Batter Licker

October 25, 2010

butternut squash gnocchi in garlic-sage cream sauce

I’m not a pumpkin kind of gal. I’d like to be, and heaven knows I’ve tried pumpkin in various forms plenty of times. But pumpkin just doesn’t do it for me, unless I’m sticking a sharp knife into it to carve a spooky face.

Pumpkin’s fall friend butternut squash, on the other hand, is something I can really get behind. Butternut squash in soups, baked pasta dishes, pizzas, risottos, and salads – or even just roasted with a bit of salt – is positively divine.

Yes; I called butternut squash divine. No; I’m not exaggerating.

Compared to other kinds of squash, the creamy skinned butternut squash is a much more manageable size, making it both easier to peel and chop and unlikely to leave you with a ridiculous amount of leftover squash. And, for the occasionally lazy among us, you’ll be delighted to know that Costco sells skinned, cubed butternut squash for the next few months.

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Butternut squash’s deep orange flesh is slightly sweet and nutty, and once roasted, develops a very rich flavor and creamy texture that is perfect for the potato-based pillows of pasta decadence that is gnocchi.

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For the longest time, I’ve wanted to try making gnocchi, but was a bit intimidated by the rolling and cutting and squishing-with-fork process because it seemed so tedious. So I eliminated the rolling and cutting (gasp! the inauthenticity! the horror!), and opted to use a scooping technique instead. It takes less time, is much less painstaking, and after scooping out the balls of dough, you can quickly squish each little ball with fork prongs at the end. This makes for a more uniform (i.e., fast!) procedure, which, practically speaking, means I only go through a glass of wine, rather than an entire bottle.

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I’m not claiming that these are the prettiest gnocchi ever made. They’re not. Some of them are quite misshapen little blobs because I plopped them down too hard on the baking sheet, or forgot to dip the fork in flour and caused the butternut squashy ball of dough to stick to the fork and become deformed as I separated them.

But you know what? Once cooked, they tasted just as soft, creamy, warm, and nutty as their better-shaped counterparts.

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Tossed in Garlic-Sage Cream Sauce and served atop a bed of spinach quickly wilting under the heat of the gnocchi, these little pillows of comfort food were decadent, warming, and refreshing all at once.

The perfect dinner for a chilly fall evening.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi (adapted from Bon Appetit, October 2010)
Makes 1 lb.

1 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 lb. russet potato, peeled and quartered
2 tsp. olive oil
3 tsp. salt, divided
1/2 c. Parmesan, finely ground (or very finely grated)
1 egg, thoroughly whisked
1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg
1 3/4 c. flour, plus more as needed

Preheat oven to 400F. Toss squash cubes with oil and 1 tsp. salt. Roast squash on a baking pan until very tender, about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a medium pot, bring water and 1 tsp. salt to a boil. Add potato, and cook until very tender, about 20 minutes.

In a food processor, blend squash until it forms a smooth puree. Meanwhile, mash potato (or put through a potato ricer).

In a medium bowl, mix 1 c. packed squash puree with 2 c. mashed potato. Set aside remaining squash puree and any leftover mashed potato, and reserve for another use. Add Parmesan, whisked egg, nutmeg, and salt to the squash-potato mixture, and mix briefly until just combined. Slowly add flour, and mix gently until it forms a dough. (Dough should be fairly sticky, but if it is too sticky to handle, add 1 Tbsp. flour at a time until it becomes manageable.) Dip hands in flour, and knead briefly until dough is smooth.

Here’s where my recipe departs from Gourmet’s and other gnocchi recipes that spend a lot of time rolling dough out into ropes and cutting it into little pieces: Using a small scoop or spoon dipped in flour (or even your hands), scoop out a small bit of dough (1/2-inch to 3/4-inch ball), form it into ball, and lay it on a large, parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat for remaining dough, trying to create uniformly sized gnocchi pieces. Dip back of fork tines in flour, and squish the top of each gnocchi ball with the fork to create ridges. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and chill in refrigerator for at least 1 hour and up to 6 hours. Keep chilled until ready to cook.

Boil large pot of salted water, and add half the gnocchi (or use two pots and get it all done at once). Gnocchi may float to the top before fully cooked, but continue cooking until very tender, approximately 15 minutes. Transfer cooked gnocchi back to parchment-lined baking sheets with slotted spoon. Repeat for remaining gnocchi. Do ahead: gnocchi can be cooked up to 8 hours ahead, then covered and chilled in refrigerator. They can also be cooked, then frozen in airtight container up to 3 weeks, and thawed before warming them up in a hot sauce.

10 minutes before serving, make Garlic-Sage Cream Sauce per instructions in the recipe below. Once sauce is done, keep it over medium heat, and add gnocchi. Cook until gnocchi are coated with sauce and heated through, approximately 5 to 7 minutes.

While still hot, serve over a bed of spinach, which will wilt slightly from the heat. Sprinkle with sage or Parmesan if desired.

Garlic-Sage Cream Sauce

1 large clove garlic, minced
1 c. milk (I used 1%)
1/4 c. unsalted butter, divided
2 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. sage
salt and black pepper to taste

Heat milk to a gentle simmer in a saucepan or microwave. Set aside.

In saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Add flour and garlic, and whisk constantly for one minute to create a garlicky roux. Gradually pour hot milk into the saucepan, 1/4 c. at a time and stirring until combined and slightly thickened. Stir in the sage, salt and pepper.

Increase heat to medium, and whisk frequently until thick, approximately 5 minutes. Toss with butternut squash gnocchi or your favorite pasta.

1 Comment »

  1. These sound amazing! I’ve been looking to use butternut squash in somthing other than the usual roasted or soup form and this looks to be it! Can’t wait to try it!

    Comment by Meghan — October 25, 2010 @ 5:18 pm

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