Friday, December 21, 2012


Sorry I’ve been missing in action for the past month; I’m cooking as regularly as always, if perhaps less ambitiously, but work chaos and holiday tasks have kept me too distracted to sit down and marshal my thoughts about it. So now you get to read a whole series of posts about meals I made so long ago that I can’t remember anything about them, except that they were tasty. (There were some less tasty ones, but I’m skipping them in the interest of efficiency.) Hopefully I’ll be back on track soon, but in the meantime, let’s hop in the wayback machine to October/November, when we were all excited about pumpkin things. (Remember pumpkin? It’s what dominated the food blogs before peppermint took over.)

I love my lemon-ricotta gnocchi recipe so much that I’ve been meaning to explore other variations, and I’d had this Simply Recipes pumpkin one bookmarked for nearly a year, but when autumn finally rolled around and I got serious enough to read it more closely, it didn’t seem exactly like what I wanted—for instance, it had a greater proportion of flour than I’m used to, and it had you boil the gnocchi before pan-frying them. I started Googling around a bit for other options, thinking I could study up and then invent my own version based on the lemon-ricotta recipe. Well, surprise, surprise: Steamy Kitchen, the source of my beloved original, already had a pumpkin adaptation! Done and done.

I did make a few changes to hew even closer to the recipe I already know and love, ditching the delicious-sounding-but-too-futzy-and-indulgent-for-weeknight-dinner fried sage and brown-butter-balsamic-vinegar sauce. Instead I added sage to the gnocchi dough itself and garnished with a bit more (replacing the parsley of the lemon-ricotta version), and threw some red pepper flakes on top to provide some zip and counterbalance the pumpkin, both excellent choices. The result was a subtle twist on my old favorite—festively orange, a bit sweeter but not overwhelmingly squashy, pungent with sage. I’ll admit that the squash makes the texture a bit less light and fluffy, so if it were a contest between the two the lemon-ricotta would still come out ahead, but it’s nice to have a fall variation to celebrate the season. Next time I might contemplate adding a tiny bit of nutmeg and/or cinnamon, which could very well be disastrous but might amp up the pumpkin theme a bit more.

In point of fact, mine were actually butternut squash gnocchi. I believe I’ve read somewhere that most commercial canned pumpkin products are really made up of other winter squashes, so clearly the taste and texture differences are negligible. I had the butt end of a squash languishing uselessly around the kitchen, and although it seemed very inconvenient I screwed up my Dutch thriftiness, gritted my teeth, and made my own squash puree… which turned out to be incredibly easy. I did it a few days ahead, when I had the time, and it kept just fine in the fridge until I was ready to use it. I’m not saying I’ll abandon the canned pumpkin entirely, but this is a good way to use up leftover squash when you have it. (Directions for the puree are in the footnote below.)

I like to serve my lemon-ricotta gnocchi tossed with steamed or roasted asparagus to offset the fact that I’m basically eating fried cheese for dinner. I couldn’t come up with a fall/winter vegetable to throw into the pumpkin version, so I just served a kale salad on the side. It ended up being the perfect combination.

½ cup skim-milk ricotta
½ cup pumpkin or squash puree, canned or fresh*
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for garnishing
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon table salt)
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage, plus extra for garnishing
1 cup all-purpose flour (spooned in and leveled), plus more for dusting
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Black pepper to taste

*To make your own puree, cut a small sugar pumpkin or other winter squash in half, scoop out and discard the seeds and strings, lay the halves face down on a foil-lined baking sheet, and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes to an hour, until soft. Allow to cool, then scoop out the flesh and mash it with a fork until smooth (use a food mill, food processor, or immersion blender if you want it super-smooth).

1. Combine ricotta, pumpkin, ½ cup Parmesan, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, salt, and 1 tablespoon sage in a large bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half of the flour over the mixture and gently turn a few times with a spatula to incorporate it. Dump the mixture on a clean, lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the mixture and gently knead with your fingertips, just bringing the dough together until the flour is incorporated. (This should only take a minute or two; any longer and you will be overkneading.)

2. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Take each part and roll it into a long log, 1 inch in diameter. Cut each log into 1-inch-long pieces.

3. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When butter is just lightly browned, add gnocchi in a single layer. Fry for 2 minutes, then flip them over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and fry for another 2 minutes. Taste one to see if it’s done—if you taste the flour, it needs to cook longer.

4. Serve with a sprinkling of Parmesan, sage, and black pepper.

Serves: 2–4
Time: 30 minutes
Leftover potential: I haven’t attempted it, but probably not very good. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that fried cheese is best served fresh from the pan.