Some days you just need comfort food – something warm and filling that feels solid and wholesome when you bite into it. I have always found gnocchi very comforting, with their dense, slightly squishy texture and coated in a lovely Italian sauce. However, I have also been a bit apprehensive about making them myself until recently I found quite a simple recipe in the Vegan Bible by Marie Laforêt. I then started to play around with it to make it even simpler for lazy day cooking, and subsituting the potato (which has never really excited me) for a range of other, lighter, vegetables, including turnip, celeriac and squash. The squash variety have been a particular favourite of mine, not just because I like the name “squacchi”, as they are tasty, slightly sweet and have a lovely orange colour. Here I have combined them with a, very un-authentic, “pesto” of broccoli and basil. It is nothing like a real pesto, except for the basil, but is lovely and fresh and a great way to get lots of veggies in without you really noticing.
“Squacchi” and broccoli “pesto” bake
Time: 10-15 minutes to make the squacchi, 10-15 minutes to make the pesto and chop the vegetable, 15 minutes precooking and assembly on the night plus 20 minutes baking
Dietary info: Vegan
This recipe makes double or triple quantities depending on how many people you’re feeding, but it freezes really well and goes with lots of sauces so I like to make a large batch.
- 850g cooked squash, I use butternut, coquina, queen or acorn and usually use one large squash
- 500g wholemeal flour
- 1-2 tsp salt
- seasoning optional e.g. 2 tsp ground paprika
- Wash, quarter and deeseed the squash.
- Bake the squash on a baking tray with a layer of water (about 3-5mm thick) on it at 160C fan for 45-90 minutes, until very soft and a bit caramelized. Allow to cook the cut off the skin.
- Mash the squash until smooth and mix with the flour, salt and seasoning. I find the easiest way to do this is in a food processor in two batches.
- Take fist sized balls of the dough and roll them into long cylinders about 1.5-2cm across, using a bit of flour on your hands and surface of the dough is too sticky.
- Slightly flatten the cyclinders with a fork and cut into 1.5-2 cm lengths, putting the squacchi on baking parchment or clean tea towels to dry.
- Divide the squacchi into 2-3 portions (3 portions probably feed 3 people per portion, 2 portions probably feed 4 people per portion) and freeze whatever you don’t want to use that week. To freeze, layer the squacchi on baking parchment to stop the sticking together before you put them in a box for freezer bag.
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 red pepper, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- 1 portion squacchi (⅓-½ the quantity above) or bought gnocchi (normal or pumpkin if you can get it)
- 1 broccoli, chopped and steamed,
- ~50g basil
- 1 heaped tsp smoked garlic powder
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp mild chilli powder
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
- ½ tsp.sugar or sweetner such as stevia
- 300ml hot water
- Steam or microwave the broccoli until soft.
- Put into a blender with the other pesto ingredients and blend until smooth, then season with more salt, pepper and lemon juice if wanted.
- If using shop bought gnocchi, cook according to packet instructions (usually put into boiling water – they are cooked when they bob to the surface)
- If using homemade squacchi they are much softer so place on a baking tray and bake at 160C fan for 10 minutes, turn over and bake for a further 5 minutes
- Cook the onion in a non-stick pan with enough water to cover for 5 minutes, until starting to soften.
- Add the red pepper and cook for a further 5-10 minutes until the vegetables are soft and the water has evaporated.
- Meanwhile, place the tomato in an oven proof dish and bake for 5 minutes.
- Add the red pepper, onion and squacchi to the oven proof dish and mix with 4-5 heaped tbsp (depending on how much squacchi you are using) of the broccoli pesto to coat the squacchi.
- Bake at 160C fan for 20 minutes.
- Serve with the remaining broccoli pesto on the side
A few tips to prep ahead:
- Make the squacchi ahead of time and freeze whatever you don’t need. If you are using frozen squacchi, remove them from the freezer and put them in the fridge to defrost the night before.
- The pesto can be made beforehand and kept in the fridge in an airtight box for around a week. It may not be as bright green as when it is freshly made but it will still taste good.
- The vegtables can all be chopped and kept in bags or boxes in the fridge for a few days. You will need to put them in separate bags if they are raw due to their different cooking times. To save even more time you can pre-cook them all and keep them in a box for a few days ready to go.
Some tasty little twists…
“Squacchi” bakes work well with most variations of traditional Italian pasta sauces, with some vegetables thrown in there to add some extra textures and help you towards your five a day. This is another simple sauce that I like with “squacchi”. Prepare the bake as for the broccoli “pesto” one but use steamed chunks of courgette (yellow if you can get it as the colour looks wonderful) and sliced spring greens instead of the onion, peppers and tomatoes, and the tomato sauce instead of the “pesto”.
Red pepper and tomato sauce
- 1x500g packet of passata
- 2 red, yellow or orange peppers
- 1 vegetable stock cube
- 1 tsp garlic powder (smoked garlic if you can get it)
- 1 tsp of paprika (preferrably smoked)
- 1 tsp black pepper
- 1 tsp cumin
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground corriander
- 1/2 tsp each of cardamon and cloves
- a few grates of nutmeg
- Juice of 1/2 a lemon
- Wash, halve and deseed the peppers and roast at 160C fan for 10-20 minutes until soft and starting to blacken slightly at the edges.
- Put the peppers with all the other ingredients into a blender and whizz to a smooth sauce.
- Heat the sauce in a saucepan over a medium heat for 2-3 minutes to let the flavours come together and season with salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste.
Note: don’t worry if you don’t have all the spices, just use whatever you have or use your personal favourite ones instead to come up with your unique variation. If you can find a ready made Baharat blend that would be perfect for this, along with a tsp garlic powder, or use 2 tsp mixed spice (or pumpkin pie) blend, which is more widely avaliable, along with 1 tsp garlic powder and 1 tsp paprika.