Sunday, February 19, 2012

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Garlic Leek Sauce

That butternut squash has been staring at me forlornly for far too long.  It deserved better than to rest on the counter.  Remembering fondly the lovely, pillow-y dumpling I made out of sweet potatoes well over a year ago, I convinced myself the squash would be happy in that form.  Over the course of three days I worked on the gnocchi.  Baking the squash one day.  Making the dough and forming the gnocchi the next.  Waiting for the third day for the dish to come together.  I had very high hopes.  The dish was anticipated all week.

 For some reason, my biggest frustration with gnocchi isn't the amount of time it takes, but coming up with a sauce pairing.  Cream sauces seemed to heavy.  Brown butter sauce, too common.  I wanted something light and mellow...maybe a bit compliment what I suspected would be a sweeter gnocchi.  Leeks and white wine were on hand.

Did the combination work out?

Serves 4-6

Gnocchi recipe adapted from Bon Apetit, October 2010
Sauce recipe is my own

The Ingredients:
for the gnocchi
1 small butternut squash, about 1 lb
1 Tbsp olive oil
1 large russet potato, peeled and quartered
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
1 large egg, beaten
1 teaspoon salt
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour, plus additional for rolling

for the sauce
2 Tbsp unsalted butter
2 Tbsp olive oil
 2 large leeks, trimmed and cleaned
1 shallot
3-4 cloves of garlic, minced
1/2 cup chicken stock
1 Tbsp dry white wine
1 Tbsp fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

The Process:
for the gnocchi
Preheat oven to 400°F. 

Cut squash in half lengthwise and discard seeds. Pierce the skin of the squash in several places with a sharp knife and place cut sides down on an oiled baking sheet.   Roast until squash is very tender and skin begins to blister and brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Let rest until cool enough to handle. Scoop the flesh from squash into a food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer to medium saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat until juices evaporate and puree thickens, stirring constantly. The goal is to rid the squash of as much liquid as possible. Cool. Measure out one cup of puree.

Meanwhile, cook potato in medium saucepan of boiling salted water until very tender, about 20 minutes. Drain. While potato is warm, press through potato ricer into medium bowl. Cool completely. Measure two cups  riced potato.

Mix squash, potato, Parmesan cheese, egg, and salt in large bowl. Gradually add the flour, kneading gently into mixture in bowl until dough holds together and is almost smooth. If dough is excessively sticky, add more flour one Tbsp at a time. The dough should be smooth, but tacky.  Too much flour with result in a tough dumpling.  Turn dough out onto floured surface; knead gently but briefly just until smooth. Flatten the dough into a circle and divide into eight equal wedges.

Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment sprinkled lightly with flour. Working with one dough segment at a time, roll dough out on floured surface to about 1/2-inch-thick rope. Using a well floured knife, cut rope crosswise into 3/4- inch pieces. Gently roll each gnocchi along back of fork tines dipped in flour to make ridges on one side. Transfer gnocchi to baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill at least 1 hour. 

At this point the shaped gnocchi may be frozen for latter use.  Loosely cover the baking sheets and set in the freezer for 1-2 hours.  Gently transfer the frozen gnocchi to freezer bags.  To prepare, proceed directly to cooking directions below...DO NOT THAW!

Working in 2 batches, cook gnocchi in large pot of boiling salted water until very tender, 15 to 17 minutes--gnocchi will float to surface when almost cooked through. Using slotted spoon, transfer gnocchi to warmed dinner plates

for the sauce
In a large  skillet, heat the olive oil and butter. Add the leeks, shallots and garlic and saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until leeks softened and are just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken stock, whit4e wine and parsley.  Bring mixture to a gentle simmer fro 5 to 7 minutes. Transfer the mixture to a blender and puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

To serve
Transfer cooked gnocchi to warmed serving plates and drizzle with leek sauce.  Sprinkle with Parmesan or fresh parsley if desired

The Review:
So back to the question.  Did the combination work out?  No.  The sauce was stunning.  A beautiful mild green hue.  Subtle onion flavor with a slight sweetness.  A hint of garlic.  The cleaning bite of the wine.  I had to stop myself from licking the utensils clean while I worked. 

But did it pair well with the gnocchi?  Barely.  The gnocchi were completely overpowered by the sauce.  Bland by comparison, they became the vehicles that supported the flavorful green accompaniment instead of being complimented center stage.

The gnocchi themselves?  After such a build up all week and the amount of time put into them, I was let down.  Even trying a frozen batch a few days later with a basic brown butter sauce seemed bland and a hair on the doughy side.  Perhaps I didn't measure well enough...or hadn't cooked down the squash enough.  But to devote so much time to a dish that is at best lackluster is a huge disappointment.  Will this be the end of my gnocchi attempts?  Of course not.  Eventually I figure out the right balance that creates the perfect airy and delicate morsel.  Maybe by then I can come up with a better pairing as well.  Or I could leave well enough alone.  Most recipes must use browned butter for a reason...

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