This recipe came into being when the calamitous Superstorm Sandy hit the East Coast and grocery shopping was all but impossible in my neighborhood. A butternut squash that had been sitting around on the counter came in handy, especially since all that’s needed to make gnocchi (besides squash or potatoes) is some flour and salt. Sage was growing outside and there was butter in the freezer.
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the squash in a baking dish along with 1⁄4 inch of water. Cover with foil and bake until soft throughout, about 40 minutes. When cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh from the skin into a large bowl, mash it until smooth, and let cool (this is important because hot squash sucks up flour, which makes for leaden gnocchi).
Whisk together the flour and salt in a separate bowl. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the cooled squash, using your hands to combine completely, until the dough pulls away from your hands in a soft mass. Add more flour as necessary to achieve the desired consistency (which should resemble a rough pizza dough).
Sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface. Separate the dough into several pieces and roll each into a log the size and shape of a large cigar. Cut each “cigar” into 1-inch pieces. To form the gnocchi, dip a fork in flour, and then place the tines on top of a piece of dough. Applying medium pressure, gently roll the gnocchi toward you with the fork, releasing pressure gradually as you roll, until it is completely rolled off the tines (repeatedly flour the fork to prevent sticking). Repeat with each piece of dough, placing the finished gnocchi on a floured baking sheet. (You can use your thumb instead of a fork if desired.) The gnocchi should resemble tiny footballs with a cup in the center.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. When it boils, heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and swirl in the butter. Add the sage leaves and cook until lightly crisp. Stir to coat them in butter. Meanwhile, drop about 8 gnocchi into the boiling water at a time and cook until they float to the surface, 2 to 3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and add directly to the sage butter. Toss to coat the gnocchi in the butter. Repeat the process with the remaining gnocchi. Add up to 1⁄2 cup of the gnocchi cooking water to the sage butter to make a pan sauce. Serve in shallow bowls, spooning some sage butter sauce over each serving. Sprinkle with Parmesan and a couple grinds of black pepper.
Recipe used with permission from Workman Publishing Company.