Sunday, October 24, 2010

Gnocchi di zucca with fried sage leaves

This is an all-time classic! My mom makes these gnocchi all the time and taught us how some years ago. This is a really easy fresh pasta that is much easier to work with than the classic potato gnocchi which can get starchy and gummy pretty easily and cause all kinds of tears and heartache. Squash gnocchi will never break your heart! Finish them off with fried sage and butter and you're in for fall. After a few years of making these, I have settled on kabocha squash as the best kind of sweet winter squash for this recipe. Don't let that dissuade you though, if you happen to have a nice butternut or acorn squash hanging around! But if you're going out to get one specially, look for the round, green kabocha. Also known as Japanese pumpkin! They are super sweet, low-moisture and just about perfect. Slice it in half and scoop out the seeds. Roast it at 400 until soft or microwave it if that's how you usually do. Scoop out the soft, yellow good stuff into your food mill.If you happen to have a food mill, anyway. I do. I got it from my mother. You just crank the handle until whatever you are milling comes out smooth, getting out any extra fibers and seeds that might be in there. It's particularly great for potatoes and squashes because it doesn't over-compress the natural starches, which can turn everything gummy. If you don't have one, don't worry about it. Just pick out any stray seeds and kind of mush it all up until smooth with a fork instead. Add one egg, salt, pepper, and about 1/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese to your squash and mix it all up together.Now you need to add flour. This is where it gets unique and personal. If your squash was on the bigger side (or if you used one of the more watery types), you'll be needing more flour. If you had a little bitty squash, maybe you don't need so much. I add 1/2 cup at a time, mix to incorporate, then add another 1/2 cup and so on. I used about 2 cups total this time in particular.It should all come together into a lumpy ball of dough with a pretty, pale orangey-yellow color. I'd like to paint a wall in that color actually. It's very cheerful/soothing. Now I'm going to show you how I made these gnocchi for most of my adult life. It's definitely the most tedious part of the process--and if your dough is sticky, you might find it better to let it rest in the fridge for an hour or so first so that it is easier to work with. We'll call this Method One. First get a coating of flour on your counter top...
Pinch off a piece of dough and roll a snake, like this is play-doh time and you're riding high in kindergarten.
Lay out your snake... And slice into one inch pieces. Tine each piece with your fork.And voila! One gnocchi. OK, now for Method Two. Bring your big pot of salted water to a boil...Pinch off a tiny piece of the dough, about the size of the tip of your thumb.And drop it in the boiling water. Voila. One gnocchi.Guess which method I'm utilizing more frequently these days? For a special occasion dinner, I will certainly roll-and-slice via Method One because they do look nicer that way...but of course, they taste the same. Now, no matter what method you use, they'll need to boil but it doesn't take long (maybe 5 minutes, tops?) so let's hurry up and fry our sage leaves for on top.Get some olive oil and butter (about 1 1/2 tablespoons of each) going over high heat.Toss in your sage leaves and spread them out so they can crisp up. Yes. Gorgeous. They sort of absorb the butter/oil and become velvety but crunchy. Does that make sense? Anyway--they delicious. Shut off the heat and go check on your gnocchi. When they're done, they float up to the surface. Like I said, takes about 5 minutes at most.Drain the gnocchi and dump them into your butter-sage pan to roll around a bit. Then put them all out on a big platter, turning over a couple of the pretty sage leaves for on top. Shave a few thin slices of parmesean cheese over the top as well. This is an amazing fall meal! Make it for your friends and enjoy.

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