern-Italian dialect which I can't spell or speak]
Roughly translated:  "Okay, just come over when your ready and I'll show you how it's done."

I love my nonna.

So one day, in the middle of a crazy mid-semester week, when I had four papers due on Friday (criminal!), I drove over to nonna's and said "I'm here Nonna!  Let's make gnocchi or else I'm going to go crazy and fail all my papers and my degree and my life will be devoid of meaning..."

Okay so maybe I didn't say it like that.  But that's what I meant.

So nonna gave me some pumpkin to mash.

The Pumpkin

In a passa-tutto.

No I did not just speak English.  A passatutto (I don't know how to spell that so I'll just try a few different ways, hey?) is the same thing as a potato ricer, or a metal thing with holes in the bottom and a handle that goes round and round.  It's very nifty if I may say so.

Then there was potato to put through the passetutti.

The Potato

See, it comes out like this.

The Moosh

Potato is the core ingredient of gnocchi, and the finer it is mashed, the lighter the gnocchi will be.  Think light feathery pillows (how cute).

Apparently there is this little debate over whether to bake/steam/boil the potatoes (and/or pumpkin).  Sometimes baked is too dry, and boiled can be too moist.  Or maybe it's the other way round?

I'm going to be so diplomatic and say that I can't remember how nonna cooked the potatoes.  I leave details like that in her capable Southern-Italian hands (I mean, she was basically playing with gnocchi instead of play-dough as a child).

No we have a nice mound of potato/pumpkin.  

The Mound
No, we have not been messy and plonked it straight on the table.  That is a specially designed and handmade pasta/bread/biscotti board which deletes all need for bowls.  I like it because it cuts down on the dishes!

Moving right along...

Crack one egg right over the mound (maybe this is a bit messy).

The Egg

And combine with your hands.  Yes, this is messy.

The Hands
Time for flour!

These are gluten-free gnocchi which means we used brown rice flour instead of plain wheat flour.  And that's the only difference between gluten-free gnocchi and 'normal' gnocchi.  Seriously, the recipe is almost exactly the same.

Pour a little flour over the top and begin to mix through with your hands.

The Flour

Now, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is where your gnocchi can go horribly wrong.

Too much flour = too dry = hard gnocchi (think pillows full of rocks)
Not enough flour = too wet = no gnocchi at all (you won't get beyond the shaping stage)

and even if you get the flour quantity perfect:

Too much kneading = more rock pillows

Solution?  Nonna does the kneading.  I take the photos.

The Mix

Seriously though, if this was me I'd be closing my eyes and envisioning light clouds and soft feathers floating through the sky.

Stop when your dough can be rolled into a log!

The Log
Now we chop of a piece of the log and roll it into a looooooooong sausage about the thickness of your thumb.
I have really skinny thumbs so I settled for about 1-1.5 centimetres in diameter.

The Sausage
See that little tool at the top of the picture?  That is a must for every gnocchi maker's kitchen.  It is a...

paint scraper.  Get one.

With your paint scraper, chop the sausage up into little parcels of dough, about 2 centimetres long.

The Parcels
Some people end it here.

You can decide that these are your gnocchi and proceed to the cooking stage.  But that did not satisfy me.  Gnocchi have little lines in them, I'm sure.

Finished Gnocchi?

With a little more work, they can look like this:


So here we are.  Dough to parcels to gnocchi.  A proper progression.

Don't be satisfied with parcels.

The Progression
We used a fork to shape the gnocchi.

The Shape
I think this is the stage in gnocchi-making which shows your true character.

Because this will happen:

The Fail
Over and over again.

But don't be discouraged!  If I could do this (eventually), then ANYONE can do it (eventually).

Here's a way to make it a little easier.

1.  Put lots of flour on the fork

2.  Smoosh one parcel with your finger onto the tines of the fork, pushing gently, and leaving a ridge of dough at the top.  See below.

The Smoosh
3. Using that little ridge of dough as a handle, begin to roll the parcel down the fork, so that it curls.  You are now almost lifting the dough off the fork, or I should say, rolling it off.

The Roll
4.  Celebrate if it works!  Grit your teeth if it doesn't and push the failed gnocchi back into the dough pile.  Start again.  I feel your pain.

It Worked

Now you only have about 5,000 more to do.  Get at it!


Our triumphs were placed gently on a tea towel on a tray.  Lots of flour sprinkled everywhere.

The Triumphs

Whew, it's been a long and challenging journey, but now the end is in sight.

The Nonna

This is where I stowed the trays in the car and drove slowly back home, watching the gnocchi at every bump.

*People beeping behind me*  "HURRY UP GIRL.  You're holding up the traffic!"

*Me hiding behind the wheel*  "But my gnocchi are delicate!"

Good thing we only live 10 minutes away.

Nonna’s Pumpkin Gnocchi
serves 6-8

6 peeled, boiled/steamed medium potatoes (the older and flourier the better)
3 large pieces of peeled steamed pumpkin
1 medium egg
approx. 750g of brown rice (GF) or plain wheat flour

1. Mash potato and pumpkin together into a very fine consistency using a potato ricer if possible.

2. Crack in one egg and combine.

3. Add a generous pinch of salt

4.  Begin mixing handfuls of flour through the potato/pumpkin, small amounts at a time, kneading briefly until a soft dough forms.

5.  Portion off a piece of dough and roll into a long sausage about 1-1.5cm in diameter.  Using a floured knife chop into 2cm long pieces.

6.  Take a well-floured fork and roll a piece of the dough across the tines of the fork, applying a little pressure, until it curls leaving a ridged pattern on one side. This is for the sauce to cling to.

7.  Bring a large saucepan of water onto boil, adding a pinch of salt.  Once boiling vigorously, drop in several gnocchi (not too many as they will clump together).  When they rise to the surface of the water, wait several seconds and then scoop out with a slotted spoon and place straight into the desired sauce.    

If not eating all gnocchi fresh, they only keep for one day, so freeze uncooked leftovers.

Of the 750g of flour used in this recipe, there will be liberal amounts left over after the dough is formed.  This is so you can keep your surfaces, utensils, and the gnocchi themselves, well-floured.

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