Tracy came over for her birthday dinner on December 26, which is of course crazy because we were all still full to the gills from the dumplingfest the day before.
But still, it was a birthday and an impromptu reason for more good food. I’ll also admit I was titillated by the novelty of cooking a Grown Up Meal for people unlikely to whine about turning off the television, throw unwanted vegetables on the floor, or insist on more chocolate syrup in their milk Right Now!
So I was primed to do something civilized and nice for Tracy, who is vegetarian, likes pumpkin things, and especially loves sweet treats. And I luckily had a stocked refrigerator what with the holiday cooking. So I was able to put together:
Pumpkin (okay, butternut squash from the freezer) Gnocchi with Spicy Arugula Pesto
Arugula Salad with Pumpkin Seeds and Maple Balsamic Vinaigrette
Chocolate Lava Cakes
This was a meal that has a lot of things I love to eat and to cook. Gnocchi is something I enjoy because it’s pretty easy to make (if you don’t fret about perfection), it’s rustic and hearty, and it’s still special. Making it with pumpkin or squash adds a nice sweet flavor and also lets me delude myself that it counts as a vegetable too (as opposed to the starchy and delicious potato gnocchi).
It’s a dish that suits me well as a cook, and one that’s helped me learn that you don’t have to create perfect food in order to provide great food. My gnocchi are largely misshapen, of dramatically different sizes, completely imperfect, and clearly show that my culinary enthusiasm carries me farther that my prep and knife skills. There’s a life lesson in here, right?
Anyway, also, arugula is one of my favorite greens because it’s so versatile. You can use it as a salad, an herb, or a cooked green, which makes it forgiving if you let it sit in the crisper a minute past its prime … or if you let it get a little too big in the garden. Or if you find yourself wanting to throw together a vibrant vegetarian feast.
Now for the recipes:
- 3 c. pumpkin or squash puree (canned plain pumpkin is fine – but because it’s denser use a little less)
- 3 egg yolks
- pinch of nutmeg
- 1/4 t. salt
- sprinkle/grind of black pepper
- 2 – 2 1/2 c. flour (You may need more depending on how much liquid is in the squash/pumpkin. I used nearly 3 cups, and wished I had thought to drain the puree with a colander and cheesecloth first, but the results were great so don’t worry about precision here.)
To finish gnocchi:
- 1 T. unsalted butter
- 1 T. olive oil
- Arugula Pesto (below)
- 2 T. (more or less) 1/2 and 1/2 or soy milk
Prepare the gnocchi: Mix the egg yolks and the pumpkin in a large bowl. Add in the salt, pepper and nutmeg, then knead in enough flour so that the dough is not sticky. It should be like your average bread dough – add more squash or flour as needed.
Divide the mixture into three sections. Roll each section into a long cigar shape about 1/2″ in diameter. Cut the rolls into 1/2″ pieces and either:
- Gently pinch around each piece’s middle, or
- Press with the back of a fork so that the tines create some striations in the pasta (good for catching sauces). There’s a trick that involves some sort of flippy roll thing that allegedly results in those perfect little crescents. I’ve never mastered it, but I don’t think my gnocchi have suffered too greatly for it.
Refrigerate on a lightly floured pan until ready to cook. (This is where I would stop to make the pesto.)
When ready to cook, place 1 T. of butter and 1 T. olive oil in a large saute pan over low heat. Poach gnocchi in boiling salted water for 2 – 3 minutes, or until they float to the top. Remove with a slotted spoon to the waiting pan. Stir in pesto gently but thoroughly with a wooden spoon, then 1/2 & 1/2 or soy milk and stir again. Heat through and serve.
In blender or food processor or whatever you like to use for such things, combine and process until smooth:
- 3 c. arugula (leaves and smaller, thinner stems only)
- 2 T. olive oil
- 1/4 c. pine nuts (I also mixed in some spicy pumpkin seeds I had around)
- 3 peeled cloves of garlic
- 1/2 t. salt
- 1 t. hot sauce (I used Sriracha: use what you like but not something too vinegar-y like Tabasco)
We had this with the salad (about 6 cups of greens tossed with 1/2 t. maple syrup, 1/2 t. balsamic vinegar, 1 T. olive oil, sprinkle of kosher salt and fresh ground pepper, tossed then sprinkled with spicy pumpkin seeds), and followed it with chocolate lava cakes, which neither Tracy nor Crankygreg had ever tried. These are the great little individual cakes that have a pool of molten chocolate inside them, as you probably know. I used Paula Deen‘s recipe, with some misgivings because I feel like I’m in a completely different food universe from Paula. But if you need a full-sugar, all-the-fat, no-holds-barred sort of dessert, you probably can’t do much better.