Day 22 of 31 days of pumpkin and I am really moving out of my comfort zone now. I’ve never made gnocchi before, or any fresh pasta for that matter, but I was inspired by a beautiful cookbook I have, A16 Food + Wine, the cookbook for the restaurant A16 in the Marina district of San Francisco. It’s called A16 after the highway in Italy between Naples and Canosa. The book is a beautifully designed and photographed tome that I am just getting into, but when I spotted a recipe for Ricotta Gnocchi, I thought, “I could put pumpkin in that,” and that’s what I did. And it worked.
Choosing the sauce to go with pumpkin gnocchi was a no-brainer: it has to be a sage cream sauce. Pumpkin and sage, they’re like Abbot and Costello, Brad and Angelina, Click and Clack (you know, the Tappit brothers).
I was in good hands using the A16 book to guide me through my first gnocchi-making experience. In a section about the pantry, Nate Appleman, the former executive chef at A16 (he left in July 2009), explains each of the different kinds of flours. I learned that there is a special flour from Italy they use called, “00” flour. Basically, it is the finest milled flour that the Antimo Caputo mill in Naples, Italy makes. They happen to carry it at my local grocery store, Mollie Stones. So the gnocchi is made with the “00” flour and then coated with semolina at the end to keep it from sticking together.
Liza Shaw, former co-chef with Nate Appelman and current head chef at A16 is responsible for the Ricotta Gnocchi recipe that I monkeyed around with, so it is to her I say, “Thank you,” and “I’m sorry.”
Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi
1 cup ricotta, well drained
1 cup canned, pureed pumpkin
2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg yolk
1 egg, lightly beaten
2 cups “00” flour or all-purpose flour plus more as needed
Semolina flour for dusting the gnocchi before storing
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine ricotta, pumpkin, olive oil and salt. With the wire whisk attached, mix on medium-high for about 2 minutes or until it looks really smooth. You are breaking down the curds in the ricotta and emulsifying the olive oil here. Add the egg yolk and half of the beaten egg and mix for another minute.
2. On a clean surface, like a counter-top or large cutting board, spread out a 1/2 cup of the “00” flour and then turn out the ricotta pumpkin mixture on top of it. Add another cup of flour to the top of the mixture and with a bench scraper (I used a pie serving spatula) fold the flour into the pumpkin ricotta mixture. As the dough starts to form, if it is still sticking to your fingers in a big way, add more flour in 1/4 cup intervals and fold it in. Try not to over-knead the dough or the gnocchi will turn out tough. In the end, I think I used a total of 3 cups of flour when I made it, but just keep adding a bit at a time because you don’t want to overshoot it. If you think that your dough needs more stability, add in the remaining beaten egg and incorporate fully.
3. At this point, you could do a test by breaking off a couple of small bits and boiling them in salted for 3 minutes. Then taste them and adjust the batter for salt seasoning or additional egg for structure. Then you’re ready to roll them out and cut them up into the little gnocchi pieces. Here’s how.
4. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts. Keep your work surface well coated with “00” flour. With both of your palms, press and roll the dough out into a long, slender log, about 1/2 inch in diameter. Set it aside on a surface coated with semolina flour while you roll out the remaining sections into similar diameter logs. Once all of the logs are completed, roll them around in the semolina flour to coat them, then line all of them up side-by-side. With a pizza cutter, cut into 1-inch long pieces. Dust them again with semolina and then place them into a pan that has been coated with semolina flour. Pick a pan that will fit into your freezer, because once you’ve arranged the gnocchi into the pan, if you’re not going to boil them right away, you can freeze them. Once they’re frozen, you can transfer them to an easier-to-store zip-lock bag. Frozen gnocchi keep their shape better when boiled then the completely fresh ones do.
5. When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Dump in about 20 gnocchi and stir them so they don’t stick together. When they are getting close to being ready, they float to the top. Remove them within a minute of that happening. If you need to do multiple batches, use a slotted spoon or small, hand-held strainer to fish them out.
Sage Cream Sauce
1 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
4 Tbsp cold butter, cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Pinch of fresh nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
1. Melt 1 Tbsp of butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the sage and sautée until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add wine and simmer until reduced by half.
2. Add 1 cup of the heavy cream and heat until boiling. Now, mount the sauce with butter, by adding one tablespoon of butter at time and whisking it in while it melts. After each one has melted, add the next one until you are done. Remove the pan from the heat.
3. Add the gnocchi to the pan and toss to coat. Add the remaining cream and the Parmesan cheese as well as the nutmeg, salt and pepper. Toss over very low heat until sauce thickens, about one minute. Serve immediately and garnish with shredded Parmesan cheese and a sage leaf.