Italians are known for combining pasta and soup: minestrone, pasta e fagiole (pasta and bean soup) and pasta in brodo (chicken broth with pasta) are classics.
Here’s an even fancier creation from pasta maker Giovanni Rana: acorn squash soup with potato gnocchi.
This hearty starter can also serve as a main course—an example of how you can build on a simple bowl of soup to create a meal.
1. PREHEAT oven to 425°F. Cut acorn squash in half and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Cut the squash halves into segments, following the natural seams. Toss segments with extra virgin olive oil and season with kosher salt. Lay squash in a single layer on a sheet pan and roast until tender; about 30-35 minutes. In the meantime…
2. MELT butter with extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Sauté shallots and fennel until soft, about 8-10 minutes. While shallots and fennel are sautéing, peel leaves from Brussels sprouts. Toast in a dry nonstick pan over medium high heat until starting to char in spots. Remove and set aside.
3. INCREASE heat to high and add half of the vegetable oil. When oil is shimmering, add half of the gnocchi directly from the bag. Sauté gnocchi, tossing often, until browned. Set aside and repeat.
4. REMOVE acorn squash from oven when tender; allow to cool enough to handle. Peel skins off and discard. Working in batches, purée squash, sautéed shallots and fennel, vegetable broth, heavy cream and vinegar in a blender or food processor.
5. RETURN soup to a pan and gently reheat. Adjust consistency with more vegetable broth if necessary and season with kosher salt. Add gnocchi and divide among bowls.
 Boiled potatoes are riced and rolled with flour into ropes of dough. Small pieces are cut off and handmade gnocchi are pressed between the thumb and the tines of a fork to make the characteristic indentations. There are often no dents in factory-made gnocchi (photo courtesy Neco Garnicia | Stock Xchng).
6. GARNISH with a dollop of crème fraîche or sour cream, toasted Brussels sprouts leaves and dried cranberries.
WHAT ARE GNOCCHI?
Gnocchi (NYO-kee) are light and fluffy Italian dumplings. The most commonly known in the U.S. are made from potatoes and flour, although other styles are noted below.
You can find butternut squash, spinach and sweet potato gnocchi on modern menus, and creative chefs can create a myriad of flavors. Some also substitute semolina for the potato flour—the original recipe (more about that in a minute). Shapes and ingredients vary by region.
The word “gnocchi” means “dumplings” in Italian. There are two suggestions for the origin of the word:
Gnocchi are of Middle Eastern origin; the originals were made with semolina dough. As the Roman Empire expanded, favorite recipes were brought home and adapted, based on local ingredients and preferences. Depending on where you are in Italy, you can find: