Pumpkins and squash are the perfect reflection of the season of 'mists and mellow fruitfulness', as Keats so beautifully rhapsodised about autumn, bringing their wonderful range of colours, sweet, silky flesh and a surprising versatility to the table.
This recipe is a twist on the classic Italian dish of gnocchi, one of ancient lineage, with the texture of the pumpkin offering a different take to the starchy spuds of modern versions. A little denser than potato-based gnocchi they make a fine meal in themselves, dressed in melted butter, sage and Parmesan or other sauces, and can replace potatoes or pasta as accompaniments to sauced or slow-cooked meat dishes.
We sometimes have them tossed in a cheesy sauce (a blue cheese version is particularly delicious when you really need some savoury rib-sticking comfort) and as autumn offers up more of its bounty it would be a shame not to try them with a sauce of wild mushrooms with a dash of Marsala or Madeira, merging dulcet squash with earthy autumn fungi and mellow wine.
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 500g pumpkin or butternut squash after peeling and deseeding, cut into chunks
- 125g ricotta, well drained
- 1 egg, beaten
- 50g finely grated Parmesan, plus some more to serve
- ½ tsp grated nutmeg
- 1 tsp salt and one of freshly ground black pepper
- 200g plain flour (have extra to hand in case the dough is still too wet to handle – each pumpkin or squash can be a bit different in moisture), plus extra for dusting
If finishing in a frying pan:
- 70g salted butter
- 15-20 sage leaves, torn if they are very large
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Roast the chunks of pumpkin or squash until very tender, about 20-25 minutes or so. The weight of pumpkin should reduce as moisture is forced out by the roasting, leaving 400g or so.
Tip the roasted chunks into a food processer and blitz until it is a smooth purée. Spread the pumpkin purée over a board or the work surface to cool and dry out a little, for half an hour or so. Roasting it rather than steaming or boiling, means it should already be fairly dry.
Return the purée to the food processor together with the ricotta, Parmesan cheese and egg. Season with salt, freshly ground black pepper and the nutmeg. Process the mixture so that it is well combined, then tip it into a bowl and add the flour. Stir it well until a soft dough forms, but don't overwork it as you don't want to develop the gluten in the flour too much. If the dough still seems very wet add just a little more flour but remember that you're not looking for a tight dough, and there should be a little stickiness.
Flour a floured work surface and turn the dough out on to it. Divide the dough into four and roll each portion gently into a log shape. Cut this 'sausage' into bite sized pieces, about 1.5cm, or break small pieces off and roll the pieces in the palm of your hand to make little ovals and then slightly flatten them. At this stage you could use the tines of a fork press gently into each gnocchi to make ridges. These ridges will help to hold any sauce for the gnocchi, but you can leave them plain if you'd prefer, but it might be tricky if the dough is very soft.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil. Add half of the gnocchi and cook for just a couple of minutes, until they bob to the surface which shows that they are ready. Using a slotted spoon move them to a bowl, add the remaining gnocchi and repeat the process.
They are now ready to serve. Toss them in melted butter with plenty of chopped sage or rosemary and a good scattering of Parmesan cheese; we particularly like them with garlic, chilli and rosemary butter. They are good to eat as they are but also make a terrific accompaniment to sauced meats and slow cooked braises. Venison is very good, or just serve them with a fresh tomato sauce.
Alternatively, once they are removed from the water you can fry them in batches in the butter with the sage leaves (or a tablespoon of olive oil, or a mix of both) until just crusted, which will firm them up too. Serve with more grated Parmesan.
There is something to be said for pairing these gnocchi with a glass or two of fruity but refreshing Prosecco like Prosecco Brut I Duecento, the bubbles cutting the richness while the stone fruit flavours work with the pumpkin. A delicious match for the gnocchi with the butter and sage would be The Society's Falanghina 2019 which has real depth of fruit and fragrance without giving up zest and cut. Gewurztraminer, Cave de Turckheim 2018 has a wonderful fragrance and flavour tinged with sweet spice that works surprisingly well with pumpkin, as does pinot gris or viognier. Try Pinot Gris Grand Cru Kessler, Domaines Schlumberger 2017 for a treat, or the peachy charms of Viognier, Pays d'Oc, Domaine du Bosc 2019 or the viognier-dominant Côtes-du-Rhône Blanc, Guigal 2018.
If you want to enjoy a glass of red, consider Cruz de Piedra Garnacha, Calatayud 2018 for its 'oodles of ripe berry-fruit flavour', or the juicy Familie Mantler Zweigelt 2018 from Austria. For something fuller-bodied look to something like the easy-going charms of Farmhouse Californian Red 2018 or Aglianico del Vulture, Le Ralle 2017 from the deep south of Italy.