Monday, March 21, 2011

Pumpkin Gnocchi, A Return To My Roots

   I cook an awful lot of Indian food; in fact most of what I cook everyday involves at least one or two Indian dishes. But I didn't always cook this way. I grew up in an Italian American household, on both sides. The big difference between the two sides of my family is that my mom's family has been in the US since 1832 when my great-great-great-great grandfather immigrated from France to New Orleans, and then from New Orleans by ship to Panama, across Panama by mule and up the Pacific coast by ship to San Francisco in 1849. Yes, My great-great- great grandfather was a 49er or as they call them here, an Argonaut.
   He met my great-great-great Grandmother who'd turned up in San Francisco via Panama, in 1851. She came from Ireland with her two sisters and was 17. Their offspring got mixed up with a bunch of Italians, but by the time my mom's Italian traditions came down to me, they were pretty assimilated.
   My dads' parents on the other hand, were right off the boat from Tuscany. My grandmother didn't speak English... ever. And they cooked and lived very old school. As a result I grew up in a very weird household. A mix of an old-line San Francisco family and Italian immigrants. It was also a multi-generational  household.
   The one thing that both sides of the family had in common was the food business. My mom's family were "provisioners of fine comestibles and viands" during the Gold Rush. For them, the gold they found was not in "them thar hills." It was in meat. Yeah, you heard me. They started one of San Francisco's first butcher shops The Clipper Market at the corner of Front and Pacific Street. They were into food. One of my great-great uncles on my mom's side was pastry chef at the legendary Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
   My dad's family were high-end grocers. They catered to the society crowd where only the cook and the housekeeper and the butler did the marketing.
The Gilt Edge Market, my grandfather on the right
They had the freshest of everything and made their own cheeses, wine etc. The food at their house was amazing, everything homemade and fresh. Broth as clear as spring water, chicken and mushrooms earthy and fragrant, and the pastas... don't get me started on the pastas. I remember watching my grandfather make the spinach ravioli for Easter dinner (on holidays no women were allowed to cook) a long white apron wrapped around him. He made Mario Batali look anorexic.
   Among the pastas or primi we always had were gnocchi, soft cushiony little pillows of dough, the kissing cousins of Austrian spaetzle. So the other day, after my big pre-birthday dinner at Morimoto, I had a strange compulsion to revisit childhood roots. Maybe it was turning a year older. Maybe it was a sense of mortality that accompanies every birthday. Maybe it was the partially used-up can of pumpkin puree sitting in my fridge about to go bad. Yeah, okay, I'll cop to it. It was the pumpkin.
   I can't stand to see anything go to waste. That's the way I was raised. Waste not want not. That little jar of pumpkin puree was calling my name. I had to answer. My answer was pumpkin gnocchi. Pumpkin gnocchi is something that uses the bare basics of ingredients. Pumpkin, flour, 1 egg yolk , a bit of salt and a pinch of nutmeg.
You can have this on your plate in about 30 minutes more or less.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

Here's what to do:
 First, boil some water... lots of it.
 Next, in a bowl mix together:
  1 cup of pumpkin puree
  1 egg yolk
 Set it aside.
 In a separate bowl combine:
  3/4 cup of flour (more or less, I'll explain)
  1/4 tsp of salt
  1 pinch of nutmeg
 Now combine the flour mixture with the pumpkin mixture and mix well.
The idea here is to come up with a dough that's soft but not too soft, just easy to work with. That's where the bit of extra flour might come in. Feel free to add a bit more flour as needed. Of course you'll need more to roll out your gnocchi, so be prepared.
  Knead the dough well.
Then, divide it into about 4 portions and roll the dough into 4 long thin rolls. Cut the rolls into pieces that are about 1/2 inch long. Take the little pieces and score them on a fork... this.
Now an easier way to do this is to use a gnocchi board. Like this. $4.00 dollars and change. No kidding.
  This little item makes things a whole helluva lot easier. I ordered one immediately, and since online ordering isn't exactly that fast... yet, I had to go the fork route.
   When your gnocchi are shaped and ready, it's time to pop them into the boiling water.
These cute little gnocchi pop to the surface when they're done in about 2 or three minutes.
 Drain them well.
 Meanwhile in a skillet, heat some butter.  Heat it until you have browned butter, and toss in some fresh sage leaves. They'll sizzle and fry up fast.
 Add in the gnocchi and stir them around well.
 Pour them into a bowl and sprinkle them with a bit of pecorino-romano cheese and you're done.
   Perfect little gnocchi in about 30 minutes. I can't wait for my gnocchi board to arrive so that I can make 'em again.
   Meanwhile, I'm right in the middle of my birthday week and heading toward my Saturday night, Indian street/finger food party.  Much cooking will ensue. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori


  1. Wow this is mesmerizing for me... I have never had these and can't wait to try them.. I have got to try these, going to print this off, love the change, pumpkin is a favorite, that sage butter wow...really this picture is awesome. Thanks Kathy..

  2. No wonder! Food runs in the family - I absolutely love those old photos. What a wonderful legacy.

  3. Oh sorry one other thing awesome instructions and love the board going to look for it right now cant believe I never heard of that!

  4. Kathy I would love to have this for lunch today. Gorgeous post and recipe! Indeed you are a gori (in hindi) lol:)

  5. These look so delicious. A definite must try recipe!

  6. @foodwanderings,
    thanx, our dry cleaner here in Sonoma, a foodie from Kerala, thinks my last name is the funniest thing ever...

  7. @foodiesonthelfy,
    yes and it's so quick to fix..I love that.

  8. I love the story of your family. It is fascinating as is the picture. I also want some pumpkin gnocci. Trade ya a pork part for some gnocci.

  9. Great story, lovely photos, and amazing looking gnocci! I so can not wait to try this recipe!

  10. What a nice glimpse into your family history from a foodie perspective. I also like it because your ancestors either hail from my neck of the woods (SF Bay Area) or from Italy, one of my favorite countries. I just bought a gnocchi paddle yesterday because I had plans to make some yam gnocchi this week. Now I can also try my hand at the pumpkin variety since I have a few cans left from Thanksgiving. Thanks for sharing this with us. Have a great week.

  11. I already have dinner planned for tonight but I really wish I was having this instead. Your gnocchi look amazing, and I love pumpkin.

  12. These look wonderful and that gnocchi board definitely has my name on it. Your story and photos are fab.

  13. Have made potato Gnocchis always, pumpkin sounds so much healthy and exciting, Kathy. Must try this weekend.

  14. Sounds delicious! I have yet to attempt my own gnocchi but clearly I'm missing out! Pumpkin gnocchi must be particularly amazing!

  15. @Jean,
    so you're from the SF area too! Yam gnocchi sounds great! I'll have to give that a whirl.

  16. @Mistress of Spices,
    thanks so much, they were delish!

  17. Those looks great. I only tried it once and it didn't come out as great. I can't wait to re-try them.

  18. you make me miss gnocchi! they are so so good. Especially the fluffy ones like yours

  19. These look bright and beautiful on the platter with the fresh sage ...awesome
    I've made potato gnocchi but these look Oh so yummy!! Must try it:)

  20. Thanks for this wonderful post! What an interesting family history. They really were adventurous in the old days, weren't they? The grocery looks like a place i'd love to shop. You know, my grandfather also opened a grocery store—one of many professions he tried his hand at—but nothing so fancy as that place. The depression killed the business, though... :(



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