Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Brown Butter Sauce

Sarah, my daughter/photographer has been complaining that all the recipes I have posted are brown. Apparently brown is very boring to photograph. A quick glance through the index shows she is right. In fact, with the exception of the raspberry poppy seed salad dressing, everything is brown, brown, and brown. Boring. I also noticed that lately the blog has been leaning a little too heavy in the confectionary direction, which is really disappointing since I have a recipe for chocolate sheet cake that I want to post. I suppose that will have to wait a week or two. I hate being in a rut. Today I decided to try my hand at something a little more exciting than brown. It's orange in fact, which you might consider kind of brownish, but the addition of fried sage leaves expands the color palate enough. And the brown butter sauce, which is my brown security blanket, doesn't really look brown on the plate, unless you burn it.

1 medium butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into chunks
1 container whole-milk or part-skim ricotta (15- or 16-ounce)
1 cup panko (japanese bread crumbs)
2 large eggs
1 tablespoon minced fresh sage leaves
1/4 teaspoon grated fresh nutmeg
1 1/2 cups flour, plus more for shaping and rolling
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated (about 1 cup), plus more for serving

4 tablespoons butter
10 or 12 small sage leaves
1 tablespoon good quality balsamic vinegar

Place butternut squash chunks in a microwave safe bowl, add 1/4 cup water, cover with plastic wrap, and microwave on high until squash is very tender, checking about every 3 minutes. When squash is tender, drain water, place squash on a plate and mash with a fork. Line a strainer with paper towels and spread 1 1/2 cups of puree over towels. Any extra puree can be frozen for later or used as baby food for the kids.

Line another strainer with paper towels. Spread ricotta over towels and allow both squash and ricotta to drain for about an hour.

Transfer ricotta and squash to food processor and process until smooth, about eight 1-second pulses. Using rubber spatula, combine ricotta/squash mixture, eggs, sage, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper in a large bowl. Add flour, Parmesan, and panko; stir until well combined. Refrigerate dough for 15 minutes (this allows the mixture to firm up a bit as the panko absorbs some liquid). Check texture of dough by scooping up a golf ball sized portion. Dough should hold together nicely. If it is too sticky and coats your hand then add more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time. The trick is to use just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your hands and work surface; using too much flour will result in tough gnocchi.

Dust work surface with flour. With floured hands, roll lemon-sized piece of dough into 3/4-inch-thick rope, rolling from center of dough outward. Cut rope into 3/4-inch-long pieces and transer to parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, dusting work surface with flour as needed.

For Sauce
Melt butter in 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, swirling occasionally. Add sage leaves and allow to crisp. Remove leaves from butter, place on paper towels to drain and continue cooking butter until it is browned and releases a nutty aroma. Off heat stir in balsamic vinegar; cover to keep warm.

To Cook Gnocchi
Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot over high heat. Add 1 tablespoon salt. Reduce heat so water is simmering, then gently drop one-fourth of gnocchi into water and cook until all pieces float to surface. Continue to simmer until gnocchi are cooked through, about 2 minutes longer, adjusting heat to maintain gentle simmer. Using slotted spoon, scoop gnocchi from water, allowing excess water to drain from spoon; transfer gnocchi to skillet with sauce and cover to keep warm.

Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi. Using rubber spatula, gently toss gnocchi with sauce until uniformly coated. Toss fried sage leaves over top and serve immediately. Pass extra Parmesan on the side.

This recipe was loosely based on a ricotta gnocchi recipe from Cook's Illustrated. I added the butternut squash and panko and changed the proportions. We love how light and puffy the gnocchi are and how they melt in your mouth. Cooks Illustrated claims that the gnocchi can be rolled, cut, and refrigerated for up to 24 hours. To freeze the uncooked gnocchi, place the baking sheet in the freezer until gnocchi are firm (about 1 hour), then transfer them to a zip-lock bag and store them for up to 1 month. Thaw frozen gnocchi overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature for 1 hour before cooking as directed.

The gnocchi pairs especially well with the asiago cheese version of Stupid Easy Peasant Bread


  1. um... yummmmm... I too love brown butter sauce. Without trying the original yet, I am wondering if you think goat cheese would work. (Jeffery can eat goat cheese.)In the meantime, I am headed to Billings tomorrow and will look for a goat milk ricotta, maybe?

  2. Lynnette, this recipe looks so tasty. I'm excited to try it. I'm worried that it's out of my league, but I'm willing to give it a shot. (Maybe with a back up dinner around just in case). Tell Sarah I love the step by step instructional photos...a very nice touch.

  3. hello....a friend forwarded me this recipe for our christmas dinner. I just tried it out tonite and have a question...it is not as orange as yours and it also doesn't have a ton of butternut flavor. I am wondering if it has too much flour? We are in colorado...I also have the cooks illustrated original ricotta gnocchi which only calls for 6 T's of flour? I only used 1 1/4 cups as it seems like a lot? Any thoughts?

  4. Hi Jen - thanks for your comment. I've noticed that the color and flavor of the gnocchi depends on the color and freshness of the squash. A deeply orange squash will make a much better gnocchi. (Also, the color of my pictures might be a little off.)

    I actually made these just last night and discovered a much easier method that allows you to cut down on the amount of flour: Bring a large pot of salted water to a gentle boil. Instead of rolling the dough into long ropes and cutting, fill a disposable plastic pastry bag with the (very sticky) dough. Snip the end off the bag, about 1/2 inch from the bottom. Hold the bag over the boiling water and gently extrude about an inch of dough out of the bag. Snip the dough with a pair of scissors and allow to drop into the water. Continue extruding and snipping until the bag is depleted. This goes very quickly! (A large ziplock bag might work instead of the pastry bag).

    After making these last night I thought next time I might cut the flour back to 1 cup, because with this new method you don't have to worry about the stickiness of the dough. That might even help the butternut squash flavor come through more.

    Please let me know if you try it!

  5. very nice...thanks for the tip. I did read about the bag method on another gnocchi recipe. I am trying again from the start. I'm going to try 1 cup flower at the most as well as bringing the ricotta and squash a little more equal. I'm also wondering if I did not get enough liquid out of each...I've had them draining overnight and have about 2 tsps of liquid.