I don’t have the right tools, so I almost never make pasta at home. It’s too difficult to roll out and cut and so on. But the one exception is gnocchi. Gnocchi are usually made with potato, but there are other variations as well. In the U.S. I used to use butternut squash, and in Japan I use kabocha, which has a nice color and great taste. Either will work in this recipe. There are lots of ways to do this, so I’ll describe my usual way and add notes about variations. There are a lot of steps to this recipe, but it doesn’t take long once you’ve gone through it once and got the idea.
500-600g (about 1 to 1-1/4 lb) kabocha or butternut squash
about 1 cup flour (in Japan: use “strong” flour – 強力粉)
a pinch each of nutmeg, salt, and pepper
First, remove the seeds and cook the squash. My preferred method is steaming. Just cut the squash into several equal-sized pieces, place in a steamer (or in a frying pan with a little water and put on the lid) and steam for about 10-20 minutes, depending on the size of your pieces and the variety of squash. Keep an eye on it and make sure all the water doesn’t evaporate, and test occasionally for doneness with a fork. When the fork easily goes all the way through the thickest piece, it’s ready. (You can probably also steam in a microwave. Another method is roasting: it takes about an hour in a 350F/180C oven. However, boiling/simmering is not a good technique for this recipe.) Let the squash cool somewhat, and remove the peel. (Note: kabocha peel is edible, but for gnocchi or soup I remove it for the color.)
Next, you need to puree the squash. The easiest way for me is the food processor, but you can also press it through a strainer (works well, but takes time and effort) or mash it (works, but depending on how soft it is, it can be hard to get a smooth texture).
Put the kabocha puree into a bowl. It should be the texture of soft clay. (Note: I discovered recently that some varieties have a high water content. These will not work for gnocchi. However, in many times making this recipe, it was my only failure, so I don’t think this is a common variety.)
Add the egg, nutmeg, salt, and pepper and mix until smooth. Add the flour about 1/4 cup at a time and mix in until you have a dough that you can work with – that does not stick to your fingers.
Split the dough into 4 equal pieces. Put three of them in the fridge while you work. To be efficient, you can also set a pot of water on to boil.
On a floured counter, roll the dough into a long snake, about 3/4 inch (2cm) in diameter. Cut into 1-inch (2.5cm) lengths with a sharp knife. Repeat with the other three pieces of dough.
If you didn’t start boiling water earlier, set a pot to heat on the stove. Also prepare a bowl of ice water in your sink or near the stove. When the water is boiling, turn down the heat to a simmer/light boil and drop in the gnocchi a handful at a time. Make sure they don’t stick together. The gnocchi will sink to the bottom, and as they cool, will pop up and float on top. Get them out with a slotted spoon and put them in the ice water to cool. You can’t cook that many gnocchi at the same time, so keep going in batches – you can just leave them in the ice water until you finish all of them.
Drain the gnocchi. At this point, if you like, you can refrigerate or freeze them for later use. Just put them in a baggie with a little bit of oil (so they don’t stick together). They keep very well in either fridge (for a few days) or freezer.
For eating: you can add sauce and eat them boiled, or you can take one extra step and fry them. I love them this way – crispy and brown.
In a frying pan, melt a tablespoon or two of butter. Heat until the butter starts to brown slightly. Add a sprinkle of sage (and some more nutmeg, if you like).
Add as many gnocchi as you like and fry, mixing them around once in a while, until they are browned and crispy. When done, add salt and pepper to taste, sprinkle with Parmesan cheese, and serve.