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Gnocchi Alla Romana with Butternut Squash

This post contains original content by me and is sponsored by La Cucina Italiana

When most Americans think of gnocchi, they think of those soft little cushions of dough made with flour, potatoes and eggs and served with a tomato or pesto sauce. But there’s an entirely different type of gnocchi made with semolina flour called gnocchi alla Romana.

As you can guess, it’s a Roman dish that is served in a casserole hot from the oven, golden and crunchy on top. Talk about comfort food — these just melt in your mouth. They make a great primo piatto, or first course, but I frequently serve them as a starchy side dish with a roast, or even some meatballs or braciole. I decided to give the traditional gnocchi alla Romana a little twist and added some small cubes of roasted butternut squash. But they’re equally delicious without the squash if you prefer them plain.

Detailed instructions are in the recipe below, but you start by mixing the semolina flour with milk and butter until it’s very stiff. Many people recommend warming the milk first, but in my experience, you’re less likely to get lumps if you start out with cold milk. Keep stirring so it doesn’t burn on the bottom, and when it’s thick enough to hold a wooden spoon upright, you’re there.

You need eggs to make the gnocchi “puff up” in the oven, but if you stir the eggs directly into the pan with the hot gnocchi mixture, you’re going to wind up with scrambled eggs. So you need to temper the eggs first. To do this, place the eggs in a measuring cup and whisk them together. Then add a bit of the hot gnocchi mixture to the measuring cup, whisking all the time. Keep adding a few more tablespoons at a time, whisking vigorously each time, until the temperature of the mixture has warmed slightly and become a little thick. Now it’s safe to add this mixture into the large pot with the rest of the semolina gnocchi mixture, stirring all the while to blend everything together well.

Stir in the cooked bits of squash.

Then spread it out on a cookie sheet that you first moisten with a little water. Let it cool in the refrigerator several hours or overnight (covered with plastic wrap if overnight.)

Use a cookie or biscuit cutter (or even the rim of a glass) to cut circles about two to three inches in diameter.
Arrange in a buttered pan.

Generously sprinkle parmesan cheese on top.

Bake in the oven until golden and crispy on top.

Make extra, because they are always a hit and you’ll want leftovers. They’re easy to reheat in the oven or microwave the next day.

Connect with me on Instagram and find out what Ciao Chow Linda is up to in the kitchen (and other places too.)

Gnocchi Alla Romana with Butternut Squash
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total time
 
Author:
Serves: 6-8 people
Ingredients
  • 1 cup butternut squash, diced into small pieces
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 9 oz. semolina (1¼ cup)
  • 1½ quarts of milk
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 stick (8 tablespoons) butter
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of white pepper
  • a few gratings of nutmeg
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
Instructions
  1. Peel the butternut squash and dice into small pieces.
  2. Toss with the olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. (I use herbed salt that I make from fresh herbs.)
  4. Roast the squash in a 400 degree oven for about 15 minutes, turning once.
  5. Remove squash from oven and set aside.
  6. Place the milk and the semolina in a saucepan.
  7. Many people tell you to heat the milk first, then add the semolina, but I find it gets lumpy that way, so I start with cold milk and add the semolina directly.
  8. Whisk it constantly, adding half the stick of butter (4 tablespoons), the salt, the white pepper and the nutmeg.
  9. After about five minutes, it will thicken quite a bit, and you can switch from stirring with the whisk to a wooden spoon.
  10. Keep stirring another ten minutes until the mixture is very thick.
  11. Remove from the heat and add half the parmesan cheese.
  12. Whisk the eggs in a glass measuring cup or bowl.
  13. Don't add the eggs directly into the hot gnocchi mixture or you might wind up with scrambled eggs.
  14. Instead, add a small amount - maybe a few tablespoons - of the gnocchi mixture to the eggs, stirring quickly with a whisk to incorporate.
  15. Do this a few times until the mixture is thickened and homogenized.
  16. Add the egg mixture back to the gnocchi mixture and stir in the reserved squash.
  17. Wet a cookie sheet (one with raised edges) with a little water.
  18. Spread the gnocchi mixture on the cookie sheet, to an even thickness of about ¾ inch.
  19. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator and let it cool for at least four hours or overnight.
  20. Take a round cookie cutter, or biscuit cutter, or even the edge of a glass, and cut out circles, about two to three inches in diameter.
  21. Grease an oven proof casserole, and place the rounds inside, overlapping slightly.
  22. Make a second layer, but don't completely cover up the first layer around the edges, since you want them to get some browning too.
  23. Melt 4 tablespoons of butter and drizzle over the gnocchi, then sprinkle with the remaining ½ cup parmesan cheese.
  24. Bake uncovered, at 400 degrees, for about 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
 

