I used to think gnocchi was difficult to make. After numerous attempts, it seemed almost impossible to achieve the light and delicate texture I desired. I tried using both potatoes and butternut squash, but the results were always disappointing: heavy and dense dumplings instead of the tender pillows I craved.
After doing a little research, I discovered Lydia Bastianich's potato gnocchi recipe with these wonderful words of advice: "…keep it light; the more you work the dough, the more flour you'll need, and you don't want to incorporate too much or the gnocchi will be heavy and dry." Eureka! I had always thought making gnocchi was like making pasta dough, but after reading Lydia's instructions, realized my attempts were misguided. Trying to attain a pasta texture, I always added too much flour and overworked my dough.
I stashed this sage advice in a little storeroom in my brain: something to be used later when gnocchi was on the menu. That day arrived last weekend when it was rainy and cold outside and I had a butternut squash sitting on my counter waiting to be used.
You see, I like to make my gnocchi using squash instead of potatoes. Although potato gnocchi is fantastic, squash's natural sweetness is incredibly appealing when paired with a browned butter sauce, and the texture is perfect for gnocchi.
After roasting my squash with some olive oil, sea salt and freshly cracked pepper, I was ready to go. I put the squash through a ricer and then gently mixed in the remaining ingredients. The texture seemed far too mushy to handle, but I really wanted to follow Lydia's advice, so I refrained from adding more flour. With a pot of boiling salted water by my side, I gently cut off pieces of the dough, carefully setting each batch on top of some flour I had scattered on my counter top, being careful not to use too much.
I set to work making long snakes of gnocchi dough that I then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. After shaping each one, I carefully set the lot in my hot water and watched as they cooked in the simmering pot. Although I was afraid the gnocchi would fall apart, they instead formed into beautiful little mounds. When cooked through, I set my dumplings in a pan of browned butter with herbs.
My gnocchi was light and airy yet retained a stable consistency. The squash flavor was sweet but subtle and paired beautifully with the brown butter and herb sauce. My husband claimed them to be the best gnocchi I’d ever made. Thank you, Lydia!
Butternut Squash Gnocchi in Brown Butter Sauce
Makes: Enough for four people
1 medium or 2/3 1 large butternut squash
2 cups flour
1 egg scrambled in a bowl
Olive oil (enough to drizzle onto squash when baking)
Salt and pepper to taste
Brown Butter Sauce (recipe below)
Baking the Squash
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Peel squash. Cut in half and then seed. Slice into ¼-inch pieces.
3. Drizzle a large pan or baking dish with olive oil and then set the squash on top. Drizzle on more olive oil and then sprinkle on salt and pepper.
4. Set baking dish in oven and bake for 20-25 minutes or until squash in cooked through (fork tender).
Making the Gnocchi Dough
1. Fill a large pasta pot with water and bring to a boil. Add 1 heaping tablespoon with salt and add. Simmer until ready for use.
2. Cool squash and then put through a ricer. If you don't have one you can finely squash with a fork.
3. Place riced squash in a large bowl and add the egg and flour. Sprinkle in a dash of salt and add a few grinds of pepper.
4. Gently mix ingredients with a fork until just mixed.
5. Place about a ½ cup of flour on a solid surface (such as a large cutting board or counter top), quarter the dough, and set one piece on the flour. Shape into a snake and then cut into 1/2-inch pieces. Gently flick each piece with the tongs of a fork to shape and set aside on a floured dish. Repeat until all gnocchi are made.
6. Place gnocchi in the pot of boiling water and cook for 2-3 minutes or until plump and floating at the top of the water. Be sure to mix the gnocchi in the water after adding as they have a tendency to sink.
7. Place cooked gnocchi into your pan of brown butter sauce (recipe below) and cook on medium high for one minute. Serve with grated Parmesan cheese.
Brown Butter Sauce
Makes: Enough for one batch gnocchi
½ stick butter
1/8 cup chopped fresh herbs (Sage is wonderful, but you can also use Italian parsley, oregano, or basil)
¼ cup toasted walnuts (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
1. Heat the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium heat.
2. If using walnuts, add and brown now. Add in the herbs along with a dash of salt and pepper.
3. Turn off the heat until ready for use. When gnocchi is ready, heat pan to medium again and then sauté dumplings in the butter sauce for one minute.