Pleasures of the Flesh
Thank God for squash. Just when the weather turns grim and a damp depression descends, a little pumpkin-lantern light appears at the end of the tunnel.
You've got to love a squash. Sweet and meaty, filling and frugal, and the perfect food for this sad and soggy time of year.
There are many squashes in this world. The squash I had was a Kabocha: green on the outside, orange on the inside. It has a dry, intensely-flavoured flesh that works perfectly for making thick purees to use in a variety of other recipes. Another trusty friend is the Onion squash, which has a bright orange skin and a teardrop shape. It's easy to find and has a similarly dense and sweet flesh.
I roasted my squash in crescent moon slices, drizzled with oil and salt and some rosemary and dried chilli. Then I scooped out his (don't ask me why he's a he but he is) caramel flesh and pureed it to make into a variety of things at a later date. This is extremely satisfying.
It is satisfying because the pureed flesh can then be used in a number of ways, and you get to look at it sitting in the fridge and feel intensely smug that you had the forethought to roast and puree the little sucker before you could forget all about him and end up throwing him away two weeks later because he has ominous brown dimples on his skin that puncture at your touch.
This puree could be used for a number of different dishes. It could be let down with a little stock and milk/cream or creme fraiche, or even with a little water, to make a delicious and filling soup. It can be stirred into a simple risotto, or mixed with ricotta and marjoram to make a delicious ravioli filling. It could be warmed with butter and a little cream or mascarpone and eaten with meatballs in tomato sauce, like a sort of golden pumpkin 'mash'. Or it could be made into one of the following two recipes: a sweet and earthy gnocchi, and a rich, creamy, autumnal risotto.
One pumpkin: many possibilities.
The world is your squash, as they say.
1 Kabocha squash, seeds and flesh scooped out and cut into inch-thick crescents
A pinch of dried chilli flakes
1 tbsp finely chopped rosemary (optional)
Good glug of olive oil
Preheat the oven to 190. Season the squash all over with the salt, oil and chilli and place in a deep roasting dish. Scatter the rosemary around and add a small splash of water (this will help steam and cook the squash to cook all the way through without it simply burning on the outside). Place in the oven and cook for 45-50 minutes, until the squash is completely soft and beginning to caramelise.
Squash Take II. This is one of my favourite risottos. I don't make risotto a lot (I'm too impatient to watch and stir a pot of something continuously for longer than five minutes) but when I do I want it to be Really Damn Good. And this is.
200g risotto rice
a small glass of white wine
1.5 litres of chicken or vegetable stock
250g roasted pumpkin (prepared as above)
30g grated pecorino cheese
Finely chop the onion. Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan and saute the onion over a low heat, until it is soft and translucent.
Add the rice and continue to saute for a minute or two. Now add the wine and turn the heat to medium.
Continue stirring until the wine has evaporated and then add a ladle of stock. Stir and cook the rice until it has absorbed the liquid. Continue adding stock and stirring, ladleful by ladleful, until the rice is just al dente and you have used most of the stock. Add the pumpkin and stir to break it up; it should melt nicely into the rice.
Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Let it settle for a minute before serving, and if it becomes too solid, let it down with a touch of water or butter (depending on your preference). It should be the consistency of runny porridge, flooding over the plate, rather than sitting in lumps.
I have made these numerous times with mixed results. I think the most important element is the type of squash you use. If you use a dense and dry squash like a Kabocha (the one I had) then there shouldn't be any problems. Roasting it also makes sure it loses a proportion of its moisture and you don't need to add copious quantities of flour. Once you have nailed the dough there's nothing to it. The beauty of gnocchi is that they are supposed to be a bit rough and ready. Chubby and ungainly, definitely a dumpling. The enemy of perfect pasta shapes and arduous rolling and cutting.
To shape them, you simply roll out fat sausages and cut them into nuggets and there you have it. Gnocchi's your uncle.
300g squash (prepared as above)
150g of 00 flour (you may need to add more, depending on your squash)
good pinch of salt
few scrapings of nutmeg
pinch of dried chilli flakes
80g grated parmesan
Puree the squash by mashing it well with a potato masher or fork. Mix well until you have a smooth puree. Add the parmesan and the seasonings and flour and stir gently to combine. Do not overwork your dough at this point, or the gnocchi will become tough. It is important to handle it lightly, as you would a scone dough. It can stay quite soft, but needs to be just stiff enough to be rolled. Bring it together gently with your hands.
Dust your work surface with flour and cut a section of the dough. Gently roll it into a fat sausage and then cut it into inch lengths using a sharp knife.
Place the nuggets on a floured tray and either leave in the fridge until ready to serve or freeze. They are best eaten almost straight away as the texture is lighter.
Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and drop in the gnocchi. Cook for a few minutes until they bob to the surface and then fish them out using a slotted spoon. Serve them with a simple sage butter (or ragu) and extra grated cheese of your choice.