I Am Curious…Orange

I have a very good writer friend named Nan.  Up until last week, she lived right around the corner from me, and often (although not as often as we would have liked) she and I would meet up over wine (me) and beer (her) to talk about our children, writing, and life.

We were introduced, oh, about eight years ago, shortly after she moved to town with her daughter and son.  In the best kind of luck, our boys became fast friends in middle school and so did we, with temperament and writing and the parenting of one girl and one boy in common.  I have a lot of local friends, some very close friends, a few writer friends, and up until last weekend only one who fell into all of the categories.  Nan.

And now she lives in Boston.  She saw her children through middle and high schools, got them launched into college, closed her eyes, and took one giant leap into the unknown of a new life for herself.  Good for her, I told her over drinks last week, a few days before she packed up the little house around the corner.  And I meant it.  Good for her, the move definitely is.

But I will miss her.  I will miss having a local, close, fiction writer friend to hang with at a whim.  That person who gets it, knows the life, who can sit with me and not need to have any feelings explained as we talk maneuvering agents and mailings and publishing or not and putting our work and ourselves on the line and rejections and taking the risks with sharing the most personal, private parts of mostly shy selves as we do all this.

Before she left, Nan gifted me the last few weeks of her CSA at Middle Earth Farm here in Amesbury.  I was practically giddy with the gift for, you see, I have had CSA envy for the past couple of years.  Every time I took stock of my shares from the two farms I participated in, her share from Middle Earth always looked more exotic.  For the past two years I put this envy down to the grass-is-always-greener principle.  But now that I am picking up her share, I know the envy was justified.  Middle Earth Farm provides the best damn CSA share I have ever seen.  And for one more week, it is mine.

Cue maniacal laughter.

Last week, the wonderful folks at Middle Earth gave me some Asian radishes, promising they would be spicy.  They are – peppery like all good radishes, only intensified – but also somewhat apple-y in texture and juiciness.

I trimmed up the turnip-sized root and cut the radish into matchsticks to top a local lettuce salad.

These Italian sweet peppers will be stuffed with garlicky breadcrumbs before being sauteed in olive oil and served warm with tonight’s supper.

The pumpkin, though, gave me pause.  Front doorstep?  Or dinner table?  I was leaning doorstep.

If you have been following along for a while, you’ll know I have orange food issues when it comes to orange savories.  One carrot side dish I like, one sweet potato preparation I will tolerate, but forget hard winter squash – I hate it.

Where, though, should I come down on pumpkin?  I have never eaten a savory pumpkin dish.

I love pumpkin pie.  Pumpkin bread.  Pumpkin muffins.  But I also love making those with the seriously condensed pumpkin puree that comes in a can, the kind that saves me from cooking it down to the right consistency myself.  One four pound pumpkin cooked to remove enough water to make it good for baking would never yield a pie or bread.  That left doorstep.  Unless I decided the pumpkin might have a role in my yearly attempt to find something lovable about savory and orange.

Curious me decided to give it a go.

Luck intervened, and the wonderful people at Academia Barilla began tweeting links to their many pumpkin recipes – soup, risotto, ravioli – at the same time I was wondering what savory I might produce from the Middle Earth Farm pumpkin.  I decided on pumpkin gnocchi.  My recipe is a combination of theirs and other recipes I researched that included grated cheese.  While I made the gnocchi today, I’ll cook and eat them tomorrow.  So here’s the recipe for now; for what I think about this food made from pumpkins, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow.

Pumpkin Gnocchi

  • 2 pounds* untrimmed fresh pumpkin (method follows)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1 cup plus 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 large egg, slightly beaten
  • 1 1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

*I had a 4-pound pumpkin.  I cut it in half, reserving the second half for another recipe.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Cut and remove the seeds and fibers from the center of the pumpkin.  Slice this cleaned piece into wedges, approximately 10 slices.  Lay the wedges, cut side down, on the prepared baking sheet.

Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the flesh of the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork.  Let cool to the touch.

When the pumpkin is cooled, trim off the outer shell with a sharp knife.  Place the pumpkin flesh in the bowl of a food processor and puree until fairly smooth.  You should have 1 1/2 cups of puree for the recipe.

Turn the pumpkin puree into a medium saucepan.  Add to this the water, salt, and nutmeg.  Stir.  Set the mixture over medium high heat and bring to a boil.

When boiling, add one cup of the flour to the puree a little at a time, stirring in constantly.  Once the flour has been added, reduce the heat to medium and continue to stir for approximately 20 minutes, or until the mixture has thickened and appears sticky and as if it wants to form a ball.

Remove this from the heat.  Stir in the cheese and the beaten egg.  Mix well.  Turn into a bowl and let cool until you are able to handle the mixture comfortably.

Place the remaining half cup of flour on a wooden board.  Turn the pumpkin mixture out on top of the flour.  Knead in the last half cup of flour until you have a smooth, slightly sticky ball of dough.  Keep the board lightly dusted flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface.

Flatten the ball slightly and cut it into 8 wedges.

Working with one wedge at a time, roll each piece into a rope that is 1/2-inch thick.  Cut this rope into 1-inch pieces.

Roll each separate piece gently into gnocchi ovals.

Lay the gnocchi on a sheet lined with a lightly floured piece of parchment.

Return tomorrow for cooking instructions.

Gnocchi may be cooked immediately, or kept covered under a loose layer of plastic wrap and chilled  overnight.

©2011  Jane A. Ward