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My darling little pumpkin

By SHANNON WATKINS
shannon@southwesttimes.com

We’re past Halloween and into the holidays proper, and this is the time of year you find out what kind of person you are: the type who lives and breathes for pumpkin-flavored everything, or the type who has one pumpkin spice latte while out shopping or one slice of pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving and says, “Yeah, I’m good.”

I’m definitely the latter; I like pumpkins mostly because they can be carved into jack o’lanterns and because they signal the end of mosquito season, but beyond that, I don’t especially care.

My best friend Amy, however, loves pumpkins to what I personally consider an alarming degree. She even scoffs at canned pumpkin filling and will happily cut up, de-pulp and roast freshly harvested pumpkins in her own kitchen, which if you’ve never tried it, is a matter of no small effort. She then proceeds to make pumpkin bread to no end. I believe pumpkin muffins and other baked goods are also forthcoming, though I’ve never been around there much during the season to tell you. So clearly the best way to handle different degrees of pumpkin mania is to maintain separate residences and wish each other the best from a distance.

But sometimes you have to compromise; you’re going to deal with someone, perhaps under your very own roof, who wants pumpkin everything nonstop, and will not settle for a desultory pie, or a trip to Starbucks for what is essentially overpriced squash-flavored coffee. And if you love this person, which if they live under your roof you presumably do, and unless you have the energy to cook two separate meals, which you presumably don’t, you’re going to eat pumpkin no matter what. Thus it becomes a matter of how to manage this feat palatably.

It’s those romantic Italians who end up coming to your rescue. While it would otherwise seem odd in a main dish, pumpkin ends up going well with – or as – pasta.

Gnocchi (pronounced, to the best of my knowledge, “NYOCK-ee”) are little pillows of pasta. Usually potato or potato-flour based, they often roll out in the fall, made from, of course, pumpkin. Very slightly sweet and soft, they’re a good meal to appease pumpkin lovers and non alike.

(On a side note, half the fun of eating most pasta is the sensuality not only of the stuff itself but the playful inventiveness with which it was named. “Gnocchi,” depending on what you read, is possibly derived from “nocchio” which is a knot in wood, or “nocca,” which means knuckle.

And because I will probably never make my own and otherwise this story would go to waste, apparently tortellini was created by an innkeeper who peeped through a keyhole to see a disrobing Lucrezia Borgia, and could only make out her navel, but was so moved by its beauty he had to invent a pasta in its likeness. Which leads one to muse: Did he not know of her reputation as a poisoner? What if she offered to feed his dish back to him and added one of her special ingredients when he wasn’t looking? What of staying in Italian inns now? Can the hapless traveler at least expect to have a pasta named after one of her body parts? Is this indeed how elbow macaroni got started?)

At any rate, this recipe comes from, yet again, Gabi Moskowitz’s BrokeAss Gourmet cookbook and blog. (Have you looked her up yet? You ought to.) As always, I tweaked it slightly, and as always, a few caveats: please make sure if you’re going the canned route to buy pumpkin puree and not pumpkin pie filling. If you do use canned pumpkin, which is pretty moist already, you may find you need to add more flour, and you may also want to dial back on the ricotta and just use more pumpkin and a yolk instead of the whole egg, or at least that’s been my experience.

Also, Moskowitz recommends some lightly fried pancetta (uncured Italian bacon) to accompany this; I’d say some sweet or mild Italian sausage, or even plain old breakfast links, would go well alongside it if you want meat.

Pumpkin Gnocchi with Onions and Sage

½ cup canned pumpkin or pureed roasted pumpkin
½ cup ricotta cheese
1 cup flour, plus more for rolling
1 egg
dash of nutmeg
½ tsp salt
fresh ground black pepper
6 Tbsp. butter
1 medium onion, sliced
6-7 fresh sage leaves

Put a pot of salted water on high heat to boil. Mix first seven ingredients gently to form a very soft dough. Dust a plate with flour and set aside. Turn out the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll into 6 balls. Roll each ball into a ¾” thick cylinder. Slice each cylinder into 1” sections and place on floured plate. Melt butter in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sage and cook until onions are brown and sage is somewhat crispy. While onions and sage cook, lower heat under water slightly and boil gnocchi in batches (they’re done when they float to the surface). Once all are done, add gnocchi to onions and sage, toss to coat with butter, and allow to brown on both sides, about 2 to 2½ minutes on each side. Serve.

In this fashion, you can eat pumpkin without feeling overwhelmed by the stuff, and your gourdophilic companion can feel very fancily cared for. As for conversational topics, I suggest debating what sort of pasta we’d be eating if Lady Godiva rode past that innkeeper, and whether or not you could serve it in mixed company.