Firm mushrooms rest on fluffy pillows of butternut squash gnocchi
Gnocchi is not for the faint of heart. Just pronouncing it will use up a lot of your reserves. And as I found out yesterday, making butternut squash gnocchi, with the advice of three recipes, was a two-person job.
But I love gnocchi, despite its troublesome nature. And I love orange food. And I love getting my hands into a blob of dough—remind me to give you a playdough recipe one day. If only you could eat orange playdough! In fact, I’m pretty sure it was a frustrated Italian playdough enthusiast who first invented gnocchi.
I decided to use a new technique for baking the potatoes and squash. I set them in a bed of rock salt, which dried out the potatoes (and made crispy potato skins, as a bonus). Water, I was told by Food and Wine, is the enemy of gnocchi.
I also pan-dried the squash after baking it, to further remove the water. And I used cake flour in addition to regular flour, again on the advice of Food and Wine.
Did all of this make a difference? Must have done—the gnocchi were firm little lumps ("gnocchi" actually means lumps), holding up well to the mushrooms I poured on top. Playdough never tasted this good.
Next time I’ll try them with just a sage-butter (margarine) sauce, to better taste the gnocchi themselves.
Side Note: I served this with roasted leeks. Simply clean and trim leeks, white and light green part only, and brush with olive oil. Bake, covered with foil, in a hot oven 25 minutes.
Keep reading for instructions on how to do this at home...
Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Mushroom Herb Sauce
3 medium-sized potatoes
1 butternut squash
2 cloves garlic
rock salt (or regular salt), about 1 cup
½ cup regular flour
½ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon salt
dash of nutmeg
1 tablespoon olive oil
2-3 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon flat-leaf parsley, chopped
Wash potatoes and prick with a knife. Cut the butternut squash in half lengthwise and place a garlic clove in the center. Wrap each half with aluminum foil. Cover the bottom of a medium sized baking tray with a layer of salt. Place the potatoes and squash on top.
Bake in a hot oven, 400F/200C for 1 ½ hours or until potatoes and squash are tender. (The skin on the potatoes will be hard and crunchy, but the inside should be soft.)
Scoop the flesh from the squash and place in a dry non-stick skillet. Over high heat, pan fry until the moisture has evaporated, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, when the potatoes are cool, scoop the flesh into a sieve or colander and force the flesh through the holes. Or use a ricer if you have one. (This is a good job for a partner, or a pre-adolescent child who is too old for playdough.)
Add the squash to the potatoes and combine. Combine the two flours, and keep extra on hand for dusting the board. Add half the flour to the potato mixture, and the salt, nutmeg (only the merest dash!) and half the olive oil. Stir, and add the rest of the olive oil if needed to make the mixture moist.
Sprinkle some of the remaining flour on a large cutting board or dry surface. Knead the dough briefly, incorporating enough flour to make a soft dough. Note: the dough will not be as firm as bread flour! It’s more like fluffy pillows. Work gently, trying to keep the dough from sticking to the surface by adding more flour if necessary.
Divide the dough in half, and in half again. You’ll have four approximately cup-sized portions of dough. Shape each into a long sausage shape, then gently roll out into a rope, about ½- to ¾-inch thick. (Rolling might be too harsh a word: try squeezing, gently, until the shape is narrower.)
Cut the rope into 1-inch sections with a sharp knife. With a fork dipped in flour, tap the top of the gnocchi to indent the top. (Or not. Gnocchi doesn’t have to have fork impressions if you don’t want to be bothered.)
Set the gnocchi on a floured tray (refrigerate at this point if you’d like; this will make them easier to handle) and set aside.
Bring a large pan of salted water to boil, then lower heat slightly to keep it at a gentle boil.
Drop the gnocchi by batches (about 3 or 4 batches) into the water. When they’ve risen to the top, wait 30 seconds, then remove with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl of ice water.
You can set the chilled gnocchi aside or refrigerate in a sealed container until ready to use.
MEANWHILE (maybe while the potatoes and squash are baking) prepare the Mushroom Sauce:
2 tablespoons margarine
2 large shallots, minced
2 cups chopped chestnut mushrooms (or other variety)
1 tablespoon snipped sage
1 teaspoon thyme leaves (lemon thyme is good)
¼ cup white wine (optional)
½ cup soy cream
Melt the margarine in a large skillet. Add the shallots and the mushrooms; sauté for 7-8 minutes until soft. Add the sage and thyme and the wine. When the wine has evaporated, stir in the soy cream and heat through.
Set aside and re-warm if necessary when the gnocchi are completed.
ALTERNATIVELY, if you’d prefer a Sage-Butter (margarine) sauce:
Melt ¼ cup margarine in a skillet. Add 1 tablespoon snipped sage; fry briefly and set aside.
(Note: I often refer to margarine as butter in my house. Use a good quality, non-hydrogenated margarine if you have it; otherwise just use olive oil.)
BACK TO THE CHILLED GNOCCHI:
Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet. Place the gnocchi in the heated oil, in batches if necessary, and fry for a minute or two, until they are heated through.
Remove to a serving dish, and cover with the mushroom sauce. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.