This variation on an old-world recipe uses new-world ingredients to make something that's not your average dumpling!
For the dumplings:
- 750g (about 3¼ cups) pumpkin mush
- 150g - 200g dry (about 1 cup) polenta (yellow cornmeal)
- 150g - 200g (about 2 cups) dry potato flakes1 (instant mashed potatoes)
- 2 eggs
- A generous swig of olive oil, pumpkin-seed oil, or a neutral cooking oil
- Salt, thyme (dry or fresh), powdered ginger, and grated nutmeg
For the pumpkin mush:
- 1 small pumpkin, about 1kg (about 2lb) - or half a larger one
- A cupful or two of water
- A sharp knife and a cutting board
- A mixing bowl
- A large pot (the one you use for cooking pasta) and a smaller saucepan (about 1.5 litres will do)
- A slotted spoon, a potato masher2, and a fork for mixing
Preparing The Dough
Begin by preparing the mashed pumpkin. Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and stringy bits, and then cut it into slices. You'll want a sharp, unserrated knife, and be careful not to cut your fingers! Peel3 the slices, cut the pumpkin into little cubes, and put them in the smaller pot. Add just enough water to barely cover the pieces, cover, and boil gently for about 20 minutes or until soft enough to mash, removing the lid for the last five minutes. Mash in the pot.
Next, measure out 150g of polenta and stir it into the pumpkin mush while it's still hot, then transfer it to the mixing bowl to cool. Stir in the eggs only when the pumpkin has cooled sufficiently, or they'll curdle. Add the oil, salt to taste, and season generously with thyme, ginger, and nutmeg. Work in 150g of the potato flakes and let it rest for another ten minutes or so until the water is absorbed. You should have a soft, slightly sticky dough that you can shape with your hands. If it's too soft or sticky, add more polenta or potato flakes a few tablespoons at a time until the consistency is right.
Boiling The Dumplings
It's handy but not essential to have two people for this step, one to boil the dumplings and one to shape them. Fill your big pot about 2/3 full of water, add a bit of salt, and bring to the boil. Meanwhile, shape the dough into balls about the size of a walnut by rolling small portions between your hands - they'll expand while cooking. Drop them into the boiling water without crowding and cook for five to ten minutes, until they indicate that they're done by rising to the top. The water will probably turn murky and yellow, but don't let that put you off! Remove the finished dumplings from the pot with a slotted spoon and drain well.
Serve the dumplings with plenty of browned butter and toasted walnuts or fried apples and onions, by themselves or with a hearty stew, a mushroom dish, or something else with lots of gravy to mop up. This amount serves four generously, but fortunately, dumplings are arguably even better the second day, cut up and fried like potatoes...
If you have a lot of pumpkins to get rid of before they all turn into vampires, try these variations:
- Shape the dumpling dough into gnocchi, or make tiny dumplings and boil them right in the soup or stew you'll serve them in.
- The recipe is gluten-free, but if that's not an issue for you, cut three or four slices of toast into cubes, fry them in oil or butter, and shape each dumpling around a few of the cubes of bread for a crunchy filling.
- Add chopped nuts, fried onions or fresh chopped herbs to the dough.
- You can use flour instead of the polenta for a smoother texture.
- If you're in a real hurry, cheat and use instant dumpling mix, substituting mashed pumpkin4 for the liquid called for on the box - but they won't be as nice!