The great pumpkin returns, this time in the tender little dumplings known as gnocchi, meaning "lumps" in Italian. Probably of Middle Eastern origin, they were introduced by the Roman Legions during the enormous expansion of the empire. At that time, gnocchi were made from a porridge-like semolina dough mixed with eggs, which bears a resemblance to the saffron-infused basis for malloreddus, Sicily's signature dumpling. Although potato is what you'll see most often, pumpkin or any sort of squash also make a wonderful addition to these chubby nuggets. The key is to ensure their lightness by using as little flour as possible. If you can get your hands on a kabocha squash (sometimes called Japanese pumpkin), you'll find that their dense, dry flesh can make up the bulk.
The making of gnocchi is not an exact science. You take pumpkin or squash, flour, a little egg, some grated cheese and you mix it together to make a dough. You don't want to beat it or knead it a great deal as this can rob it of some of the quintessential lightness that makes gnocchi so irresistible. You roll the dough into long snake-like coils and chop these into the bite-sized pieces you will begin to recognize. Push a fork into each one to create the signature striations so adept at catching sauce and you're done. Simply plop them into boiling water until they float, then scoop them out and serve with brown butter and sage. Or, as I prefer, sear them next in a hot pan with a little olive oil or butter so they get a bit crisp, then top them with anything you like: roasted tomatoes, sauteed mushrooms, a scoop of ricotta, pesto, virtually anything goes.
I love oatmeal (so does Thomas Keller—apparently it's one of his go-to late night suppers!) and frequently make more than I need just so I can have the pleasure of eating these fried oatmeal cakes. It's another way of getting a little variety into that first meal of the day. I think I got the idea from Mark Bittman, but it's not much of a revelation. Hey, you take leftover oatmeal and fry it up in a pan. Still, it has a lovely, chewy texture and makes a great vehicle for all sorts of toppings. Sometimes I'll have it with in the traditional Irish manner, with some buttermilk and brown sugar, others I'll shower it with sea salt and a good dose of Tabasco.