Homemade pasta is pure comfort food. One of my favorite pastas are gnocchi, little pillow-like dumplings of perfection.
I remember how my mom would break out the giant breadboard and rolling pin for the holidays and my great aunt would be called in to help with the pasta-making process. Gnocchi were my favorite even back then, and as a child I would watch as they kneaded and shaped the dough, rolled it into strips and cut them into little pieces to roll along the back of a fork, creating perfect little cylinders of dough with grooves to hold the sauce.
Today, making gnocchi is a special occasion for me. When I do make them I wonder why I haven’t made them sooner. Gnocchi are really quite easy to make, and with the bounty of the garden in full swing, using fresh ingredients from the garden to add to them makes gnocchi even more special.
I love using winter squash or pumpkin to make gnocchi. Ricotta is substituted for the potatoes in the dough, which makes for a lighter version. That and a couple eggs, some Parmesan cheese and flour, and the pasta is ready for production.
What takes the most time is rolling the shapes along the tines of a fork, which once you get the rhythm going, moves along easily enough. One rule of thumb to follow: Don’t add too much flour to the dough and handle it gently. This will make for a lighter gnocchi.
Gnocchi also freeze well; just layer them on a parchment-lined cookie sheet, cover with foil and freeze until set. Then you can put the frozen gnocchi in a bag and return to the freezer when you want to cook a handful or two for later.
Makes about 150 1-inch gnocchi
1 cup pumpkin puree
1 cup ricotta (drained)
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus extra for serving
1 teaspoon salt
3 cups all-purpose flour
Butter, olive oil
Fresh sage leav
Combine the first five ingredients in a large bowl. Mix well, then add two cups of the flour. Knead gently; you want a sticky dough but you need to be able to handle it. Add another cup and pull the dough together on a large breadboard that has been dusted with more flour.
Roll the dough into a log and divide that into four pieces. Working with a quarter at a time, cut the quarter in half again and roll it into a log. Cut the log into 1-inch pieces and dust them with flour.
Roll each piece along the back of fork to create a little pocket and grooves.
Set the finished gnocchi on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bring a large pot of water to boil; add salt and drop the gnocchi in in batches so they do not crowd and stick together. They will rise to the surface when done (about 2-3 minutes).
If making a butter-olive oil sauce, prepare a skillet with unsalted butter and melt till it foams. I like adding a little olive oil to the butter.
Add a layer of gnocchi at a time and let them cook undisturbed for about 90 seconds, until they are nicely browned on the bottom. You can add minced fresh sage at this point and cook for another 30 seconds.
Serve right away with a grating of Parmesan cheese.