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We seem to have an overabundance of heirloom winter squash to use up this fall.  We’ve already made a beautiful lasagna, and flavorful risotto with some of the squash, and no doubt the rest will find their way into an assortment of soups, ravioli, pizza, or puff pastries, but this weekend we decided to try turning one of our Galeux d’Eysines pumpkins into some fresh homemade gnocchi (pronounced nyoh-kee).

Heirloom Galeux d’Esyines

When first cut Galeux d’Eysines has a sweet aroma that was almost reminiscent of melon.

The flesh of Galeux d’Eysines is a vibrant orange

For the gnocchi we roasted the squash first, to make it easier to work with, but allowed the squash to drain for at least an hour before incorporating it into the dough.

When incorporating winter squash into doughs, it’s important to realize that a significant portion of the weight in winter squash is water.  Once the squash is cooked, much of this water will leach out, and this can result in an overly-saturated dough if it’s not drained first.

Winter squash can hold a lot of water, so it’s important to drain it!

This dough also uses ricotta cheese, to bring a lighter, more mild flavor to the gnocchi, and to further reduce the risk of the dough becoming too wet. You can omit the ricotta cheese if you prefer, and make up the volume with additional squash puree, but be sure the winter squash you use has been well drained.

Galeux d’Eysines roasted beautifully, and the flesh was remarkably sweet, with no bitterness, and a delightfully smooth texture.  This squash is a stand-out on its own for flavor, so if you enjoy a simple roasted squash, this is not one you’ll need to ‘hide’ in something.  That said, it does make beautiful, and delicately flavored gnocchi too!

Yield: Serves 10-12 (10 Gnocchi pieces per serving)

Gnocchi Dough:

1 Cup Winter Squash Puree
1 Cup Ricotta Cheese, drained
1 Cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, finely grated
2 Large Egg Yolks
1 Teaspoon Orange (or Lemon) Zest
Pinch of Nutmeg, fresh ground
2 Teaspoons Kosher Salt
2-3/4 Cups Unbleached All Purpose Flour, sifted (more as needed)

Butter Sauce:

3 Tablespoons Unsalted Butter
1 Tablespoon Finely Chopped Sage (and extra leaves for garnish)
1/4 Cup Reserved Gnocchi Cooking Liquid
3 Tablespoons Rough-chopped Walnuts, toasted
Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving

Prepare the Squash:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.  Split the squash in half, scoop the seeds, and place cut side up on a baking sheet.  Brush the cut surface lightly with olive oil, and roast, uncovered, until lightly golden, and the flesh is fork tender (approx. 40-60 minutes).

First, roast the squash

Allow the squash to cool enough to be handled, and scoop the flesh away from the skin.

The color of the flesh intensifies with cooking

Run the squash briefly through a food processor or blender until smooth.

Puree the roasted squash just until smooth

Place the squash in a fine mesh sieve, and set over a large bowl.

Allow the puree sufficient time to drain. Don’t rush this step!

Leave to drain for at least an hour.  This step is critical, or the dough will be too soft.

Drain the ricotta of excess whey before making the dough

This is also a perfect time to drain the ricotta cheese.

Prepare the Dough:

Place the drained ricotta and squash puree, along with the Parmigiano-Reggiano, egg yolks, orange zest, nutmeg, and kosher salt into a large bowl.

Squash, cheeses, salt, zest, and eggs

Mix together to combine evenly, being sure to press out any remaining lumps of squash.

The mixture should be evenly combined

Add half of the sifted flour, and stir until just combined, then add the remaining flour.

Add the flour gradually to avoid overworking the dough

Work the dough until the flour is evenly combined, but do not overwork the dough or the gnocchi will become tough.

Add more flour as needed. The dough should be tacky, but not wet

The dough should be tacky to the touch, but not sticky, add a little more flour as needed for the dough to be workable.

Shape the Gnocchi:

Generously flour a pastry board, and divide the dough into eight equal pieces.

Gnocchi dough ready for shaping

Shape each piece of dough into an approximately 1/2-inch thick log.  As gnocchi-making uses your childhood modeling clay skills, this part is fun for kids, big or small!

Now the fun begins!

Try to shape each log evenly down its length, so that each gnocchi will be the same thickness, and cook evenly.

Exact thickness of the dough is less important than the dough being even

Using a bench scraper, or pizza wheel cutter, divide each log into 1 inch long pieces.

Cut the dough into equal sized pieces

Dust lightly with flour, and set aside.

The gnocchi can be cooked at this stage, but to give it a more finished look, each piece of gnocchi can be rolled down the lower half of a gnocchi board.  As this is a light ricotta-based dough, don’t press too hard.  It takes a few tries get the feel of it, so don’t worry if a few come out a strange shape…they’ll still taste great.

To finish, roll each piece down the lower third of a floured gnocchi board

Alternatively, use the backside of the tines of a fork.

As each piece is shaped, transfer to a floured baking sheet

These ridges are more than decorative, they’ll also help to hold the sauce!

To Cook the Gnocchi

It’s important not to overcook Gnocchi as it will develop an unpleasant, gummy, glue-like texture.  Bring a large pot two-thirds full of salted water to a boil over high heat. Cook the gnocchi just a few servings at a time, just until all the gnocchi in the pan begin to float (2-3 minutes at most).

Restaurants frequently overcook gnocchi. As soon as they float, they’re done!

Using a skimmer, transfer the gnocchi to paper towels, or a colander, to drain. Repeat to cook the remaining gnocchi.

Reserve 1/4 cup of the cooking water for the sauce below.

Sage Butter Sauce with Walnuts (per 4 servings – increase as needed)

In a large, deep sauté pan over medium-high heat, melt the butter, add the chopped sage, and salt and pepper to taste. Once the butter is bubbling, add the gnocchi and stir gently to coat with the butter.  Do not allow the butter to brown.

Don’t brown the butter, just coat the gnocchi with butter before adding the cooking liquid, then reduce the sauce slightly

Add the reserved 1/4 cup of cooking liquid, and reduce slightly until the sauce starts to thicken. Transfer the gnocchi to a warm serving bowl, sprinkle with toasted walnuts, a little fresh-grated Parmigiano Reggiano, and serve immediately.

Gnocchi in butter sauce with sage and walnuts

To Store the Gnocchi

Gnocchi can be stored, frozen, for up to four months.  Dust a baking sheet with flour, and place the gnocchi in a single layer on the sheet.

Freeze the gnocchi in a single layer before transferring to a freezer-safe container

Freeze until firm (1-2 hours), and then transfer the Gnocchi to freezer storage containers, or zip top bags. Do not thaw the gnocchi before cooking, as frozen gnocchi retains its shape better while cooking.

Admittedly, gnocchi does take a little investment in time to make, but it’s fun to make on a rainy afternoon.  Yesterday we found ourselves with a little more squash puree than expected, so we made some extra batches to freeze. It’s great to have on hand for those quick five minute meals during the upcoming hectic holiday season.  Enjoy!