Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Last week I made butternut squash mac and cheese. This recipe is not about that mac and cheese (but it’s ridiculously delicious comfort food and you should make it too). The squash I used for it was ginormous, so I kept the second half to make butternut squash gnocchi.Which is a little weird for me since gnocchi and I are not friends in the kitchen.

Gnocchi is one of my favorite things to eat…when someone else makes them. I’ve had little success in making these delicious, saucy, pillows of goodness in the past, but I’m a sucker for punishment.

After working with Chef Louisa Shafia this past month I learned two important things. The first lesson is that I am not as fast as I thought I was in the kitchen. The second, is that when you repeat the same action over and over again, you will get better and faster. For the past four weeks I’ve been making Sambouseh (Persian samosa) in Chef Louisa’s kitchen, and this past week, finally, proved the theory.Back to the gnocchi – I’m getting better (and faster) at making it, but there’s a lot of room for growth. I guess that means I’ll be making and eating a ton of it in the near future…who’s coming over for dinner?

These gnocchi are particularly a bit time consuming to prepare. I picked out a perfectly rainy, dreary day to make them. Consequently, a big bowl of gnocchi are also perfect to eat on those perfectly rainy, dreary days.
For me cooking is my zen spot, and one of the few things I do to clear my head. The process of making gnocchi shares a lot of similarity with the process of making bread (bread making being my ultimate kitchen zen), and a nice way to pass an afternoon. If you’re into that sort of thing. Lately, I’ve needed some quiet time in the kitchen. With so much going on in life, it’s important to carve out these moments to refocus.
Making gnocchi is also an excuse to pull out one of my favorite (but underused) kitchen tools, the ricer. It passes the boiled potatoes through little holes, making them fluffier and removing any lumps. Now that we’ve intimately reconnected over these gnocchi, I’m thinking about breaking out the ricer more often for mashed potatoes and the like.
Rolling them on the fork to get the perfect ridges is both challenging and exciting. Challenging in that they stick to the fork and I was constantly worrying that pushing too hard would turn them to mush, but it’s just SO EXCITING when you nail it. Luckily, this recipe makes a ton of gnocchi, giving you many opportunities to nail the ridges.You can also skip making the ridges and use a finger to make an indent in the dough. The end result is the same – an indentation that helps the gnocchi to hold sauce.

This is not a quick weeknight meal. It’s not super difficult, but it is time consuming and if you’re a gnocchi newbie, there’s a bit of a learning curve. There are ways to cut down the time it takes to make them, like microwaving the butternut squash to soften it vs. roasting, but then you miss out on creating the deep roasted and caramelized flavors. This is more a lazy weekend day event.I’m trying to learn how to do this faster in case I’m ever invited to showcase my skills on Masterchef and am challenged to make gnocchi in under and hour. It could totally happen, right? But ultimately, there’s something really lovely in taking the time to go slow and create this soul-warming, belly-filling dish.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi

Serves: 4-6 servings

Ingredients
  • 1 pound of butternut squash (for me it was just the bottom half - weighed after scooping the seeds)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 12- to 14-ounce russet potato, peeled and quartered
  • ¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1 tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 1¾ cups (or more) flour
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter
  • 2 Tbsp chopped fresh sage
  • Salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes (optional) to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 400°F
  2. Cut squash the long way, if using the bottom scoop the seeds, and place on a lined baking sheet. Drizzle the olive oil over the squash and put it in the oven. Cook until soft and a knife goes through easily, about 1-1.5 hours. Take out and cool slightly before scooping out the flesh and discarding the skin. Purée the butternut squash (I used an immersion blender) and set aside to cool.
  3. While the squash is cooking you can prep you potatoes. Boil your peeeled and quartered potatoes in salted water for 15-20 minutes or until soft. Let cool slightly and then pass through a ricer and let cool fully. If you don't have a ricer you can push the potatoes through the smallest grater holes on your box grater or even on a cheese grater. The goal is to get those lumps out and make fluffy potatoes.
  4. Mix the squash, potato, egg, ½ cup of Parmesan cheese, nutmeg, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl until combined. Gradually add the flour. When it gets too tough to mix with a utensil begin gently incorporating by hand and kneading lightly in the bowl. You want to make sure to not overwork the dough. (Think light and fluffy thoughts!)
  5. Take the dough out of the bowl and place onto a lightly flour surface. Knead a few times (10-15 times) and add flour only if it's super sticky. The dough might be a little sticky but that's ok. Divide dough ball into 8 pieces.
  6. Line two baking sheets with parchments paper and lightly sprinkle with flour.
  7. Roll the first piece out to a rope about a ½ inch thick. Feel free to go with your own instinct here when shaping. Slice the rope into individual pieces about ¾ inch long (or however long you'd like!) Using a fork dipped in flour (to keep the gnocchi from sticking to the tines), roll a gnocchi from the top to the bottom lightly pressing into the fork as you go. This video shows the process very clearly.
  8. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets as you go. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. This can be made 6 hours ahead (kept chilled in the fridge).
  9. When you're ready to cook the gnocchi, boil a large pot of salted water and cook them in batches (I did them in 2 batches, it was a large pot) for about 8-10 minutes (until very soft and tender). Transfer them back to the same baking sheets and parchment paper you used to chill them on. You want the extra flour to keep them from sticking. Cool them completely. You can stop here and package them up in the fridge, again lightly covered with plastic wrap, for 8 or so hours before serving.
  10. For the sauce**, melt the butter in a large sauté pan. I cooked mine in 2 batches and used 2 tbsp of butter and 1 tbsp of chopped sage in each. Heat the butter over medium-high heat for a few minutes swirling it constantly so it doesn't burn, but rather browns. Once you have a nice toasty brown color add the sage and let it simmer in the butter for one minute before adding the gnocchi. Toss the gnocchi in the butter and sage and let it cook 3-4 minutes until heated through. Toss often. Salt and pepper to taste and serve immediately!
  11. To garnish, sprinkle with the extra Parmesan cheese and dried red pepper flakes for a good spicy kick.
Notes
**If butter isn't your thing you can toss them in any kind of sauce you want!

Slightly adapted from this bon appétit recipe