spiced squash gnocchi

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I suspect a conspiracy. I say this because it seems the whole world has been out to hide from me just how staggeringly easy it is to make gnocchi out of a squash: the entire internet seems to be full of recipes designed specifically to put prospective gnocchi-ers off of making the stuff. An example – several have you roast a squash, then re-cook the – already roasted – squash in a saucepan (stirring constantly, of course) before measuring out exactly one cup of the resultant goo and – get this – reserving the rest for another use. Because of course, I like to have puréed squash around the house, just in case. What? you don’t? Meanwhile, you are simultaneously cooking One Potato, which you had the forethought to weigh in the supermarket to make sure it was the correct size, and the frankly Herculean list of tasks continues regardless until you have used All The Pans, or collapsed from exhaustion, or both.

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On an entirely (ahem) unconnected note, it has been pointed out to me that sometimes, in the kitchen, I am not at my most reasonable. I enjoy tasks that other – more sane – people actively try to avoid: chopping mountains of vegetables, or grinding spices by hand, for example. I was caught julienning a whole celeriac by hand, not so long ago. I do, however, object to recipes which insist on lots of labour-intensive steps and a mountain of washing-up when there is a much, much easier way of making something equally delicious: need drier squash? Chop it into smaller pieces, and roast it at a lower heat for a bit longer. You’ve got the knife and chopping board dirty already, and turned the oven on anyway, and actually all of our time is much better spent making sure there’s a bottle of wine in the fridge, no?

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In the interests of full disclosure, I have tried no other recipe than this one, which I made up – but that is because I really, really like it (and, having lived near Italy for 6 months, I consider myself a gnocchi expert. I ate gnocchi one whole time while I was there, and that was a forkful off a friend’s plate, and in fact I think it was the more Swiss spätzli just re-named for the tourists, but still. You can trust my expertise).

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I have made some improvements along the way – it turns out that not everyone in my household is as excited by the flavour combination of squash, flour and egg as I am, oddly enough – and added our usual spice rub. I say ‘our’, because although I tend to be the main squash-roaster in this household, John is the one who can be relied upon to say, plaintively, ‘oh. So this is just… plain? Without, you know, the spices?’ whenever I make anything squash-based that doesn’t meet his – exacting! – standards.

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A peeled, de-seeded squash is chopped into 2cm chunks, and roasted in a mixture of coriander and fennel seeds, dried oregano, chilli, black pepper and garlic for 45 minutes or so, until it is dry to the touch. Then it’s blitzed in a food processor until smooth (my mini one coped just fine), an egg is added, and the lot is mixed with flour until the dough is still a bit sticky but will not be too resistant to being rolled into sausages and chopped about.

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The mixture is rolled out on a generously floured surface into a long sausage about 2cm wide, which is then chopped into lengths, and each segment is dented with the back of a fork. Then they’re popped into a pan of boiling water. Easy, no? I warm through some olive oil with some chopped sage and chilli, and toss that through once they’re cooked, but they are also very nice with just a bit of parmesan grated over (or both at once, if you’re feeling particularly decadent).

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spiced squash gnocchi

Serves 4.

1 medium squash (approx 500g peeled & cubed squash)
2 tsp coriander seeds
2tsp dried oregano
1/2tsp fennel seeds
1 small dried red chilli
1tsp salt
1tsp black peppercorns
1 clove garlic
1tbsp olive oil
1 egg
350 – 400g flour

To serve:
4tbsp olive oil
small bunch sage leaves
1 small fresh red chilli

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Peel and de-seed the squash, then chop into 2cm cubes. Grind all of the spices with the garlic, mix with the olive oil and toss the squash through the mixture to coat evenly. Roast for 35 – 45 minutes, until the chunks of squash are dry to the touch and can be pierced with a knife with little resistance.

Once the squash is cool enough to handle, blitz to a smooth purée in a food processor, and mix thoroughly with the egg. Add the flour, not too much at a time, until the dough is workable but still sticky – I started with around 300g and topped up from there.

Generously flour your worktop, split the dough into two pieces and roll each out into a long sausage around 2.5cm in diameter. Chop each length into 1.5cm long pieces, and impress the back with the prongs of a fork. Put a small handful per person into a pan of boiling water, and cook until they come up to the surface and bob around of their own accord (around 3-5 minutes).

Gently warm through the olive oil with the sage and chilli, and toss the drained gnocchi in this. Serve, with parmesan if you like.

These freeze quite well, although I suspect they come out of the freezer heavier than they went in. They can be cooked directly from frozen – just allow an extra couple of minutes at the boil.

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