Recipe File: Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi, Two Ways | Ñoquis de Zapallo y Ricota, Servido de Dos Maneras

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce by katiemetz, on Flickr We're celebrating one of Argentina's most beloved Italian imports, gnocchi! At their most basic, gnocchi take the form of small dumplings made from potato and flour, but with a bit of imagination, you can transform any number of ingredients into gnocchi. Add a luscious sauce of your choosing, and you've got one satisfying meal.

Last year, my blogging pals and I joined forces to spread the love about alfajores. This time, at the initiative of Aledys Ver at From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!, we decided to team up again to tackle gnocchi. At the bottom of my post, you'll find links to visit everyone's recipes. Follow the gnocchi trail and decide which recipe tempts you most!

Ñoquis del 29

Whether in neighborhood restaurants or at home, Argentines typically enjoy a heaping plate of gnocchi (ñoquis in Spanish) on the 29th of each month. The Gnocchi Day tradition supposedly came about because these cheap and filling potato dumplings were the only food struggling Italian immigrants could afford come the end of the month, just before payday. In the hopes of attracting prosperity and good luck, a one peso coin was placed under diners' plates while eating; however, these days, with inflation running rampant in Argentina, we've resorted to $2 or $5-peso bills.

San Martín Eyeballin' the Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr[San Martín's eyeballin' my gnocchi. I guess even independence heroes have to eat.]

Humorously, government workers in Argentina have also been given the nickname "ñoquis." Elected officials frequently placed friends and family in positions within local government, but these ghost employees never put in an honest day's work. Nonetheless, they would show up like clockwork at the end of the month (around the 29th) to collect their pay, and as a result, civil servants came to be known as ñoquis.

Tips and Tricks for Preparing Gnocchi

Cooks and food bloggers routinely employ the phrase "little pillows" to describe perfect gnocchi. They should be light in texture and actually taste of potato, squash, spinach, beets—or whatever other ingredient you've chosen as your base—rather than flour. I've eaten my fair share of gummy, tasteless gnocchi, even at restaurants, which goes to show that for a dish with a relatively short list of ingredients, gnocchi can be a challenge to prepare well.

Close-up of Velia Shaping Potato Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr Velia Shaping Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr
[Daniel's grandmother shaping classic potato gnocchi with a gnocchi board]

And so I set about my first solo attempt at making gnocchi, a combination of butternut squash and potato, determined to achieve the ethereal, much sought-after pillows. Let's just say that the results of round one could only be described as little pillows if I tacked on "filled with lead bricks." Although my family ate the gnocchi with gusto (they're not the most discerning lot) at our weekly Sunday get-together, I was disappointed in my dumplings. They were floury. They were tough. And boy, were they heavy. I swear they were still doing somersaults in my stomach four hours later.

My initial failure prompted me to read up on the ins and outs of gnocchi, and I came away with this sage advice.

The Enemies of Good Gnocchi

» Moisture: The wetter your ingredients, the more flour you'll have to add to the dough. And too much flour leads to heavy gnocchi [trust me on this one]. Baking, rather than boiling, your squash or what have you helps on this front.

» Warmth: Warm squash/potato/etc. will require more flour to form a workable dough, so let your ingredients cool sufficiently. Later in the process, chilling the formed dough also cuts down on the stickiness and makes it easier to handle.

» Over-handling: The dough needs a gentle touch. If you overmix it, you'll wind up with tough gnocchi.

Uncooked Gnocchi by katiemetz, on Flickr[Light-as-a-feather butternut squash gnocchi]

Determined not to let a few lumps of dough get the better of me, I prepared to do battle once again, this time working off a different recipe that swapped out the potato and incorporated ricotta instead. The results were sublime—tender, pillowy (!), flavorful gnocchi. I chose to use butternut squash, but feel free to experiment with other types of pumpkin or winter squash. I've included two different recipes for sauces, a walnut cream sauce and a butter sage sauce. They're equally lovely with the gnocchi, so choose whichever appeals most to you (or try both!).

Butternut Squash Gnocchi with Walnut Cream Sauce [Close-up] by katiemetz, on Flickr

Butternut Squash and Ricotta Gnocchi | Ñoquis de Zapallo y Ricota
Adapted from a recipe by Biba Caggiano
Yields 4 servings

1 medium butternut squash
vegetable oil, for brushing squash
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 c. whole-milk ricotta, drained
¾ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
2 tsp. kosher salt, plus 1 Tbsp. for boiling gnocchi
1 1/3 to 1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Lightly brush each half with vegetable oil, and place cut side down on a baking sheet. Roast the squash until tender, about 1 hour. Let cool slightly and scoop out the flesh, discarding the skin. Puree the squash until smooth in a food processor. If the squash puree seems watery, transfer to a saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until liquid evaporates and puree thickens. Measure 2 packed cups squash puree, and chill in the refrigerator.

In a large bowl, mix the squash, egg, ricotta, parmesan, nutmeg and 2 teaspoons salt with a wooden spoon. Gradually fold in 1 1/3 cups flour, taking care not to overwork the dough. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface, and, using your hands, gently knead the dough, adding up to 1/3 cup more flour if the dough sticks too much to your hands and to the work surface. Lightly sprinkle the dough with flour, and place in a bowl. Cover the bowl with a dishtowel, and refrigerate for 1 to 2 hours.

To form gnocchi, tear off a piece of dough about the size of your fist, returning the remaining dough to the refrigerator while you work. Flour your hands and the work surface lightly. Using a gentle back-and-forth motion, roll out the piece of dough into a rope about the thickness of your pointer finger. Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. Using a floured gnocchi board or a fork, lightly press with your thumb and roll the gnocchi to form ridges. Repeat with the remaining dough until all the gnocchi have been formed. Transfer gnocchi to a lightly floured baking sheet, keeping them in a single layer. Chill the gnocchi in the refrigerator while you boil the pot of water.

Bring a large pot of water and 1 Tbsp. of salt to a boil. Add the gnocchi in batches, and cook until they float to the surface. Let cook for an extra 30 seconds, and then remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon. Drain off any excess water, and add the gnocchi to the sauce of your choice.

Walnut Cream Sauce

4 Tbsp. butter
1 c. chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic, crushed
½ c. heavy cream
¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

While waiting for the water to come to a boil, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the walnuts and sauté 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the garlic and sauté 1 minute, until fragrant. Add the cream and stir to combine. Simmer for a few minutes, just until sauce slightly thickens. Transfer the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce, and season with parmesan, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Gnocchi with Sage Butter Sauce by katiemetz, on Flickr

Sage Butter Sauce
Adapted from a recipe by Biba Caggiano

4 Tbsp. butter
10 fresh sage leaves, chiffonade
1/3 c. grated parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

While the gnocchi cook, melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Once the butter foams, add sage, and stir 1 minute. Transfer the gnocchi to the pan with the sauce, and season with parmesan, salt and pepper; toss to coat. Serve immediately.

Arugula Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce a la Ana Roasted Beet Malfatti Gnocchi alla Romana Ñoquis de Espinaca Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi

Follow the Gnocchi Trail!
Arugula Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce a la Ana from Ana at Ana Travels
Roasted Beet Malfatti from Meag at A Domestic Disturbance
Gnocchi alla Romana from Aledys at From Argentina to the Netherlands, For Love!
Ñoquis de Espinaca [link in Spanish] from Paula at Bee My Chef
Potato and Ricotta Gnocchi from Rebecca at From Argentina With Love

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