Making Corzetti with Dad

It’s pasta time with Dad again – this time with corzetti – beautiful round disks of dough made using a hand carved wooden implement created by Artisanal Pasta Tools in Sonoma California. The one I used has a lovely design of clusters of grapes, but there are many patterns to choose from.  Mine arrived in the mail one day, totally unexpected, as a gift from my friend and fellow blogger – “corzetti queen” Adri Barr Crocetti. She writes a fabulous food blog, loaded with great recipes and thorough research on Italian food.  Her beautiful photos are always so artfully composed and expertly shot. 

She has written exhaustively about corzetti and you can find her posts about them by clicking here.
As soon as I showed my father this nifty tool, he was on board to make pasta with me. Regular readers of my blog know that my 92-year old dad loves to cook, especially pasta. We’ve made bigoli together (click here) , orecchiette (click here) and lots of other foods too.
 I arrived at his house and he was ready to go – mixing the dough on the counter and armed with a recipe to dress the pasta.
We cut the disks with one side of the form.
Then flipped the wooden implement to insert the disk and press down hard to make sure we got a good imprint.
Lined up on a cookie sheet, they reminded me of Christmas tree ornaments. Hey, maybe that’s an idea for the future – poke a hole in the top, let them dry and give them a coat of some clear preservative.
Here’s a closer view. They are like little works of art.

 

Corzetti originated in Genoa, a city on the Mediterranean in the region of Liguria. So it seemed fitting that we served them with some seafood – scallops and swiss chard, with some saffron.
 My dad found this recipe in an old issue of La Cucina Italiana. Unfortunately, for us Americans, the company stopped producing the U.S. edition. You can’t even access the online version, so sadly we’ve all lost a great resource of recipes. If you’ve got your old issues lying about the house, hang onto them.
“Butta la pasta” is a commonly heard Italian expression, meaning literally “throw the pasta.” As the sauce cooked, (and it took only a few minutes), it was time for us to throw the corzetti into the water.
We cooked them al dente, and added them to the sauce pan to swirl in the juices and meld the flavors.
And then it was time to eat.
It’s a great recipe any time of the year, but for you Catholics, it’s especially apropos for any one of these meatless Fridays during Lent.
Since I’ve introduced you to my dad over the years, but never to his better half, I thought I’d throw in a photo of his wife Rose – a sweet, lovely woman who lets him (and me) have the run of her kitchen whenever he wants.  We all had a fun day together making corzetti and plenty of memories too.



Corzetti with Swiss Chard and Scallops

If you can’t find dried corzetti in the store and want to make your own, here’s the recipe we used. But you could use any shape pasta here – from rigatoni to spaghetti.

We used a simple pasta recipe of two cups flour and two extra large eggs, mixing the ingredients together, kneading the dough and letting it rest, before rolling out the dough and cutting the corzetti disks. If the dough is too dry, add a little water.


printable recipe here
From “La Cucina Italiana”

1 pound sea scallops
fine sea salt
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
2 medium shallots, thinly sliced
1 pound Swiss chard, center ribs removed and leaves coarsely chopped
1/4 cup vegetable broth
1/8 t. crumbled saffron threads
1 T. unsalted butter
1 pound fresh corzetti or dried corzetti
freshly ground white pepper (optional)

Cut scallops into quarters; set aside. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat; add shallots, reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add chard in batches, then add broth, 1/4 t. salt and saffron; cook, stirring until greens are just wilted.
Add scallops to skillet, tucking pieces among greens; gently simmer, turning scallops occasionally, until scallops are just cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. Add butter and gently stir until melted, then remove skillet from heat and cover to keep warm.
Cook pasta in the boiling water until just tender – 6 to 7 minutes or until al dente. Drain. Combine the pasta with the scallops and chard in the pan. Sprinkle with pepper if desired.

