Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Sweet Potato Gnocchi with Walnuts, Green Tomatoes, and Cilantro-Pumpkin Seed Pesto

So as I mentioned earlier this week, I decided to try making some homemade gnocchi this weekend, something I'd never done before. But I love me some gnocchi, so I figured, what the hell... And damn if I wasn't pleased that I decided to try it out. Store-bought gnocchi doesn't even come CLOSE to the fresh stuff.

Overall, I actually really quite liked this dish (which I invented all by myself--look, ma, no hands!). And in the making of the dish, I thankfully only ran into a few real issues.

The first was the gnocchi dough--given that I've never made gnocchi before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. Bryanna's Nonna's Italian Kitchen cookbook gave some tips for making regular potato gnocchi, so I used those to guide myself. She warned that the dough would be sticky, so you want to add the flour slowly until it's sticky but not SO sticky that you can't work with it; then you should stop, because the less flour you add, the more tender the gnocchi will be. And damn if she wasn't right about the gnocchi dough being sticky--I added probably what was close (or maybe even slightly more) than the 1 3/4 c. of flour, and it STILL was a fricking bear to work with. My tip is this: flour up those hands, flour up that fork, and flour up your table. Flour flour flour! Be liberal, as I don't think it will hurt much of anything, and it'll make you a lot less liable to want to throw the wad of orangey dough onto the flour and stomp on it.

The other issue I ran into with this dish was the pesto. As I was trying to go for autumnal-themed food (pumpkin soup, sweet potato gnocchi), I decided to try out the cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto recipe from The Complete Vegan cookbook. However, I must warn you that this is some potent, spicy shit. Like mega-potent. And mega-spicy. So much so that Mo actually admitted that she wasn't too keen on it, though she loved the gnocchi and walnut-green tomato mix. (You know you're good friends with someone when they can have the openness and candor to tell you this, and your feelings aren't even hurt a bit.) I actually quite liked it myself, but only in really really really small doses. For a serving of gnocchi, I'd say you'd be pushing it if you served any more than a tablespoon of it on top. That's how strong it is.

The other problem I ran into with this pesto recipe is the pumpkin seeds. Apparently pumpkins seeds are the cockroaches of the food world--they just WILL NOT DIE no matter how much time you spend trying to smash them to pieces. This was probably the most aggravating aspect of the whole dinner. I tried food-processing the raw pumpkin seeds first with no luck. They barely even wore down. Then I added the other pesto ingredients, and that only seemed to help minimally. It took much much much spinning of my food-processing blades (and probably some burning out of my motor) to finally get them ground up fairly reasonably. And even still, we kept running across little deviant still-whole pumpkin seeds. It was sheer madness. So be forewarned.

All that being said and done, I was very happy with this dish. The gnocchi were plump and wonderfully gloriously tender (despite me being worried about this), and the walnuts, green tomatoes, and pesto all mingled in a delightfully earthy but zingy mix. And it tasted like autumn. So there!


The Cilantro and Pumpkin Seed Pesto

(I am actually posting this recipe--from The Complete Vegan--since it's not really a whole recipe, and I highly doubt that it'll keep you from running out and buying the cookbook. Consider it a teaser to get you to want more more more Complete Vegan recipes. *Trying to make myself feel less guilty*)
  • 1 c. chopped fresh cilantro

  • 1 c. chopped fresh parsley

  • 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil

  • 1/4 c. raw unsalted pumpkin-seeds

  • 2 T. fresh-squeezed lime juice

  • 1 T. dried oregano

  • 2 cloves garlic, minced

  • 1/2 t. ground cumin

  • 1/2 t. salt

  • 1/4 t. dried red chili flakes (cutting this down to 1/8 t. or something will probably help combat some of the fierce spiciness)

  • 1 T. nutritional yeast (this is not in the original recipe--I was trying to despicify it a bit after taste-testing)

Food process all of the above, except for the olive oil. Once it is processed, add the olive oil slowly while the blade is still running until it is mixed throughout.

The gnocchi
  • 2 lbs. sweet potatoes (about 2 large sweet potatoes)

  • 1 3/4 c. flour

  • 1/4-1/2 t. salt

Remove the skins of the sweet potatoes and then steam them both until they are tender. Immediately mash them up (while still hot) and add the salt. Gradually add the flour in (I did at about 1/2 c. at a time), mixing until the dough is sticky but workable. (Remember: the less flour you end up using, the more melt-in-your-mouth tender they'll be.) Flour your table or whatever you'll be kneading the dough on, as well as your hands. Knead for 2-3 minutes. Roll chunks of the dough out into 3/4-inch worm-like strings. Cut into 3/4-inch chunks. For each little gnocchi-chunk, take a fork (which you'll probably also wanna flour a bit) and press the chunk against the tines with your thumb--the point is to leave the lines of the fork on one side and your thumb imprint on the other. Once you get through all the dough (the quantity in the recipe I made makes enough gnocchi for probably 6-10 servings, in my opinion; I only made gnocchi from about half the dough, and froze the rest--which hopefully is an ok thing to do; I must look this up--and it made about 4 small-sized servings in this particular dish), start dropping the gnocchi into boiling water in small batches. Once they rise to the top, remove and drain them. (You may wanna taste-test a couple and make sure you shouldn't let them float on the top for a bit longer if they're TOO tender.) Repeat with all the remaining gnocchi until you're done.

The complete dish
  • 1/2 - 1 lb. green tomatoes, diced

  • 1 c. walnuts, toasted

  • Cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto

  • 1/2 of the sweet potato gnocchi you made above

  • 1/2 - 1 T. olive oil

Heat up the olive oil in a skillet. Toss in the green tomatoes and gnocchi and a little bit of salt. Fry on low/medium until the green tomatoes have softened and the gnocchi has browned just the slightest. Remove from the heat. Throw in the walnuts and mix. Serve a couple large spoonfuls of the mixture on a plate and top with some cilantro-pumpkin seed pesto (1/2 T. - 1 T.). Enjoy.

Servings: Given all the quantities above, I can tell you this: You will have excess pesto left-over (since you'll only want to use very little because of the spiciness). I just froze it. The complete dish quantities assume that you only use 1/2 batch of the sweet-potato gnocchi dough (so you can either just cut the quantities in half and make a half-batch of the gnocchi recipe--if you don't want leftover dough, or you can make the complete amount and store the rest for a later date). Given all that, this should serve about 4, particularly if accompanied by soup and fresh bread.

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