So back to the squash. So far, we've received a spaghetti squash that I have yet to use (just bought some ricotta for it though... I'm thinking of a layered gratin of sorts). We had a previous butternut squash that I cut up for some butternut squash risotto. The sugar pumpkin was made into pie. I bought a kabocha squash for some Korean-style roasted squash. (Can you grow kabocha squash, Zephyr Organics? hint hint).
And here's the meal that came from our recent butternut squash:
I've never had store bought gnocchi that has tasted as good as homemade. Something is always off about the texture of the store stuff. It's usually kind of starchy and not very toothsome. It must have something to do with the process of mixing and forming the gnocchi - since the ingredients should be the same. I'm sure that commercially made gnocchi must be over-mixed and extruded, that would explain their gummy and heavy texture.
That being said, making gnocchi is definitely a labour of love. It's not that it is difficult to make, because it can be as simple or as fancy as you like it to be. It's just that it's the type of dish that you lovingly shape by hand for those that you love, or make it together with the ones you love. For me, it's like making large batches of Chinese dumplings, Vietnamese spring rolls or banana leaf-wrapped rice - you wouldn't go to the trouble of homemaking it for a bunch of strangers who would devour your efforts without so much as an "mmm - that's good!" On the other hand, when your audience is appreciative or even better, helping out, then the whole process becomes part of the enjoyment.
Here are some tips I've picked up over time in my quest for the perfect homemade gnocchi:
Don't overwork the dough. I usually mix it like pasta dough - on my countertop, with a well in the centre of the flour, gradually incorporating the flour into my wet mixture. I'll usually switch over to a bench scraper once the wet and dry are starting to hold together and gently fold the contents over and over again until it forms a soft ball.
Don't add too much flour at the beginning. You will probably eventually add all or even more flour than you originally anticipated, just don't add it all at the beginning. Always dust just enough flour over the piece of dough that you're working with to keep it from getting super sticky, this way you'll only incorporate as much flour as is needed and not any more.
When shaping the dough into logs/snakes, don't hesitate. This is a weird one to explain. When you make your snake, roll it quickly and efficiently, pretending like your a pro. I've found that when I try to stretch the dough out slowly or cautiously, it always ends up like some kind of flattened, irregularly shaped tapeworm. Whereas, if I stretch the dough out with fewer than five or six quick backward and forward rolls, it always works out. (Remember to add some flour before rolling if your dough is super sticky).
Size matters. There's a perfect size - where the gnocchi cook quickly enough to avoid being over-watery dumplings, but are large enough to give you a perfect bite. For me, that's when the snake is about the diameter of my thumb and cut into inch long pieces.
Those little ridges you get from a fork or gnocchi board make a difference. I used to think that shaping the gnocchi was just a decorative step. I would sometimes even just pinch the dough into pieces and try boiling them without rolling and cutting first. The resulting gnocchi never had the right toothsomeness. They always ended up tasting and feeling like over-boiled dumplings or soggy matzoh balls.
Their ostensible shape is deceiving. They look like solid footballs, but are in reality they are more like a ridged, thick shell. Shaping them makes them less dense (since the round shape comes from the dough curling up, as opposed to being a solid ball) and the ridges add little places for your sauce to stick. (Remember again to flour the snake/log before you cut and shape if they are getting sticky). Here are two good videos on how to shape gnocchi using a fork:
Have I inundated you with enough info yet? Still wanna give them a try? Here's how I made mine...
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Sage Brown Butter
For the gnocchi:
1 butternut squash, roasted and pureed (1-1/2 lb squash, yielded about 3 cups puree)
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting *you need to have approximately equal amounts of puree and flour
1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano (or similar)
1 tsp sea salt
1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1 egg *you may need an additional egg if you have 4+ cups squash and 4 cups+ flour
For the sauce (yield: 4 servings):
8 ounces mushrooms, sliced
1 onion, minced
2 tbsp butter
fresh or dried sage to taste
pecorino romano (or similar) for serving
For the gnocchi:
- Roast the squash, scoop out flesh, puree and cool.
- Place flour on a clean countertop (generally I start with as much flour as I have squash). Season flour with nutmeg and salt.
- Make a well in the centre and place squash, grated cheese and egg in the well. Mix the wet ingredients together with a fork.
- Gradually incorporate the flour into the wet ingredients. If you're squash was really wet, this step may be messy and you'll need to add more flour. Your dough is ready once it forms a nice ball. You may need to periodically dust the dough with flour to keep it from sticking to the counter as you keep on working.
- Cut a thin chunk off the edge of the dough, dust very lightly with flour, and roll quickly into a log that is about the thickness of your thumb.
- Roll the log lightly in flour and cut the log/snake into inch long pieces.
- Shape each of your dough bits by rolling it over the tines of a fork.
- Place onto a lined/floured baking sheet while you work on the rest. You an either cook or freeze them at this point. I cooked about 1/3 of my gnocchi for my young family of four and froze the rest.
|March, my little gnocchi soliders, march.|
For the pasta and sauce:
- Boil the gnocchi until they float to the top, continue boiling for an additional 1-2 minutes.
- Drain and reserve some pasta water (if you like your gnocchi saucy).
- Heat some olive oil over medium heat and saute your onions and mushrooms. Salt and pepper as desired.
- Once the veggies are ready and the liquid has started to evaporate, add the butter and sage. Cook until butter starts to brown.
- Add in your drained gnocchi. Toss. Add some reserved pasta water if you want a saucier dish. Or skip the water and fry a bit longer if you like your gnocchi crisp.
- Top with some grated cheese and enjoy.
My kids love gnocchi. To them, it's a super yummy, chewy form of pasta. For mommy, it's a way to incorporate a larger variety of veggies into their diet (i.e. squash gnocchi, pumpkin gnocchi, spinach gnocchi, chard gnocchi, etc.) I love gnocchi - it's the ultimate carb loader before any long run! And hubby, wisely, loves to eat anything I make ;) A winner on all counts.