Monday, October 17, 2011

Gnocchi is not pasta, it's squash

I love carbohydrates in all shapes and sizes. Pasta is one of those culinary treats that aren't frequent in our household because I like to make it from scratch. That process has been made MUCH easier with the gift of a Kitchen Aide pasta attachment (thank you, Mom!). Despite even this, pasta is a labor of love. There is a fine line between good and bad pasta dough. Too sticky, too stiff ... a change in the weather can mean a lot when it comes to your pasta. Regardless of that caveat, pasta is one of the easier things in life to put together. Flour, eggs, salt, POW- pasta.

And then there's Gnocchi. 

Anyone familiar with the Ronnie Johns show? The Aussies out there must ... it's like SNL, Downundah'.

I love that damn show. Watching it reminds me of John and Sharon back in Manitou Springs, CO. I laughed so hard and loud the neighbors complained (granted that neighbor was our friend Erik, but that's beside the point). 

Paulie is right. Gnocchi is actually an Italian dumpling, but goodness me does it taste great with pasta sauces. Rich, dense and decadent, gnocchi is a favorite of mine. And it's hell to make.

But, I had to try it anyway.

"Ricing" potatoes (which is really just mashing them, but to a smoother consistency ... a Ricer is a piece of equipment made to get potatoes to the perfect texture- I just use a regular food mill) is no easy feat, but when you need an ingredient to be "just so" ... you have to just roll with it. A food processor works alright, but nothing compares to a food mill. Nothing. 

My first foray into gnocchi had less to do with potatoes than squash. Butternut squash. I've pulled this recipe out of the vault (courtesy of an old school Bon Appetit issue) because this time of year there is nothing better for an intimate dinner for two than hand made "pasta" ... or dumplings ... whatever. You get the point.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Sage Brown Butter
Note: It's okay if this is a sticky dough, that works in favor of the end result.

1 pound butternut squash
1 Tbs olive oil
1- 12 to 14 oz russet potato, peeled and quartered
3/4 cup grated Parmesan
1 large egg, beaten
1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp salt
1 3/4 cups (or more) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
2 Tbs chopped fresh sage (some whole leaves for garnish looks really nice)
More cheese. You can never have enough cheese!

Special tools:
Potato ricer (but a food processor or food mill will do)

Roast that squash (cleaned and quartered, then rubbed with the olive oil) with the cut side up. Really roast it, until it practically falls apart (some brown spots will indicate that you're almost there). After that cools for a bit, blend it or food mill it. Whatever gets you to a smooth consistency. At that point you have to further reduce the squash. A medium sauce pan should do it ... on medium heat for a few minutes. Measure one cup of that stuff. You can save the rest for all kinds of dishes.

In the mean time, cook the potato. Boiling, salted water for 20 minutes will get you there, then rice the crap out of it. Measure two cups of that stuff. See, gnocchi really IS potatoes ...

Next mix squash, potato, 1/2 cup parm, egg, nutmeg and salt in large bowl. Gradually add flour. Knead dough until it holds together, then divide into 8 pieces.

Now comes the tricky part. First line two baking sheets with parchment and sprinkle them with flour. One piece at a time, roll those 8 dough balls into 1/2 thick ropes. Cut those ropes into 3/4 inch pieces. One piece at a time, roll the gnocchi along the back of a fork dipped in flour. This makes those famous ridges on the dumplings. Cover all of these little beauties loosely with plastic wrap and chill them for at least an hour ... they can be made up to 6 hours ahead.

When they're ready, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling salted water- the gnocchi will float to the top of the water, but they may not be done ... 15 minutes should do it, don't be afraid to taste test! When they're done, use a slotted spoon to put them back onto those lined baking sheets. Now, let them cool again, this part can be done 8 hours ahead of time.

Now the sauce! Cook all that butter over medium heat, until golden. Add your sage and stir for a minute. Then add the gnocchi and let them heat through (about 5 minutes or so). Season with salt and pepper. Dust with the extra Parmesan. Pair the whole thing with a floral white wine. Let your dinner companions oooh and ahhh over your gnocchi accomplishment.  Ask them to make dessert.

It is a bit of work, but there is nothing quite like gnocchi. Great, now I'm hungry. And I'm craving pasta ... or is it dumplings?! 

Wishing you all a fantastic week full of love and wonderful food. xo

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