Sunday, 14 October 2012

Pumpkin Gnocchi with rosemary and cobnuts

So it's autumn, and the markets are bulging.  There have been comments in the media repeatedly recently about how the awful summer has made for bad harvests and so on, and I'm sure that's right - I saw it in the fields in Cornwall in the summer - but it hasn't shown up at our farmers' market yet.  Even so, I'm doing a bit of trying to eat less meat and make more of the vegetables and generally reduce our impact a bit, as well as minimising the hit to wallet, waistline and world that meat represents.  In fairness, this is made a bit easier because Brixton farmers' market doesn't have what I regard as a stellar meat stall, so I'm safe enough.  When nobody has big hunks of ham hock or pork shoulder sitting out in pride of place on their stall, it's easy enough not to have made carnitas for dinner again.

The squashes were great when I showed up at the market a week or two ago and I bought a huge kabocha with a lot of enthusiasm and no plan at all.  Some of it became soup (some of which is still in the bottom of the freezer), and more became curry, and quite a lot became these gnocchi.  Squash goes a long way between two hungry squash eaters.

And I bought cobnuts, despite the fact I didn't own a nut cracker.  I shot a few of them across the room before I hit on the teatowel/rolling pin combo, and since then they've shown up in piecrust and pesto and a heap of other things...and Tom bought me a nutcracker, after nut shrapnel punctuated his work-related Skype call from across the room.

I've never been that hot at gnocchi - they always fall apart or come out gummy or both.  I know you need to keep the amount of flour down to minimise the chew, but you do need some to keep them together and so on.  I think I hit on the answer this time: a good firm fleshed pumpkin.  The ordinary butternuts are too wet.  If they're what you have to use, chop then roast, rather than steam, to maximise the amount of water you drive off.

Somehow these became a speedy we've-been-wandering-around-town-all-day dinner.  They're quicker than you think, really.  All the time is in the prepping and steaming of the veg and the rest is easy.

Pumpkin gnocchi

This recipe makes enough for four, but they freeze really well if you lay them out on a tray lined with baking parchment in your freezer overnight and transfer them to a freezer bag when you next need the tray or the space in the freezer.  You can cook them straight from frozen, too - they take one whole minute longer...that's all.  Instant dinner!


250g potatoes (I used a particular variety known as 'white'. Yeah. High science.  Cheap supermarket baking potatoes, chosen for their ease of peeling. They worked great.) 

300g pumpkin (this was about a quarter of the big kabocha I had. I'm not sure sure specific amounts are really important here.)

The method I was vaguely following (this one from the Independent) told me I needed 160g plain flour.  I didn't, I needed less, and then felt I needed less even than I'd used.  As I said above, you need to err on the side of less, but you'll need to be the judge of your own dough.

A good pinch of salt


First, peel, cube and weigh out the veg, then steam until fork tender (about 20 minutes for half inch cubes of potato and less for the squash).

Make the dressing at this point, so that you can heat it up when the gnocchi are boiling.

Let the veg steam dry and cool for a few minutes before mashing or passing it all together through a potato ricer (which is a thing which looks like a giant garlic press and I only own because I inherited it from my grandmother...the average kitchen shop will have one!).  Add a pinch of salt and around 80g of plain flour.  Mix together - it should form a very soft dough.  You're looking I think for something which holds together and which can, with the aid of flour, be persuaded not to stick to too many things.  I suspect you'll need around 120g of flour in total, but start lower and work up.

When you think it's reached a good consistency, divide the dough into four portions and, on a floured surface and with well floured hands, roll each one into a rope around a half inch thick.

Gently reheat the pan with the dressing, and set a big wide pan of water to boil.

I used a bench knife to slice the ropes into little sweetie-type cushions, and then poked them a bit until they were all about the same thickness.  Drop as many as will fit in a single layer into your pan.

Gnocchi are magic, and sink to the bottom until they're cooked, and then bob up to be fished out by you with your slotted spoon.

