Oven-baked Squash Gnocchi with Sun-dried Tomato, Fennel & Spinach Pistou
Making gnocchi with coloured vegetables makes brilliant sense. Any quite 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. 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. A nice variation, pistou-wise, is to use nettle leaves and wild garlic instead of the spinach and basil. This is best done in early spring, when you can forage your own. Gluten-free option: use chickpea flour or potato flour instead of wheat flour.
|1||large squash, about 1.5kg (the more starchy varieties of summer squash are best, such as butternut), peeled and cut into rough chunks|
|Olive oil, for roasting|
|A little||sea salt|
|1||large fennel bulb, thinly sliced lengthways|
|240g||firm tofu, well drained|
|300g||unbleached white flour, sifted|
|1 tsp||sea salt|
|½ tsp||white pepper|
|1½ tsp||dried sage|
|2||big handfuls of sun-dried tomatoes, roughly chopped|
|1x||spinach pistou (see ingredients below)|
|For the topping:|
|2 tbsp||roasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped|
|For the spinach pistou:|
|100g||spinach or watercress leaves|
|2 big handfuls||of fresh basil leaves|
|3||cloves of garlic, crushed|
|Juice of 1 lemon|
|Zest of ½ lemon|
|1 large pinch||of sea salt|
|2 large pinches||of black pepper|
|75ml||extra virgin olive oil|
You will need a food processor.
First make the spinach pistou (even better if you can make it the day before).
Place the hazelnuts in a small skillet and warm on a 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 the sides of the food processor down a few times. Add more oil if the pistou needs thinning. Check your seasoning and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 200°C/gas mark 6.
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 colour 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 nicely golden and sweet. When the squash is ready, put it into a processor with the tofu and blend until smooth. Now, place 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 mixture and place on an oiled baking sheet, leaving about 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.