Pumpkin & Chestnut Gnocchi
with Walnut Sage Sauce
October 30, 2020
The other day I was lying in bed, the cat curled up somewhere under the blankets beside me. It was around noon and I was working, laptop perched on my legs, coffee within reach, a whole, peeled kohlrabi I was eating like an apple lobbed into the side of my mouth. I was wearing my loose cotton overalls, ridiculous fuzzed socks that look like cat’s paws, my hair piled in a mess somewhere at the back of my head. I am a grownup, I thought. And I was filled with wonder at the thought.
A few mornings ago, between a high-intensity ab workout and a run through the park, I baked a cake. I took a nap with the cat. I ate the cake. I was the master of my destiny. By evening, I was slumped on the couch, talking about feelings and feeling about as mature as a pubescent teen clutching a stuffed animal and struggling with eye contact. Funny, how a day can go.
I think a lot about being a grownup and what counts as being one. Is it paying your own bills? Having a job? Owning a house? Or is it more the emotional work of remembering to call people on their birthdays without needing to be nagged, sending a bouquet of flowers to a sick friend, bringing someone a meal? Is it an age you reach, the moment you move into your own apartment, the minute you become a parent?
Is it an age you reach, the moment you move into your own apartment, the minute you become a parent?
Sometimes, when I confess these thoughts to friends, they look at me as if I’ve just said something very silly. “Of course you’re an adult,” they say. “Of course,” I say. “I know that.”
But most of the time, I feel neither adult nor not; I feel like I’m simply living my life, putting one day after the other, just doing the things. It’s not like someone drapes a mantle of adulthood over your shoulder when you turn eighteen and that’s it, you’ve made it, you’re done.
When I was a kid, here is what I thought being a grownup meant: You know all the right ways of doing things. You are married. You have children. You live in a house. You are confident in your career.
Here’s where I’m at on that list: The last one, maybe. Some of the time.
I think that’s why the moments in which I feel most adult catch me off guard, because they have nothing to do with the way I’d thought I’d feel as an adult. They’re banal. It’s not a mortgage or an engagement ring or a small human. And truth be told, I’m no longer sure those things would make me feel any more adult than I do now.
I feel like an adult on Sunday mornings when I wake up too early and decide to drink black coffee in bed in the grayish dawn, reading a novel. I also feel like an adult when I paint my fingernails. I feel like an adult when I schedule doctor’s appointments for myself. The other day, I felt like an adult when a new hire asked me if he was allowed to go home, as if I’m the one who gets to give permission. I felt like an adult when my boyfriend and I rented a car to drive through Slovenia on holiday and stayed in places that couldn’t be reached by public transportation. I felt like an adult the day I listened to K-pop all morning while I made pumpkin gnocchi and simultaneously freshened up the silicone grout sealer around the kitchen sink.
Here’s a long story I’m going to cut short. The other day I found myself in a round of sharing personally embarrassing clips that lurk online in the minorly-viewed depths of YouTube. Mine is of me in college, performing with my a cappella group. I’m wearing a purple tank top and a banana yellow jumpsuit, slanted fringe falling into my eyes. “I feel like I look exactly the same,” I said, meaning, sheesh, when do I get to look like a grownup? “I don’t think so,” my friend replied. “You look a lot different now.” Older, she meant. Which makes sense, since that clip has seen about fifteen winters. And still, how telling that when I looked at my past self, full of awkwardness and uncertainty and youth, my first reaction was to see my now-self there.
I felt like an adult the day I listened to K-pop all morning while I made pumpkin gnocchi and simultaneously freshened up the silicone grout sealer around the kitchen sink.
I remember being younger and looking at my grandma looking at herself in the mirror. She’d pull the skin back from her cheeks and hold it taut. “There I am!” she’d say, and I think this must be the key to it, you know, the whole age is a state of mind thing and bear with me as this veers into Hallmark channel territory.
Because what I really mean to say is, it doesn’t matter whether or not I see my now-self reflected in my college self – I’m still a little bit awkward and uncertain, and in another fifteen years will say I was young. Nor does it matter that the life my eighteen-year-old self thought I’d be living at thirty-three bears very little resemblance to the one I live. What matters is how, with time, I’m learning to be at peace with myself. I’m learning that being a grownup is not the same as being perfect or knowing all the answers. I’m learning I’m allowed to be confident and to feel good about being good at things. I’m learning it’s okay if not everyone likes you. And one boring little day after the other, I’m discovering anew that I like who I am and the life that I’m building. And maybe that’s the most adult thing of all.
Pumpkin & Chestnut Gnocchi with Walnut Sage Sauce
Gnocchi is like baby’s first pasta. The dough is easy to make and forgiving of technique, and there’s no need for a pasta roller. The only slightly tricky thing about the dough is getting the wet to dry ingredient ratio right, especially if you’re working with cups instead of grams. I actually sat down with a pencil and a piece of paper and did some equations to work out the numbers. Thank you, 8th grade pre-algebra teacher. You were right, balancing equations was a useful skill. (It’s also just about where my math skills stop.) In any case, the dough. If it’s too sticky to roll into ropes, just add a little more flour. You’re going to have to trust yourself on this one. Serves 4.
Pro-tip, if you don’t plan on eating your gnocchi right away or don’t plan on eating the whole batch at once, you can also freeze them as soon as they’re made. Simply arrange a single layer on a tray and freeze for a few hours (oh, four?), then transfer to a plastic freezer bag. It’s important to freeze them individually first, or else you’ll end up with a solid gnocchi lump.
For the gnocchi:
½ cup (150 g) roasted, mashed pumpkin (I used Hokkaido)
½ cup (100 g) peeled, pre-cooked chestnuts, finely chopped
1 smallish (100 g) peeled, boiled potato, mashed
½ cup ricotta
235 g flour
½ tsp. salt
Pinch of nutmeg
For the sauce:
170 g butter
Large handful of whole sage leaves
1 large garlic clove, minced
1 cup walnuts, crushed
Salt & pepper, to taste
Grated parmesan, to serve
To make the gnocchi, blend the pumpkin, chestnuts, potato, and ricotta into a fine mash. You can either do this in a blender or with an immersion blender. After being a dumb-dumb and sticking a wooden spoon into the blender, splintering it into bits, and spending half an hour picking wood chips out of my pumpkin, I settled on doing this with my hands. Mix in the egg. Sift flour, salt, and nutmeg together, then add the pumpkin mixture to the flour and knead with your hands until a shaggy dough forms, then turn out onto a floured work surface and continue kneading until the dough forms a smooth ball.
Split the dough into five balls. Using your hands, take the first ball and, on a floured work surface, roll it out into a long rope, with about the thickness of a very fat thumb. Cut the rope into bite-sized pieces, about 1.2 inches (3 cm) long and set the pieces aside on a floured cloth, making sure they don’t touch. Repeat with the remaining four rolls of dough. Set aside.
Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
In a small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt butter. Once melted, add garlic and sage and continue to cook, stirring frequently for 3 minutes. Add crushed walnuts, salt, and pepper, and continue cooking and stirring for another 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add gnocchi to boiling water and cook for around 3.5 minutes, or until the gnocchi start to float to the top of the water. Strain and plate. Quickly return the butter sauce to the stove and bring up to a warm temperature, then pour over gnocchi. Garnish with grated parmesan.