There’s no buts about it: it’s fall. And we’re excited. Good weather, good smells, good light, good food, good traditions. Blanket-piled movie nights and extra leaf-crunching runs have already begun. We’ve pumpkin picked. We’ve caramel apple eaten. We’ve leaf raked. We’ve started entertaining the idea of Halloween preparations. We’ve broken the seal and given our sweaters and slippers their first test runs of the year, and we’ve got to say, it feels pretty great.
One of the surest ways to get okay with leaving summer behind: our homemade Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Pancetta, and Fried Sage. When the weather starts turning, we start turning to new foods. Deeper flavors, warm dishes, toasty and comforting textures all start sounding pretty delicious right about now.
You might be thinking, homemade gnocchi? I don’t have time for that kind of tasty but extraordinarily time-consuming insanity. But! Here’s a secret that you don’t have to tell your friends and family who will be oh-so-impressed by your handy-dandy gnocchi skills: it doesn’t take much time at all, and it takes even fewer special skills.
Gnocchi is one of those things that’s genuinely fun to make because it’s easy, it moves along quickly, and it’s fun to do with other people (a bottle of wine + a group of friends digging their hands into some gnocchi dough, and ta-da: you’ve got a seriously great evening that includes a phenomenal meal). Even better: it’s likely that you have all four (yes, just four) ingredients you need to make gnocchi in your kitchen right now. If you have potatoes, flour, an egg, and some salt, you’re ready to get gnocchi-ing.
As the wise and wonderful Stefon would say: This dish has everything. It’s packed with great big earthy fall flavors, it’s got amazing texture—insanely pillowy gnocchi, crunchy sage and pancetta, mixed with roasted squash—and it’s got that great salty/slightly sweet thing going on from the butternut squash-pancetta-cheese combination. It’s delicious and so, so satisfying. Can your happy place be a food? Because if so, this is ours right now. Suggested pairings: a nice glass of red wine or whiskey + your favorite sweater + a great movie for your new favorite way to spend an October evening in.
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Gnocchi with Butternut Squash, Pancetta and Fried Sage
Notes: It’s important to rice the potatoes as soon as possible after they’re out of the oven. This will help the steam escape quickly, which will make the potatoes drier: key for making the lightest, fluffiest gnocchi possible. If the potatoes are drier, they will require less flour, yielding a lighter dumpling.
Also, you can make the gnocchi in advance and freeze them after they are rolled and cut into pillows. When cool put them on a tray and pop them into your freezer. When they have frozen, place them in a freezer bag. Keep frozen until you are ready to cook them. You can store them for a few weeks. Just bring a pot of water to a boil add salt and add the frozen gnocchi. Cook the same way you would if they were freshly made (see below).
– A gnocchi board or, if you don’t have one, a fork will do the job just fine
-For the gnocchi-
– 2 lbs russet potatoes,—organic if possible—left whole, scrubbed but not peeled
– 1 cup flour, plus more for working the dough
– 1 egg
– Pinch of salt
– Handful of semolina flour or cornmeal
-For the butternut squash-
– 1 onion
– 3 – 4 lb butternut squash
– 3 oz pancetta
– 8 sage leaves
– red chili pepper flakes to taste
– 2 tbs olive oil
– 1 tbs butter
– Optional: Toasted butternut squash seeds for garnish.
* Preheat oven to 400 °F, oven rack centered.
* Prick the potatoes all over with a fork and place on a sheet of foil. Roast for about hour until they can be easily pierced with a knife.
* While the potatoes are roasting, peel and cut squash and onion into ¾ – 1 inch dice. You don’t need to be precise (they should be a little smaller than bite-sized so they distribute nicely through the gnocchi), but try to keep them all relatively similar in size so they cook evenly.
* Place the diced squash, onion, a good pinch of salt, red chili flakes to taste and 2 tbs olive oil on a large baking sheet. Mix well to coat the vegetables and distribute evenly.
* When the potatoes are done remove from the oven, and reduce the oven temperature to 375 °F. Roast the squash and onions for about 30 minutes, giving it a stir halfway through. Cook until the squash is tender and slightly browned around the edges. When done, remove and set aside.
* Cool the potatoes just slightly so that they aren’t too hot to work with. Using a kitchen towel, peel them and discard skins. Rice the potatoes, spreading them out on a towel, board or work surface to cool as you go so the steam can escape.
* Making the gnocchi goes very quickly. When the potatoes have cooled, dust them with the cup of flour and make a well in the center. Beat the egg with a pinch of salt and pour into the well. With your hands or a fork, gradually mix in the flour until it’s all incorporated.
* Keeping your hands well-floured, knead for a few minutes until it’s uniform and smooth. A dough scraper may be helpful. The dough can be a little sticky as you knead, but you’re aiming for a pillowy texture that will yield light gnocchi. If it’s too sticky as you work with it, add small amounts of flour until you have a soft dough. Resist adding more flour than necessary, as this will make heavy gnocchi. Remember, too, that you’re going to be adding more flour as you form the actual gnocchi, so leaving the dough a little on the sticky side here is ok.
* Divide the dough into three parts. Set a sheet pan out next to your work space and sprinkle with semolina flour or corn meal. As you make the gnocchi, you’ll place them on here to await the rest. The semolina/corn meal will keep them from sticking to the surface/each other.
* Flour a board or your work surface, and with floured hands, roll the dough out into a rope about about a ½ inch in diameter. (If the rope is getting too long, you can cut it into shorter, more workable lengths.) Cut the rope into pieces that are about ¾ to 1 inch long. Remember to keep your board and hands floured as you go along.
* Roll each piece along a gnocchi board or a fork to create ridges. Continue working until all the dough has been used.
* Set a large pot of water to boil on the stove. While it’s heating up…
* In large sauté pan, fry the sage leaves in a little olive oil, being careful not to burn them (they’ll get bitter) and turning so that both sides crisp up. Be gentle with them (we like to lift them by their stems) or they may crumble. Remove to a paper towel-lined plate, leaving room for the pancetta, which you’ll cook next.
* Wipe out the pan and set over medium to medium-high heat. Add the pancetta and fry until crispy. Remove to your paper towel-lined plate. Pour off all but a tablespoon of the fat remaining in the pan. Add a tablespoon of butter and melt, stirring to blend. Keep warm over low heat.
* When your water boils, add a generous amount of salt (as you would to season any pasta water). Carefully lower the gnocchi into the water a few at a time. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom—give them a gentle stir. Don’t stress about getting them all in at once because you’ll be able to easily scoop out those that cook through first (they’ll float to the top), while leaving the rest to finish up (they’ll stay at the bottom until they’re done). When the gnocchi float to the surface, cook for approximate 10 more seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon to your waiting sauté pan. Gently coat them with the pancetta drippings/butter mixture.
* When all the gnocchi are cooked and in the sauté pan, add the roasted squash and onion. Crumble the pancetta and half of the sage leaves—add to the pan. Gently mix and heat through.
* Plate your gnocchi and serve hot. Garnish with remaining sage, the pasta cheese of your choice (either Pecorino or Parmesan will work great here), and if desired, toasted squash seeds.
© 2015 Lee and Lou Cook. All rights reserved