Following my new habit of “borrowing” recipes from restaurants by pillaging their menu descriptions, I want to report another recent triumph. “Borrowing” and “pillaging” sound so naughty, as though I’ve done something vaguely wrong or shameful. But most of the time I’ve never even tried the dish, I’m just taking suggestions about ingredient combinations. Really it’s more sensible behavior. Sensible and well grounded, and a little bit sly and spicy. Like this dish, in fact. How convenient!
Gnocchi with butternut squash, carmelized pears, and swiss chard in a nutmeg brown butter sauce
2 boxes pre-made refrigerated gnocchi (ours were from Market of Choice)
2 pears, a little underripe
1 big bunch of swiss, red, or rainbow chard (the Saturday Market had enormous bunches of the most beautiful rainbow chard I have ever seen)
1 medium butternut squash (a back garden triumph!)
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
salt and pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
splash of white wine (optional)
* I preheated the oven to 350F while I peeled, halved, de-seeded, and diced the butternut squash into squares about the same size as the gnocchi. Then I tossed the chunks in olive oil, salt and pepper on a baking sheet and baked them until the squash is tender, maybe about 45 minutes. When they were soft inside and gave slightly to the touch outside, I set them aside to cool.
* When the squash was close to done, I began melting the butter over medium to medium-high heat in a big pan. At the same time, I put some salted water on to boil for the gnocchi in a pot.
* With the butter melted and starting to darken in color a little, I added the two pears. Like the squash, these should be cubed in about the same size as the gnocchi. If all the major players are about the same size, they play better on the fork and in your mouth. I cranked up the heat to medium high so the pears could take on a little color, being careful not to break them up when I gently turned them so they could coat in the hot buttery bath. After about ten minutes, when they were just getting golden, I added salt, pepper, and nutmeg to taste. Then, for a little tang, a splash of white wine.
* While pears were cooking (oh mighty multi-tasker I), I prepped the chard, tearing the leaves off the stems and chopping the stems up into fairly small pieces. For extra flavor and extra vegetation, I mixed the stems in with the pears and let them cook until they got tender, which probably took another five or ten minutes. I sliced the remaining chard leaves into manageable, fork friendly slices.
* With the water boiling, I plopped in the little pillowy gnocchi to the pot and the chard to the vegetable pan at about the same time. Though the chard almost overflowed my largest skillet, while I gently incorporated it into the pears and butter sauce it wilted down amazingly quickly.
* When the gnocchi floated to the surface (that’s not true, they boiled up and threatened to overflow my stovetop!) I drained them well before adding them and the reserved butternut squash squares to the pan for some gentle incorporation. Bearing in mind the constant food show recommendation to season each layer of a dish, I added more salt, pepper, and more grated nutmeg to taste. When the squash squares were heated through to my liking, I served up big bowlfuls.
The combination was delicious. The gnocchi were soft and chewy, and though the pears and butternut squash were also soft, I didn’t feel that there was an unpleasing lack of textural variety in the dish. The pears almost melted when they touched my tongue, and the butternut squash had taken on some crunch on the outside from being in the oven. The bitterness of the chard with the sweetness of the pears and the warmth of the nutmeg worked amazingly well together. Best of all, the next day the flavors had really had time to mingle and meld, and the spice of the nutmeg deepened into a more pronounced seasoning throughout the dish. A freshly brewed, well-spiced hot cider or rum punch might be a delightful and unusual accompaniment to this, but I just had a glass of some of the chardonnay that I added to the sauce. And that was good too. I told my Mom about this one, and she demanded it as a weekend-after-Thanksgiving-remedy-from-too-much-turkey. Sounds like a win to me!