squash gnocchi with ragu sauce
It was cold and rainy yesterday, and this dish (from Saveur) called to me ... I had half a Hokkaido squash in my refrigerator and some ground beef thawed, so it worked out very well.
Hokkaido is an excellent squash to use in this dish. It only takes about 30-45 min to bake in the oven, and when it is scooped out and mashed gently, it has the very starchy texture of potatoes and the delicate flavor of chestnuts. The gnocchi dough is 1 small roasted squash, 2 eggs, 1 c flour, and a pinch of salt. Very easy and good texture.
Sauce involves browning beef and cooking tomatoes & onion separately, so the fat from meat doesn't get absorbed in the sauce. Recipe suggests 1/2 lb each of pork and beef but I used only beef. No herbs! I had to add a 1/2 tsp fennel seeds to the tomatoes and onion (it just isn't tomato sauce without fennel seeds -- and find it helps in digesting ground beef).
To sum it up -- the flavors are delicious together, the sweet gnocchi (sweeter than potato gnocchi) against the salty meat and acidic tomato sauce. When you taste the sauce separately, it tastes quite sour, but I left it so to complement the meat and gnocchi.
Now I need help on my gnocchi technique. The recipe calls for merely dropping spoonfuls of batter into the water, but I found them large and a little too chewy. Next time I'll try putting them through my spaetzle maker (I prefer them small, I think). I also browned a few in butter and that helped with the texture, too. Any hints regarding size and shape for these kind of dumplings or gnocchi?
While I have never made squash gnocchi I have made traditional potato gnocchi several times, with varying degrees of success. What I have found to be the most successful method when dealing with these little gems is to roll out the dough into long ropes (probably about 3/4 of an inch in diameter), cut off small pieces (less than 1 inch in length) using either a bench knife or a regular chef's knife, roll them on a fork to imprint the ridges that will help hold the sauce, and then put them on a floured sheet pan. Put the sheet pan into the freezer for just a bit of time, only about 20 minutes or so, just to set the shape of the dough a bit. Then, drop them into boiling water in small batches until cooked. I have never experimented with a drop method of cooking gnocchi because I have found that, when tasting these kinds of gnocchi in restaurant, they seem to be lacking something. They just seemed like boiled bits of dough, rather than gnocchi.
I think you were onto something when you said you had browned some of the gnocchi in a pan with a bit of butter. I was recently at a restaurant in the area that used this technique in a gnocchi dish- the dish was unusual in that it didn't really have a sauce; it was instead just a mix of gnocchi and extremely fresh vegetables, with the juices of the veggies and the butter from the pan being the only moisture. And, I must say, the gnocchi was amazing this way. There was a slight crispness to the outside of the dumplings, while the insides were perfectly tender and not overly dense. So, if I had any one piece of advice to give you, I would say that adding the gnocchi to a saute pan for a few minutes after cooking would be it.
Good luck with your experimentation. Sounds like you found a great deal of success.
I've read (but not cooked) the saveur recipe--it looked like the dough was dropped b/c it was too soft to be rolled out into ropes and then cut, as you'd do with potato gnocchi. Instead of dropping from a spoon, what about trying the French method (used for gnocchi made with pate choux base) of piping the dough out of a pastry bag right over the boiling water--as it comes out you cut inch-long pieces with scissors and let them fall into the water (technique is in Julia Child The Way to Cook)...
btw good idea for using the hokkaido squash. I bet it'd be more starchy than butternut squash.
I often find potato gnocchi too starchy (even the well-made ones), so I am always interested in other ingredients, like ricotta. Can you reccomend some other types of squash, as I don't know if I can find hokkaido in my area. Would something like an acorn or kabocha squash have a similar texture?
The thing about hokkaido is that it is very, very starchy. I think the recipe called for butternut, but you could ask your grocer (or research on the internet) for another kind of similarly starchy squash.
Since potatoes are often used in gnocchi, maybe you could even substitute boiled & mashed sweet potatoes. However, the squash flavor really was tasty.