Introducing the slightly more laborious, but much more exciting cousin of macaroni cheese! Béchamel Baked Butternut Gnocchi! This is comfort food at it’s finest from Liz Child and Green Earth Organics.
My vegan béchamel sauce is very simple to put together, and for this I’ve simply whisked it up and poured it over sautéed celery and leek. Then I popped in lots of freshly boiled butternut gnocchi (not as tricky to make as it seems), scattered over some tangy capers and crushed pumpkin seeds and baked it until the béchamel was bubbling and thickened! I got some gorgeous cherry tomatoes in my box last week so I placed them on top to roast in the oven. Their bright acidity is the perfect foil to the creamy richness of the béchamel and gnocchi.
Ingredients for the Gnocchi
- 1 butternut squash
- enough plain flour to bring it into a dough (this varies depending on the water content and size of your squash)
- salt, pepper and optional herbs or spices (sage/rosemary/thyme/chilli flakes…)
– Preheat your oven to 200C.
– Cut a small butternut squash in half, scoop out the seeds and bake it – cut side down – in a hot oven (200C) until the flesh is soft all the way through. Test it with a small knife, it should easily slide into the soft, roasted butternut. (This normally takes 30 minutes or so. While it’s in the oven, get on with the sauce and prepare the toppings below.)
– Allow the squash to cool to the point where you can easily handle it, then scoop out all the roasted flesh and mash or blend it into a smooth purée.
– Find your biggest pot, 2/3rds fill it with water and get it on the stove to heat up to a rolling boil while you make the gnocchi.
– Season the purée with salt and pepper and taste to check the seasoning. It should be slightly too salty as you are going to fold in a fair bit of flour. You can also add optional extra flavours at this stage. For example chilli flakes and sage or rosemary and lemon zest… or just leave it plain, that’s delicious too!
– Then stir in enough flour to turn the purée into a soft dough. You can use plain flour (make sure there are no raising agents in it) or strong bread flour or even a gluten free plain flour blend. Gnocchi works best with white flour rather than wholemeal.
– The amount of flour varies depending on the size and moisture content of your squash. Just start with a mug or so, gently fold it in and keep going until it’s the right consistency to be tipped out onto a floured work surface and very briefly kneaded. You want to work it as little as possible to keep it tender, but just enough to bring it together into a manageable ball of dough. It should be soft and sticky, get a helper to keep dusting the work surface and your hands with flour to make it more manageable.
– Cut the ball of dough into 4, then roll one of the quarters into a thick snake. Chop the snake into little bites. If you want to make little traditional looking grooves in the gnocchi you can stamp each bite with a fork or you can roll them over a gnocchi board if you have one… or simply roll them into balls.
– Then drop the gnocchi into the now boiling water in batches. Gently loosen them from the bottom of the pot with a slotted spoon. When they rise to the top of the water they are done and can be scooped out and placed in the sauce below. I do them in batches of one snake at a time, then while that batch is boiling I get the next snake ready.
– Keep going until all your gnocchi dough is used up. If you make too much for the bake, then you can cool down and keep the excess boiled gnocchi in the fridge/freezer and use it another day (pan fry it with a little olive oil or butter and serve with pesto and salad?)
Ingredients for the Béchamel & Toppings
- 2 leeks – rinsed and sliced
- 4 sticks of celery – rinsed and sliced
- 4 cloves of garlic – peeled and sliced
- 2 tbsp butter or olive oil
- 150g plain flour (wheat/spelt/gluten free all work)
- 1 litre milk (oat milk is very creamy – perfect for béchamel)
- 1 tbsp Dijon/English style mustard
- 20g nutritional yeast (plus a little extra for topping)
- 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp each salt and pepper
- 1 handful of pumpkin seeds
- 2-3 tbsp capers
- cherry tomatoes
– In an oven and hob safe, large, wide pan, sauté the sliced celery, leek and garlic with the butter or olive oil and some salt and pepper until soft. Then turn off the heat. (If you don’t have an oven and hob safe large dish like this, you can just sauté the veg and tip it into a roasting tray instead.)
– Then whisk the flour, milk, mustard, nutritional yeast, nutmeg, salt and pepper in a large jug or mixing bowl and pour the mixture over the sautéed celery and leeks.
– Boil the gnocchi in batches as above and pop them into the dish on top of the sauce.
– In a small blender or large pestle and mortar, crush/blend the handful of pumpkin seeds with a small handful of nutritional yeast for a crunchy, savoury topping. Scatter this over the gnocchi and sauce.
– Sprinkle over the capers and cherry tomatoes then pop the dish into the oven (with an optional drizzle of olive oil) to bake until the gnocchi are burnished golden brown and the sauce is thick and bubbling. This should take around 20-30 minutes.
– Serve with a simple green salad and an ice cold glass of white wine and enjoy!