Excerpted from Lee Watson Peace & Parsnips (The Experiment, 2016).
Making gnocchi with colored vegetables makes brilliant sense. Any starchy root works well: parsnip, sweet potato, purple potatoes, cassava, pumpkin . . . But the vivid orange of squash really electrifies the plate (and the palate). With its vibrant oranges, reds and greens, this dish is a feast for the eyes as well as the belly!
Pistou is actually just a Provençal variation on pesto, without the hard cheese and pine nuts. It’s lighter than pesto and allows the herbs more room to express themselves, although I’ve thrown in a few hazelnuts for richness. This pistou is even better made the day before. Used in moderation, it brings herbal joy to soups, stews and, of course, pasta.
Gluten-free option: use gram (chickpea) flour or potato flour instead of wheat flour.
Oven-Baked Squash Gnocchi with Fennel, Sun-Dried Tomatoes & Spinach Pistou
For the Spinach Pistou
- ¾ cup (100g) hazelnuts
- 3 cups (100g) spinach or watercress leaves
- 2 big handfuls of fresh basil leaves
- 3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
- juice of 1 lemon
- zest of ½ a lemon
- a large pinch of sea salt
- 2 large pinches of freshly ground black pepper
- ⅓ cup (75ml) extra virgin olive oil
For the Gnocchi
- 1 large winter squash, about 3¼ pounds (1.5kg) (starchy varieties are best, such as butternut), peeled and roughly chopped
- olive oil, for roasting
- a little sea salt
- 1 large fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthwise
- 8½ ounces (240g) firm tofu, pressed (see Soybean Products)
- 2¼ cups (300g) unbleached all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ teaspoon white pepper
- 1½ teaspoons dried sage
- 2 big handfuls of sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped
- 2 tablespoons roughly chopped roasted hazelnuts (for the topping)
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C).
- Place the hazelnuts in a small skillet on medium heat. Keep them moving for 5–7 minutes – they will become roasted and smell so very sweet! Put them into a food processor and blitz for 30 seconds. The nuts should begin to break down into lumps and chunks, which is what we want. Add the rest of the pistou ingredients (except the oil) and blitz, drizzling the oil in gradually until you get a nice runny texture, like a thick sauce. You will need to scrape down the sides of the food processor a few times. Add more oil if the pistou needs thinning.
- Place the squash on an oiled baking tray. Rub a little oil and salt over it and bake for 30 minutes, turning the pieces gently over once. You’re not looking for loads of color here, just lovely soft, golden squash. Toss the fennel in olive oil, place on a separate baking tray and scatter with a pinch of sea salt. Bake for 30 minutes, turning once, until it’s golden, crisp and sweet. When the squash is ready, put it into a processor with the tofu and blend until smooth. Place it in a large bowl and stir in the flour, salt, pepper and sage until a soft dough forms. Leave to cool down and firm up – it will be a lot easier to handle.
- Using two teaspoons, make gnocchi shapes (lovely little flat oval dumplings) with the squash mixture and place on an oiled baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches (5cm) of space for each gnocchi to grow. Brush the gnocchi with a little more oil and bake for 20–25 minutes, until crisp and slightly golden.
- Serve the gnocchi warm, on nice big plates, drizzled liberally with the pistou. Scatter the crispy fennel and sun-dried tomatoes on top with a little more pistou, and finish with some chopped roasted hazelnuts.