I credit my daughter with much. She helped me get over my aversion to eating food covered in another person’s drool, for one. She’s also made Christmas more enjoyable for me, child of divorced parents, who for years wished the day could be wiped from the calendar so she could really enjoy peace this season. Still, even in my most ‘Bah humbug’ days, when I’d email my editor in July and beg him to make me work Christmas, I felt compelled to ensure others weren’t being short-changed of cheer. I put in the extra effort at the office potluck, making something I was sure my co-workers would enjoy rather than phone it in with a grocery store fruit tray. I’d bring coffee to the photographer who begged not to work Christmas but drew the short straw and did it anyway. And I’d sweat over every word when filing my stories about community dinners held for those who had limited options of what to eat and where to go during the holidays. Fast forward to post-newsroom life and parenthood, and that feeling hasn’t changed. Much as I was grateful for having an excuse to opt out of Christmas at one time, I’ve always felt that no one should be alone, or at the very least, they should have options, even if they prefer to do the yule solo. That’s why I’ve included another face around the Christmas table the past few years: my friend Sebastien. His family is in Belgium and though he puts up every excuse as to why he shouldn’t join us — he doesn’t want to be any trouble — I protest his protests to the point of calling him a Fart Face and demanding he show up. Truth is, the highlight of Christmas for me, aside from seeing my daughter open her gifts or shy away from mall Santas, is making the meal. *The* meal. I love getting lost in shredding my CSA Brussels sprouts for a warm salad, chopping turnips for a side that stands up to everything with which it shares a plate, or making lentil loaf that surprises my turkey-loving family members. This year, I took pleasure in getting my hands dirty to make pumpkin gnocchi. While that protein-as-the-centrepiece mentality has been hard to shake, even 10 years after going veg, I tried hard this year when Sebastien came for dinner by serving that gnocchi. Of course he protested it would be too much trouble. Of course I called him a name. And of course I proceeded to make the gnocchi for the simple reason that it’s an incredibly easy meal, with an elegance that belies that fact. Served with a red curry sauce, it’s a meal that says I’m happy you’re here celebrating with us. It’s also the kind of meal that makes short work of the pumpkins piling up alongside my sweet potatoes, both from my CSA. An added bonus, to be sure. And it’s a meal that’s perfect for marking other important occasions, like ushering in the new year in a few days. Smooshing roasted pumpkin into a gloopy mash and folding in silky flour to make the dough is an opportunity to reflect on what was and what will be, while eating it with family and friends is an opportunity to be in the moment. And if you happen to be in the moment with a toddler nearby, one who pounds back most of her dumplings and then spits out the rest when she’s full, it’s an opportunity to see just how much you’ve overcome that aversion to drool-covered food. See you on the flip-side of the calendar everyone.
Pumpkin gnocchi with red Thai curry sauce
While I’m selling this as the perfect meal for New Year’s Eve because making pasta always has a sense of occasion to it, this gnocchi is easy enough to enjoy anytime. It’s a crowd pleaser as much as it is a standard of self care if you want to treat yourself after a tough day at the office. If you can’t find a pumpkin, butternut squash will work just as well. The red curry sauce was inspired by Jennifer McLagan’s recipe for Bitter Melon in Coconut Curry, in her beautiful book, Bitter. It’s been modified slightly to work with the sweeter gnocchi.
- For the gnocchi
- 2 1/4 pounds pumpkin, baked*
- 2 cups plus extra flour**
- Generous pinch of salt
- For the red curry sauce
- 1 tablespoon coconut oil
- 1 heaped tablespoon Thai red curry paste
- 1 can (398mL) full-fat coconut milk
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 2 tablespoons vegetarian fish sauce
- 1 large red tomato, diced
- 4 green onions, finely chopped (optional)
- 2 tablespoons parsley, chopped (optional)
- *A pumpkin weighing roughly 2.75 to 3 pounds before it’s been gutted and trimmed of stem should net you 2 1/4 pounds of flesh for roasting. If using butternut squash, a 2.5-pound beast should do. Set aside any excess for muffins, bread, pancakes or this beauty.
- ** Depending on the water content of your pumpkin, you may need additional flour, so keep it handy, adding a 1/4 cup at a time until dough is the desired consistency.
- Cut pumpkin into four to six pieces, removing seeds and stringy bits. Bake uncovered at 400°F (200°C) for about 40 minutes or until a fork easily pierces the flesh. Do not brush with oil. This adds unnecessary moisture.
- Remove the pumpkin from the oven and let cool.
- Once cool, remove the skin. In a large mixing bowl or on a clean surface lightly dusted with flour, break apart pumpkin with hands. Use a potato masher to break down any odd firm bits until it’s a smooth consistency.
- Season with salt and add flour. Slowly and gently knead mixture with hands. Add extra flour as needed until dough is fairly firm and no longer sticky. (See note above).
- Form dough into a ball and cut into four to eight pieces using a sharp knife or pastry scraper.
- Roll pieces of dough into ropes about half an inch thick. Using your knife or pastry scraper, cut rope into half-inch pieces. Feel free to score gnocchi with a fork, if you’d like. Dust lightly with flour and set aside to make sauce.
- In a saucepan, melt the coconut oil. When it’s hot, add the curry paste, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add coconut milk and bring to a boil, stirring continuously. Then add the lime juice and fish sauce. When bubbling again, reduce heat and simmer 10 to 12 minutes.
- While the sauce is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Gently drop gnocchi in boiling water and cook, until floating, usually two to three minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and divide into serving portions.
- Add diced tomato to sauce, stirring until it’s heated through (about one minute).
- Ladle sauce over top of gnocchi. Garnish with green onions or parsley and serve immediately.