I thought I’d be brave and try making gnocchi. I say brave, because they’re a lot of work and the results can sometimes be deadly. If you ask my husband, all gnocchi are to be avoided. At worst, in his opinion, they’re gummy and leaden and at best they’re heavy and tolerable. But that didn’t stop me from forging ahead.
I wouldn’t say my gnocchi fit either of his descriptions, but they weren’t light as a cloud either. On those rare occasions when they are ethereal, I’d still prefer a nice bowl of home-made pasta. But if you’re curious to try them, take the challenge.
Gnocchi are traditionally made with potatoes, but I wanted to try a different version with the last of my squash harvest. I have to confess that after the gnocchi were cooked, there was little squash flavor, so the next time I get the yen for gnocchi, I might just stay true to the original potato version.
The recipe comes from Carol Field’s comprehensive book on traditional holiday meals throughout Italy called “Celebrating Italy.” In either version, the trick is to eliminate as much water as possible, so the gnocchi don’t absorb heaps of flour. For potato gnocchi, that means baking the potatoes rather than boiling them. For the squash gnocchi, bake the squash as well, then drain it overnight or longer in a sieve lined with cheesecloth.
The next step is to mix the flour and dry ingredients together with the prepared, pureed squash and eggs. If I could have found my ricer, which has been MIA for a while now, I’d have used that instead of pureeing the squash in a food processor.
You have to keep incorporating more flour until the dough is workable, but not so much that you end up with lead pellets at the end. Ay there’s the rub. Use only as much flour as you need to roll it out into long cylindrical shapes. Then slice off little bits about 1/2 inch to 3/4 inch long:
Cook the gnocchi in boiling, salted water for a very short time, then toss them in a saucepan with melted butter and sage:
I thought the time under the broiler toughened them a bit, so I tried them a different way the next time - boiling the gnocchi and tossing them in tomato sauce, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and some parsley. This was our favorite way to eat them. It enhanced the delicate, soft texture of the gnocchi and lent lots of flavor too.
This recipe makes tons of gnocchi – close to 200 – enough to freeze for a gathering of family or friends. To freeze, just put the uncooked gnocchi on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper. Place in the freezer a few hours until hard, then transfer to a plastic bag.
Butternut Squash Gnocchi
(makes about 200 gnocchi)
Adapted from Carol Field’s “Celebrating Italy”
butternut squash puree (mine weighed about 1 1/4 pounds after cooking)
2 cups or more of flour, as needed
3/4 t. salt
1/8 tsp black pepper
1/2 t. ground nutmeg
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or Romano cheese
3 egg yolks
3 T. melted butter, cooled slightly
To prepare squash, cut in half, scoop out the seeds and roast in a 350 degree oven for 45 minutes or an hour, or until able to pierce without any resistance. Let it cool, scoop out flesh and place in food processor to puree, then drain in a sieve lined with cheesecloth, preferably overnight.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, lemon zest and parmesan. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and put squash in the center along with the egg yolks and 3 T. cooled melted butter. Work dough with your hands until all of the ingredients are moistened and dough holds together. You most likely will have to add more flour than the recipe calls for, but it depends on how much the squash absorbs.
Divide dough into small portions and roll out small pieces into cylinders about 1 inch in diameter. Cut into 3/4-inch pieces.
Bring a large pot of water to boil. Drop gnocchi into the water and cook only about two minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and toss in a saucepan with melted butter and sage leaves. Serve with parmesan cheese. Alternately, serve with a tomato sauce and parmesan cheese sprinkled on top.