Transfer your little dumplings to the hot butter sauce (careful, spitty), and keep cooking until all are in the sauce.  Carefully turn them over to coat them, and serve on warm plates with parmesan grated over.

Cobnut butter dressing with rosemary

(This is enough for a half recipe of gnocchi)


I used a double handful of unshelled fresh cobnuts...I forgot to weigh them.  Bad Hazel.  I suspect 100g of shelled hazelnuts would be more than enough.

A sprig of rosemary (thyme would similarly have been lovely, but neighbours don't leave thyme bushes invitingly hanging over their garden walls for casual passersby to harvest the odd needle from...)

A pinch of chilli flakes (optional)

100g of very best salted butter
1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper


Shell the nuts if required, using a more efficient method than a rolling pin and a tea towel, and chop them coarsely.

Heat the butter in a big frying pan and when hot add the nuts and rosemary.  Cook gently until the nuts begin to colour, then remove the rosemary and stir in the chilli flakes and garlic.  Cook for 30 seconds more, until you can smell the garlic.  Remove from the heat and grind over plenty of black pepper and a small pinch of salt.

Keep to one side until the gnocchi are ready.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Cinnamon whey bread buns.

There are days when you never finish anything.  There are days when you barely start anything without getting distracted.  There are days when you find you forgot to do one important thing and have given your time to fifteen pointless ones. There are days when it gets to five pm and you realise with horror that you have achieved nothing, but nothing, and rush to cram some work into the last hour of the day and end up staying on just so you can feel like you accomplished something, and still leave hours later knowing you haven't.

For those days, there is baking.  You can come home and break out the emergency butter and emergency sugar, and weigh and mix and taste and cook, and at the end you have something to show for it.  It might be late, but who cares? You have buns - and tomorrow you can take them into the office and people will say nice things and it will be another day.

Yeast dough isn't usually for evening baking, and this whey bread isn't really for making cinnamon buns, but they came together quick enough and with hot coffee made for the perfect breakfast.

I used Dan Lepard's sweet whey bread recipe from The Handmade Loaf, which begins with the instructions for how to make fresh cheese using rennet, which I never have in.  I have made a paneer a few times with lemon juice or yoghurt, though, and freeze the whey to make this slightly enriched bread.  He makes it into a slightly sweet soft white sandwich bread, good for breakfast toasting and similar.  It's like a less rich challah, to my mind - with butter and milk but no eggs.  Tom and I have made it a few times and cut the honey somewhat to make it better for savoury uses.  Here I kept the honey at the original levels to keep the sweetness.

I haven't tried making this with ordinary milk.  I suspect you could sub 150ml milk, simmered for a minute and mixed with 150ml cold water.  The simmering kills enzymes and changes proteins and similar, and mixing it with cold water will  both drop the temperature and give the liquid a texture closer to whey.  Haven't tried it though.  I usually use this technique for making paneer - it's very quick, and the paneer itself is delicious in Indian recipes or, if you don't press it, as a soft cheese to eat with berries and the like instead of yoghurt.

The filling is a standard one for Tom and I - 75g salted butter; 75g dark brown sugar; 15g powdered cinnamon.  Soften the butter (but don't melt it totally) and mix the other two ingredients into it.

After the dough has risen twice and is ready for its final shaped rise, on a floured surface roll it and push it out into an oblong roughly 18 inches by 36 and spread the filling all over it.  Roll it up tightly and slice it into 2 inch rolls.  Pack them into a baking tin lined with paper, close but not quite touching.  I used a 9 inch square cake tin for the 'presentation' buns, and put the mucky off cuts into a round sponge tin.

Preheat the oven while the buns do their final 45 minute rise (now they'll be butting up against one another), then bake according to Dan's instructions, checking ten minutes before the end (buns bake quicker than loaves) and switching the tins around a couple of times during baking.  They should be well risen and golden brown.

While the buns bake, make a quick glaze by heating together the juice of one lemon with 30g of caster sugar.  Boil it for a few minutes until it begins to get syrupy (the bubbles begin to get larger).  As soon as the buns come out brush this all over their surface.

I felt better.