Since the weekend I had been craving the bland comfort of pasta in a cream sauce. On Saturday evening I caught a late flight from vast, empty Heathrow and treated myself to the ultimate extraneous luxury: a lukewarm glass of white wine on a short plane journey.
Over the weekend, I indulged in an extensive selection of comfort food: thyme roast chicken; caramel ice cream; an enormous beef burger with crispy onions; a brunch of eggs, avocado, blue cheese. Yet, waking up late on Monday morning, with post-party blues encircling, I desired nothing more than the dense plainness of pasta.
Arriving back to bitter cold London, and somehow hopping on the wrong train after work, my craving for something heavy, creamy and comforting increased. On my third train of the evening, gnocchi – a foodstuff that I have rarely eaten and have never cooked – came into my head. The result was much better than I ever could have hoped: the gastronomic equivalent of a hug; something warm and soothing to clog that bothersome emptiness that is inevitable once you return to real life.
The gnocchi themselves are doughy, potato pillows of comfort, which pleasingly lack any of the rubbery slipperiness of pasta. Instead, they are the perfect cushion for a cream sauce and their sinking, bland heaviness allows you to really enjoy the flavours of the accompanying veg and to savour the salty tang of cheese. I accompanied my gnocchi with wintery orange squash and buttery mushrooms and spinach. Double cream was perhaps another extraneous luxury, but it was just one of those days.
You will need for one:
130g of gnocchi (this is an estimate, but I will say that you definitely need more gnocchi per serving than you would require for pasta)
A few mushrooms
A few handfuls of spinach
A serving of butternut squash, cut into small chunks (I used a portion of a pre-chopped-up 350g bag, approx 100g. Sweet potato can be used as an alternative, or both)
2-3 tbsp of double cream
A decent shaving of Parmesan cheese
Two knobs of butter
Sea salt and freshy ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying and roasting
Begin by arranging the squash on a foiled baking dish and drizzle with olive oil. Season with sea salt. Roast the veg for about 20-25 minutes at a very high heat until the squash is softened.
When the squash is nearly done, you can proceed with the remainder of the dish. Add the sliced mushrooms to an oiled frying pan and fry quickly. Add a generous knob of butter and salt and pepper. Add a liberal hand of spinach with another knob of butter to the pan, and stir until wilted.
Bring a pan of salted hot water to the boil. Add the gnocchi and turn down slightly. The gnocchi will only take 2-3 minutes to cook. Drain once the entire serving has floated to the surface of the pan. Depending on personal preference you can keep aside some of the salted water for the sauce.
Add the squash to the frying pan, along with the cream and a few gratings of Parmesan. Allow the cream to coat the surface of the pan and to bubble slightly. Tumble the gnocchi into the sauce and heavily season with black pepper. There should be enough cream sauce to smother the dumplings completely.
Serve on a warm plate and finish with a good grating of Parmesan. I topped mine with some toasted almonds too just because I had them, but this is a superfluous addition at best.