Monday, November 8, 2010

Winning Butternut Squash Gnocchi

I met this recipe with resistance.  Even though orange vegetables and gnocchi are two of my favorite ingredients, it was Sunday night, and I wanted to make pancakes.

The thing is, I happen to live with the best chef in Seattle.  We've tried to keep it a secret for a while, but the truth is, he lives here.  He doesn't currently have a food blog, but watch out bloggers, because as soon as he does, no one else will!  He's amazing in the kitchen, and pancakes just don't really cut it for his sophisticated palate.  Not to mention, we were having over a few special guests so, he convinced me to join him in veering from the norm to enter a recipe contest.  The only parameter of the contest was to make Butternut squash the key ingredient.

After agreeing to miss my traditional meal, we instantly began brainstorming the ideal combination: butternut squash, mushrooms, sage, thyme, maybe even hazelnuts.  But how could we make our recipe stand out?  We decided to put all of our secrets into this one dish.

WARNING: if you keep reading, you will likely either be drooling on your computer or you will be busy making gnocchi for the next several hours.

Butternut Gnocchi with Sauteed Butternut Squash, Wild Mushrooms, Sage and Hazelnuts

Serves 4 to 6

  • 2 3/4 cups roasted butternut squash (~1/2 a large squash)
  • 2 1/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 egg
  1. Preheat oven at 350. Bake  squash whole for 30 minutes to soften skin. Remove from oven, cool, and peel. Cut squash in half, de-seed and chop into 1” pieces. Place 1” cubes into a baking dish and roast for 30 minutes or until soft.  
  2. While the butternut squash is roasting, the hazelnuts should be toasted on a sheet pan in the oven, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes or until skin comes off easily. Rub off skins and chop hazelnuts.
  3. Pass 1/2 of butternut squash cubes through a food mill and into a large metal bowl. A potato smasher works as well if you don't have access to a food mill.
  4. Add salt and egg to squash and mix.
  5. Add 1 3/4 cups of flour and work in to squash until just combined. Add 1/4 of flour at a time until dough is still slightly tacky but workable. Careful not to over kneed.
  6. Flour work surface and working 1/4 of dough at a time, roll dough into 1/2 diameter ropes with the palms of your hands. Dust work surface and hands with flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  7. Cut ropes of dough into 1" pieces and transfer to a sheet pan that has been dusted with semolina or all-purpose flour.
  8. Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil over medium heat.
  • 2 3/4 cups butternut squash (~1/2 squash), roasted and cubed
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon shallot, minced
  • 1/2 pound wild mushrooms (we used chanterelles and cauliflower mushroom. Any mild mushroom such as Oyster could be substituted.)
  • 1/2 cup hazelnuts
  • 4 cups dinosaur kale ( 6 to 8 stalks ), sliced in 1" strips width wise
  • 3 tablespoons fresh sage, cut into thin ribbons
  • 1 1/2 tablespoon fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  1. Over medium high heat, cook 4 T butter till it starts to brown. Fry sage in brown butter. Remove sage from pan and reserve.
  2. Spoon 1 T of butter from pan into a large metal bowl.
  3. Add shallots to pan and saute for until they start to turn translucent.
  4. Add wild mushrooms to pan and saute for 2 minutes.
  5. Add kale, thyme, and butternut squash and saute till kale is wilted.
  6. Remove from heat, add lemon juice, salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Cook 1/3 of the gnocchi at a time in pot of boiling water. When gnocchi floats spoon into bowl with the 1 T of butter and toss.
  8. Place cooked gnocchi in bowl and top with sauteed vegetables. Sprinkle toasted hazelnuts over the top and serve to hungry guests. 


    Don't be afraid of this high calorie meal at the right time.  I often hear that people avoid butter because of it's high fat and cholesterol.  Butter is really not that bad.  Yes, it has both fat and cholesterol, but it also happens to be one of the most healthful fats available, especially for cooking.   
    Butter contains both short and medium chain fatty acids.  Fats are essential for normal body functions (including energy, mental health, building cells, and producing hormones).  Short and medium chain fats can be absorbed directly into the liver without being digested, making them the most readily available.  They also harbor antimicrobial, antifungal, and immune-supporting properties. So, have some, just not too much, and not too often.

    Not only is this recipe worth a taste contest, each ingredient is full of health benefits.  Butternut squash is a nutritional goldmine.  It's full of vitamin A, and is more nutritious than the traditional russet potato gnocchi.  The dinosaur kale not only offers a beautiful green color contrast to the bright orange squash, it also offers an incredibly high source of vitamin K and iron.  The knowledge of the nutritional value of mushrooms is one of the most underrated.  Mushrooms contain complete proteins, and they are also brimming with Vitamin D (rare in food and this time of year). They are able to detoxify our bodies, as well as lower our cholesterol (what a great compliment to the butter!).