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...
 ...like 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

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