Sunday, November 14, 2010

Butternut Squash Gnocchi (madness)

I used to think gnocchi was a tasteless and a little bit disgusting. Little balls of dough in a nondescript sauce? *Shudder* Then I met Chef John Jerabek. On my first day of service at Fresco (in Madison, WI), he taught me how to say the word correctly ("knee-oh-key"). He also taught me that if you oven dry ricotta cheese and put it in the gnocchi dough, what once were little, tasteless, lumps of pasta become individual bursts of flavor. 

So began my love affair with gnocchi.
I've been thinking about making butternut squash gnocchi for almost a solid month now, since I first tried Chef Jerabek's latest version of gnocchi--butternut gnocchi, tossed in a bleu cheese sauce.

This is a versatile recipe, as once the gnocchi is made, it could be good lightly sauteed in butter (with some vegetables, too) and topped with aged cheddar, or Parmesan. It could be lightly tossed in bleu cheese sauce (recipe forthcoming in another post). It could also be combined with some fresh chèvre and toasted pine nuts--I guarantee nobody would complain about that.

Butternut Squash Gnocchi
Adapted from Hungry Cravings

1/2 of a large butternut squash
1 cup of flour (approximately)
1/2 cup shredded white cheddar or Parmesan cheese
salt and peppr to taste
4 cloves roasted garlic (optional)
more flour for dusting surfaces

First, you must roast your squash. Cut the butternut squash in half, lengthwise and place one half open/cut side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Roast at 400˚F for 30 minutes, flip over and continue to roast for another 45 minutes (or until the squash is very tender and you envision having an easy time pureeing it). Let the squash cool to almost room temperature. 

Peel the squash and puree it in a food processor. If you don't have a food processor and your blender breaks, don't even consider doing what I did--I finely minced the cooked squash (this made a mess), then pushed it through our strainer with the back of a spoon (this made a bigger mess). It took me hours. A food processor is next on my kitchen equipment list! Basically, at the end of all of this, you want butternut squash that looks as though it has been turned into baby food.

Season your puree with salt and pepper, and (if using) roasted garlic, stir this into the mixture until thoroughly mixed in. At this point, once again, make sure your mixture is room temperature. 

Next, add the flour and the cheese and mix together. The dough will feel as though it will fall apart on you at any moment, and it really might (but the end result is truly worth it). 

Prepare a baking sheet with a piece of parchment paper on it, to set your gnocchi-shaped dough on. Portion the dough out and roll into 1/2 inch thick strips. From these strips, cut 1/2 inch chunks. Using the inside of a fork, and lightly squeezing each side of the chunk with your fingers (thumb and middle finger worked best for me), roll the chunk of dough up against the fork until you get the required texture (see photo above). This really isn't required, but the sauce you serve with the gnocchi will settle nicely into the grooves if you do it!

Now, walk away. Let the gnocchi pieces dry for at least one hour and up to two. Come back (maybe after prepping whatever it is you plan to toss with said gnocchi), and cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling water (stirring occasionally) for only a few minutes. The gnocchi should float to the top within 3 minutes, and this means that they are done--this is actually a rule of thumb for all fresh pasta. Get the gnocchi out of the pot, saving a bit of the pasta water for any sauces you might make later.
Serve immediately with whatever you'd like, and enjoy. I served ours with mandolin-thin zucchini, a little too much butter, salt, pepper, and a whole lot of Blue Mont Bandaged White Cheddar--aged 13 months. This just goes to show that buying bandaged aged white cheddar is never a mistake


  1. Hi, I'm intrigued by the suggestion to oven-dry ricotta before putting it in the gnocchi, but then noticed that your recipe didn't include that part. Can you share the method (oven temp, length of time, do you put dollops of ricotta on a baking sheet or a bowl full of it in the oven?) for oven-drying the ricotta?

  2. Hi--I actually do not know how to do it and that part of the recipe is a bit of a trade secret for the restaurant, I think. I've been searching around a bit (because it does make it just SO much better than average gnocchi) and found this:
    Ricotta Salata
    This is a sheep's milk ricotta to which salt has been added as a preservative.
    The liquid is pressed out and the solids are compacted into rounds,
    enabling it to be cut with a knife. It's texture is crumbly but firm.
    Ricotta salata can also be air cured or dried in an oven to render a sharp-tasting
    cheese reminiscent of the flavor of romano. It is a milky-white hard cheese used
    for grating or shaving. Ricotta salata is sold in wheels and decorated with
    a delicate basket-weave pattern.


    I intend to have a better search someday, when I have more free time to experiment with oven-drying ricotta, and I'm going to ask a few of my friends who have been to culinary school for their expertise. I'll get back to you when I find out, certainly! Thank you for reading.


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