Pumpkin gnocchi, given a grilling

Gnocchi are now to be seen in the smart shops and flash kitchens across town. A certain irony there. What is, essentially, not much more than what my mum used to call a dumpling, a very working-class, peasant- level feed, is hitting it off in places which house Range Rovers and clipped poodles.

I can’t think of anything better to be hot, unless it is osso buco, or fish soup, or braised ox tail, or mashed potatoes, or anything, in fact, that peasants cook. It has to be good, just think about it. If you are not too flush with the folding material, you are going to work like hell to make sure the flavours you serve up day and night, week in, week out, are pretty good.

Thus it was/is with gnocchi. A puree of a staple like potato, or pumpkin, held together with a little egg yolk, if you had a few old chooks, given body with flour and flavoured with herbs from the garden; from that comes the basis of any food you like. From a staple through to something that shows how smart you are. Thus, if you’ve suddenly come into some money,
you can show off with gnocchi tossed in a rich, expensive sauce, flavoured with cream and mushrooms and some lobster, and, if you’re really swell, truffles. If you’re in the midst of a losing streak, don’t lose heart, just throw the gnocchi about with a bit of ham, or butter, or cheese, or herbs.

When I’m not feeling lazy, I double-cook the gnocchi. First in boiling water, until they float, then briefly in a thick, rich, heavily flavoured sauce, allowing the gnocchi to take in all the flavours from the pan. Drain off any excess and serve sprinkled with fresh herbs, or slices of lobster or chicken or turkey, or just a handful of herbs and a grated, flavoursome, hard cheese.

When I am feeling lazy, which is the other 99.9 per cent of the time, I’ll spoon all the gnocchi into an oven-proof bowl, sprinkle some olive oil and herbs about, grate some melting cheese over the top (Gruyere, Raclette, cheddar or the like), and put the lot under the grill. Once the cheese is melted, sprinkle the bowl with your best virgin olive oil, then the herbs from the garden. This is wow department.

1kg of butternut pumpkin

2 egg yolks

1 teaspoon salt

plenty of black pepper

1 teaspoon nutmeg

freshest herbs you have, chopped roughly

2 teaspoons good quality virgin olive oil for the mix, as much as you like for the sauce a few nuts, chopped to the size of peppercorns. These are optional – the use of nuts in gnocchi is hardly loyal to their peasant beginnings. Nuts add a little surprise crunch in the middle.

300g sifted plain flour more herbs

your favourite melting cheese – Raclette is best, Gruyere runs second, cheddar gets the bronze medal.

a hard grating cheese


Cook the pumpkin in its skin and allow it to cool. The best way to do this is in the microwave. Put it on a plate and cook on high until the skin changes colour and is soft as a baby’s botty. You can do this a day ahead. Slice away the skin. Remove the seeds, and put the pumpkin through the mouli (or a fine sieve) to puree it. If you use the end without seeds, just mash it with a fork. (The same applies with potatoes. Use floury spuds, and don’t puree them in a processor.) The pumpkin could be quite moist. If it is, spread it on a plate to allow some of the moisture to evaporate. This is not absolutely necessary, but it will allow for a marginally better end result. Once the seeds and skin have been removed, you will be left with about 650g of puree.


Gently mix the egg yolks, salt, black pepper, nutmeg, herbs, olive oil (and nuts) through the cooled pumpkin puree.


Fold in the flour in several additions, doing it gently, to keep the mix as light as you can. The gnocchi will be a long way from firm when they are ready. They have no legs of their own, and can only be patted into shape, never kneaded. The amount of flour added depends on how much moisture there is in the potatoes or pumpkin. You will need a fair amount of flour on the chopping board to keep the gnocchi on target for the pot and not the board.


Break the dough into two (or three) parts. With floured hands, gently roll out the gnocchi like a long sausage, about 3 cm in diameter. Cut into pieces at about 3cm intervals. Dust with a little flour and set on grease-proof paper.


Bring a large pot of water to the boil and toss in enough gnocchi to cover about three-quarters of the base. Cook at a fast boil until they float – about 2 minutes. Leave for about a minute and remove, draining well. Put them into an oven-proof bowl, allowing a layer of gnocchi per person, and drizzle some olive oil and herbs over the top. Cover with melting cheese and cook under the grill until the cheese is melted.


Serve as is, with grated hard cheese and more olive oil and herbs on the side.


If you toss the gnocchi through a sauce in a pan, do it gently, allowing the sauce to impregnate the dumplings. Serve with only the sauce which adheres to the balls. Whatever else you are serving with the gnocchi, cook separately and either toss through or serve on the side.

WINE: Almost anything goes here. In winter, try a glass of amontillado or oloroso sherry. In summer, a nice, aged Hunter semillon.