Sunday, September 13, 2009

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gnocchi

Have you noticed that nearly every recipe for gnocchi starts with the preface that 'while other gnocchi recipes are gummy and horrible, this recipe is great'? If that's true, then why is it that if you order gnocchi, you have roughly even odds of receiving horrible balls of gluey glop?

I'll let you in on a secret: it's not the recipe, it's the technique. A few years ago I determined that it was time to overcome my fear of gnocchi and take a course in how to make them taught by Staffan Terje, now chef at Perbacco in San Francisco. He taught us to make 8 different kinds of gnocchi and I now make potato gnocchi, semolina gnocchi, ricotta-spinach gnocchi and even celery root gnocchi without a tremble in my heart. Still, until last night, the butternut squash gnocchi had eluded my grasp.

Now I too can say, other butternut squash gnocchi recipes may lead you to a plateful of glue, but this recipe is different. And I have the step-by-step instructions to back up that claim. Follow this recipe and you'll have richly squash-flavored and wonderfully light gnocchi. More importantly, you should be able to apply this technique to any other gnocchi recipe and also be reasonably confident of success.

Back to the technique: the trick is to barely mix the gnocchi. It is the process of overworking the dough that activates the gluten in the flour causes most gnocchi to become gummy. Treat your squash as if it is very fragile, then add just the barest amount of liquid necessary to get the dough to come together. This is where the butternut recipes I've tried have washed up - the squash, even when roasted, still had way too much moisture to ever transform into a good cloudlike dumpling. I also prefer to pan-fry my gnocchi, as I like the contrast of the slightly crispy exterior and creamy interior.

Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Gnocchi
serves 4

2 medium butternut squashes
2-3 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup flour (if you have cake flour, use it. I don't, but the lower gluten flour is generally a good idea)
1/2 cup parmesan cheese, grated
1 tsp white pepper
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp fresh sage, minced
4 oz. goat cheese
1 large egg + 1 egg yolk

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Spray 2 baking trays with non-stick spray.

Peel the squashes, then halve and remove the seeds. Grate the squashes (the food processor is your friend on this one), and spread the squash evenly on the 2 trays. Pour a glug or 2 of olive oil across the tops of each tray to moisten the squash. Bake for 40-50 minutes, stirring occasionally so that the squash is evenly cooked and is starting to dry out. It shouldn't be browned, just cooked down to about 50% of its original volume.

left: squash before cooking
right: squash after cooking

Set the squash aside to cool - don't cover it so that moisture can continue to evaporate. I just left mine in the oven with the door ajar for another 30 minutes then cooled on the counter for a couple of hours, since I had the time.

Put the squash back in the food processor and pulse a couple of times until the squash is more finely chopped. Don't try to make it into a paste, it should feel very loose and dry at this stage. Transfer to a large bowl. It should look like the picture on the right.
Add the flour, salt and pepper, and gently mix into the squash to coat it. I do this by sliding my hands to the bottom of the bowl and then lifting up through the squash (or potato if its potato gnocchi we're talking about). It's a motion a little like playing with someone's hair - try to avoid actively stirring the mix or mashing the squash.

left: squash mixed with the dry ingredients
right: the mixed cheeses

Separately, crumble the goat cheese and mix with the parmesan using the same coating-type motion. In both cases, you're trying to coat the wetter ingredients in the drier ingredients. It takes a lot longer to describe than to do, really. Add the cheeses and the minced sage to the squash and then again gently toss to incorporate.

Finally, beat the egg and yolk together in a small dish, then add most of it to the squash. I like to hold a bit back and see if it's really needed. As I said above, you do need enough liquid to hold the mix together, but not a drop more. Mix gently with your hands until just combined - there will still be small pockets of squash and cheese here and there.
the final mix

Take a handful of the dough and roll gently on a floured board. Again, the mix will be a bit rustic looking, with occasional cracks (though it should definitely be wet enough that you aren't fighting to mash it together either). I generally shoot for a rope that is about 3/4" thick and then cut it into 1" segments. Repeat until you've used all the dough.

To cook, heat oil in a skillet on medium heat. Add a dozen or so gnocchi, so that they fit easily in the pan without crowding. turn so that all sides are browned then transfer to the oven (on low) to keep warm. Repeat until they're all cooked. Alternately, you can boil them, but once you've tried the sauteed version I bet that you also never look back!
Print Page

1 comment:

  1. Yum!! These sound delicious =D. I love cheese, and gnocchi is lovely, so this sounds perfect.