Pumpkin gnochhi in the making. Photo: Danya Dhanak
The American obsession with pumpkin was one of those things I didn’t quite understand at first. Here in India, we aren’t quite exposed to pumpkin in a way that makes us want to eat it. It’s no novelty, nothing special.
Conversely, in my years at Michigan and New York, the pumpkin obsession began immediately after Labor Day (the first weekend in September). It begins in September, the beginning of fall or autumn, and continues through Christmas at least – pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread, pumpkin ravioli, the quintessential “basic” Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte, pumpkin spiced granola, it goes on.
Two pumpkin dishes stand out in my memory: the pumpkin ravioli with sage, butter and walnut sauce on Locanda Verde’s fall menu (an exceptional Italian restaurant and probably my all-time favourite place to eat in New York). The second is the spicy, warm pumpkin bread my colleague would bake several times during the fall; it brought people from all over the trading floor by her desk.
I only understood pumpkin when I gave it a chance. It has an amazing quality that it is equally yielding to sweet treats as it is to savoury dishes; it absorbs the spices and herbs it’s cooked with layered with its delicate flavour.
When I moved back to India, I wondered why it isn’t used as much here even though it is available essentially all year-round. Bengalis use pumpkin in curries and sweets, but urban India isn’t really exposed to it.
I’m sharing two ways to use pumpkin - in gnocchi, the classic Italian potato-based dumplings and all-American pumpkin-spiced chocolate chip cookies. Both are accessible and doable wherever you are in India – no imported or über gourmet ingredients required.
If you have picky eaters, do yourself a favour and don’t tell them the “secret” ingredient you’ve worked with. Try these recipes to discover the new flavours and textures you can concoct with an ingredient you’ve probably ignored for a long time.
110g pumpkin puree (yielded from approx. 200g pumpkin)
200g /2 medium potatoes
40g all-purpose flour (maida)
40g whole-wheat flour (atta)
Salt and pepper
Approx 80g flour (set aside)
2 tbsp butter
5-6 tbsp cheese (I used parmesan)
1 tsp dry or 8-10 leaves fresh herbs, chopped – rosemary, basil, sage all work well
1. Individually wrap the pumpkin and potatoes in aluminum foil. Bake at 250 C for 35-40 minutes or until soft enough to pierce completely with a fork.
2. Peel the potatoes and grate (using a potato ricer or on the finest side of your grater) while still warm.
3. Remove the skin and puree the pumpkin.
4. Combine the pumpkin puree, grated potatoes, one egg, 40g of all-purpose and whole-wheat flour each and salt and pepper. Work with your hands to mix them until just combined. Avoid over-mixing or over-kneading. If it’s still too wet, add 1 tbsp of flour at a time from the 80 g you’ve set aside. The less flour you use, the better your gnocchi will be – soft and pillow-y.
5. Take a small fistful of the dough, dust it with flour and roll it out into a long, thin rope (approx. ½ inch thick) onto a clean, dry, floured surface. Cut into approx. 1inch pieces (see photo). Use a fork to press lightly into each piece. This helps each dumpling absorb the sauce better when in the final steps.
6. Bring 1 litre of salted water to a rolling boil in a large pot. Drop in 10-12 dumplings at a time to boil. They will be done in 1-2 minutes, when they rise up to the surface – remove them with a slotted spoon and set aside.
7. Repeat the steps above until you’re done with all the dough.
8. At this point, either cook the gnocchi in sauce or freeze for later use.
9. In a large saucepan, melt the butter. Add the chopped herbs and sauté for a minute. Add 2-3 tbsp of the gnocchi cooking water and 20-24 pieces of gnocchi. Remove from the heat in 2-3 minutes and top with cheese of your choice. Serve immediately.
Note: For added flavour, you can add 1-2 cloves of finely chopped garlic into the gnocchi dough. Don’t boil the potatoes or pumpkin – this adds a lot of moisture, which means you’ll need to add more flour - your gnocchi will turn out to be gummy.
1. Wrap the pumpkin in aluminum foil and bake at 250C for 25-30 minutes or until it is soft enough to yield to a fork.
2. Puree the pumpkin.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the pumpkin puree, melted butter, castor sugar and vanilla essence.
4. In a separate bowl, stir together the flours, baking powder and soda and spices.
5. Add the dry ingredients into the wet and stir until just combined (don’t overmix). Add in the chocolate chips.
6. Chill the dough for 30 minutes in the fridge.
7. Spoon out balls of 1 tbsp of dough onto a greased baking sheet/non-stick baking sheet. The cookies will spread a bit in the oven, so leave enough of a gap between.
8. Bake for 15-20 minutes at 180 C. They will not be completely hard and it may seem that they are not completely “done” – they will firm up as you allow them to cool. Allow them to cool in the oven for 30 minutes.