If you ever wanted to make pasta by hand but were too afraid to try, let me introduce you to gnocchi. It’s a pillow-shaped pasta that the most timid cook can make without having to resort to a YouTube video. The first step is to examine how different it is from flat pasta noodles.
The pasta we now buy dried and boxed was originally the preserve of live-in Italian nonnas who spent their waking hours mixing and rolling out dough with a slender tapered rolling pin. These grandmothers knew how to wield this pin, modifying the pressure with each pass to create an impossibly thin sheet of dough which they then casually folded like a freshly laundered sheet and cut it into thin strips. I’ve watched this process, and it is amazing.
Less well known is the dumpling-shaped pasta known as gnocchi. Mashed potatoes replace much of the flour in this dough making it firm enough to roll into logs like cookie dough and cut into into individual pieces. The soft malleable gnocchi can take on any number of shapes from round, to oblong, to furrowed and stamped. You can purchase a wooden board to imprint the pasta if you don't have a nonna handy.
Today’s featured recipe is yet another, easier and unique gnocchi, called the gnudi, from the kitchen of Chef Sarah Stegner of Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook, IL. In a recent Zoom session Sarah demonstrated her recipe that replaces mashed potatoes with artisan goat cheese from Judy Shad of Capriole in Greenville, IN. Sarah blended goat cheese with flour, grated Parmesan and an egg in a stand mixer, but stirring the ingredients together by hand works just as well. The dough required just little extra flour on the work surface to roll out and cut into pieces. Like all fresh pasta, the gnudi cooked in 2 minutes and rose to the surface to be skimmed off I complete the whole process at home in less than half an hour.
Gnocchi and gnudi are traditionally sauteed or baked in browned butter with fresh sage leaves. Sarah substituted horseradish leaves and tossed the gnudi into a pan with browned butternut squash and pecan halves. Once all the ingredients were hot and coated in butter, she squeezed on fresh lemon juice and scattered them over plates cover with salad greens. Think tart, tender pasta, sweet, buttery squash and roasted pecans with a touch of lemon to accent the flavors and fresh crisp greens.
I can't think of a better combination for and early Fall meal. PS. The gnudi freeze easily and are destined to become a year-round staple at my house. (see note below.)
GOAT CHEESE GNOCCHI WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND PECANS
Pasta for 4 servings:
8 ounces (scant cup) Capriole goat cheese
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup grated Parmesan or pecorino Romano cheese
1 large egg, beaten
Squash and Pecans:
4 tablespoons clarified butter or half butter, half vegetable oil
4 cups butternut squash, peeled and diced
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted in a 350 degree oven for 10 minutes
1/4 cup sage leaves, thinly sliced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Bring 4 quarts of lightly salted water to a boil in a large pan.
Pasta: Blend together the goat cheese, flour and grated cheese. Mix in the beaten egg to form a cohesive dough. Transfer the dough to a floured work surface and divide into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into a log 1/2" thick and cut them diagonally into bite-size pieces. Drop the pieces of each log in boiling water and wait for them to rise to the surface, about 2 minutes. Remove them with a slotted spoon to a sheet pan and repeat until all the pieces are cooked.
Squash and Pecans: Saute the diced squash in the hot butter turning the pieces until they are cooked through and have begun to brown. Add the pecans and sage leaf slices and continue cooking to heat them through. Add the gnudi and continue tossing the ingredients as the pasta reheats and browns lightly. Squeeze on the lemon juice and divide the mixture among plates covered with fresh greens.
Freeze uncooked pasta pieces on an oiled baking sheet. Slip them into a freezer bag. Transfer them directly into boiling water from the freezer and cook until they rise to the surface.
Sarah sautes cooked gnudi in butter for her daughter who prefers them fried.