Eating seasonally in the off-season is easier than you think. Even though autumn means shorter days and cooler weather, it also means more time to turn up the heat in the kitchen. And this is when we can take advantage of the second harvest. Gone are the overripe tomatoes hanging from weathered vines moments away from plunging to the soil and the seemingly never-ending cukes and zukes. But that’s OK! Fruits and vegetables harvested in the late fall are ours for the cooking all winter long.
Walk around the farm stands now: Brussels sprouts lean against a cedar fence. Their sleigh-bell physique rings in a sauté with garlic, pancetta and olive oil. An apple orchard’s sweet smell hangs heavy next to a pumpkin patch. Freshly dug Yukon Gold, Red Norland and Russet Burbank potatoes sit warmly in wooden crates. The eye of a potato is hypnotic. I’m rooted in a deep tuberous thought: garlic mash or scalloped potatoes?
But there’s the colorful winter squash, precariously piled at a roadside stand for the picking. My choice for dinner is easy; a butternut squash rolls off the heap to my feet. Delicate butternut squash ricotta gnocchi with a kale walnut pesto sounds divine. This fruit—yes a fruit—has a dumbbell shape with a tan exterior that hides a deep-orange fleshy sweet and buttery pulp. For a side dish, I can roast or mash it in soups, stews, pasta dishes or risotto.
But, all I can think of is gnocchi.
My grandmother was a master at making two versions of this Italian dumpling: potato and ricotta. She hammered in two important details: Handle the dough gently and never add more flour than needed, or you will end up with belly bombs. And she is right. I have created my fair share of brick and mortar over the years, but once I mastered her basic recipe, I added squash. It is my go-to dish, a regular crowd pleaser, especially when I get a little creative with the shape of the gnocchi. I use a wooden walnut-shaped cookie mold, in lieu of the traditional gnocchi board, for gnocchi made with kale walnut pesto; the shape reflects the ingredients.
This fall make a butternut squash gnocchi that will stay with you forever, but not like brick and mortar.