Mezzi Rigatoni With Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce

 When I was designated a “blogger ambassador” for  La Cucina Italiana magazine a few months ago, I wasn’t sure what that entailed, but I soon found out when I received a package of goodies with several boxes of Del Verde pasta and a bottle of Lucini olive oil too.  Along with these products came an invitation to participate in a promotion called “Dish Your Blog with Delverde Pasta.” I was already familiar with Delverde’s pasta, which to me is one of the best commercial brands on the market.

A couple of years ago, I traveled to Fara San Martino, in Abruzzo, where DelVerde is located, although I never got to see the inside of DelVerde’s manufacturing plant. The Maiella mountains dominate the landscape at this spot in the Appenines and the Verde river, whose waters are used to make this world-famous pasta, runs through here.
 Del Verde’s pasta has long been a favorite with me, so it was a pleasure to concoct a recipe for the contest.
I used the mezzi rigatoni variety, which to me cries out for a lusty sauce and hearty accompaniments. Sausage just seemed to fit the bill here, and butternut squash too, one of my favorite fall vegetables. The dish needed something to counter the sweetness of the squash, so I added some wild greens I had picked earlier this spring and tucked away in the freezer. Broccoli rape or Tuscan kale would work well here too.
Roast the squash in the oven for about an hour until it’s soft enough to scoop out with a spoon. Depending on the size of the squash, you may need to use only half of it – or more, or less.
Sauté shallots and garlic, plus some sage leaves in a bit of olive oil. You’ll later purée this in a blender or food processor with the squash and some chicken broth.
The greens were cooked in water, then drained and sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper and red pepper flakes. The sausage was cut into small pieces, then browned and drained of grease.
Then comes the fun part – mixing it all together (well, actually eating it is more fun). Sprinkle it with grated parmesan cheese and dig in.



Disclosure: “This recipe is posted as an entry in the Delverde DISH YOUR BLOG recipe contest. The winner receives a trip to NYC and the opportunity to prepare the dish at a GE Showroom in midtown, Manhattan. I received free sample products in addition to the opportunity to compete for the prize.”


Mezzi Rigatoni with Sausage and Butternut Squash Sauce
Printable Recipe Here

2 shallots or 1 medium onion, minced
2 T. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 sage leaves

1 butternut squash
1 3/4 cup chicken broth
1 lb. sausage, cut into small pieces
1 cup greens (wild greens, broccoli rape, swiss chard or kale)
a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for sautéeing the greens
1 clove garlic
salt, pepper, red pepper flakes

1 lb. mezzi rigatoni or other sturdy-shaped pasta

grated parmesan cheese.

Cut the butternut squash in half and smear the cut ends with olive oil. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for one hour or until the flesh is soft enough to scoop. You will need about 2 cups of the butternut squash. Depending on the size of the squash, it may be half of the squash, or more, or less.

Sauté the shallots and garlic in the olive oil until limp. Add the sage leaves and cook for another minute or two. Remove three of the sage leaves, but leave one of them with the shallots.

Place the shallots mixture (and one of the sage leaves) and the 2 cups squash to a blender or food processor. Pour in the chicken broth and blend everything until smooth. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Sauté the sausage pieces until browned, then drain any grease.

Cook the greens in water until wilted. Drain, then sauté the garlic in the olive oil until softened, add the greens and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the pasta until al dente, then mix with the sausage, the greens and the butternut squash sauce. (If the butternut squash sauce has thickened too much, add some hot water or chicken broth to thin it a bit. If it has cooled while you’ve been preparing the other ingredients, then place it in the microwave to reheat before mixing it with the pasta.)

Serve with grated parmesan cheese.