Sunday, 15 February 2015

Pumpkin ricotta gnocchi on beetroot sauce with pistachios and orange

Pumpkin ricotta gnocchi on beetroot sauce with pistachios and orange

Gnocchi, even if outside Italy are not as popular as other traditional dishes, are very common all across Italy where all families like to eat once in a while their gnocchi, home-made in the best case - in fact they may also be bought fresh from specialty stores or packaged, industrially produced, from supermarkets. Gnocchi, which are classified as primo piatto (first course) like pasta and risotto,  are soft little dumplings that, in the most classic and common version, are made from boiled potatoes; they probably originated during Roman times when potatoes were not available in Europe (as they were introduced from Americas only in 16th century), so were made from a semolina dough, probably very similar to the gnocchi alla romana that we find today, particularly in the Lazio region.
Like for many traditional Italian dishes, there are several versions of gnocchi and each family has its own recipe, usually handed down from the nonne to their daughters and granddaughters. And among the many possible variations are gnocchi made from something else - or something more - than potato as main ingredient, like ricotta, flour, spinach, pumpkin and so on. And gnocchi's versatility is beloved by chefs, in Italy and abroad, who don't stop experimenting with textures and flavors, from saffron to beets to anything in between. But whatever version of gnocchi you choose, to be really delicious they have to be light, airy and delicate; in fact at their worst they can be dense, chewy, or soggy or, even worst, they come apart in the boiling water. So it is important to make gnocchi properly, that may be less easy than it seems; but with some practice, probably a few failures, and perseverance everybody can become a master at making gnocchi. For the pleasure of all family members ...and of course great personal satisfaction.
The "secret" for soft, light gnocchi is to use as little flour as possible; and this is tricky because the exact amount needed depends on the characteristics of the main ingredient, whether it is potato, pumpkin, or ricotta or a combination of them: the firmer, dryer, denser it is, the less flour you'll need. Some experience will help, together with few expedients including these: choose potato/pumpkin/ricotta/sweet potato/... with a firm texture; bake or steam (not the ricotta of course) instead of boiling to avoid they absorb much water; if necessary sautée the puree for few minutes.
And another " trick" which helps to reduce the amount of flour is to let the gnocchi rest (at least 30 min up to 4 hours) before boiling, so that all flour is well absorbed in the dough and amalgamated with other ingredients.
Besides ingredients used for making the dough, gnocchi versatility is also in the way they can be served: for my taste, butter (better if noisette/brown butter) is perfect with all types of gnocchi; potato gnocchi go well with simple tomato sauce and basil, are lovely with pesto, with meat ragù and countless other sauces. And the same is for the other versions of gnocchi; chefs like experimenting with dressings and condiments and so I like to do at home.

The dish I want to share today is a recipe featuring one of my favorite seasonal combination: pumpkin and beetroot. I used pumpkin together with ricotta cheese as main ingredients for soft, delicate gnocchi, while beets became the creamy sauce with which I served them. In this case, in orders to apply the rule "use and little flour as possible", I baked the pumpkin in the oven, squeezed out all the remaining juices, puréed and then sautéed for few minutes in a non-stick pan to eliminate any residual wetness. I weighted the flour and tried to use that amount: less if possible, just a little more only if necessary to keep the dough together. I let rest the shaped gnocchi for few hours, then boiled, drained well and sautéed in butter until it browned. They would have been delicious also on their own (maybe with some grated or shaved parmigiano), but I served on a creamy sauce made blending roasted beets and caramelized onion and garnished with toasted pistachios and orange zests.
Pumpkin ricotta gnocchi on beetroot sauce with pistachios and orange

Pumpkin ricotta gnocchi on beetroot sauce with pistachios and orange
serves 2-3
For the gnocchi
1 small butternut squash (or other pumpkin with firm flesh)
200 g ricotta cheese
70 - 100 g flour
50 g grated parmigiano
1 egg
1/2 tsp cinnamon powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg powder
salt and freshly ground pepper
For the sauce and garnishing
1 medium beetroot
1 medium onion, sliced
40 g shelled pistachio nuts
grated zest of 1/2 orange
extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper
Preheat the oven to 200°C.
Trim the beetroots stalks. Wash well the beetroot then wrap in aluminum foil, place on a baking sheet and bake for about 1 hour or until tender when pierced with a skewer or a sharp knife (baking time strongly depends on beetroot size and variety). Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
Meanwhile prepare gnocchi. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Wash the pumpkin, halve, remove seed and cut into even slices (about 2 cm thick); place them on the prepared sheet  and bake until soft and lightly browned on the edges. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Peel an mash the cooked pumpkin (you can use a potato ricer, a food mill or an immersion blender).  Heat a no-stick pan and sautée the pumpkin pure for few minutes until well dry (this step is important to let evaporate any liquid from the cooked pumpkin).  Let cool then measure 200 g and place in a mixing bowl. Add the ricotta, drained from any liquid, egg, grated parmigiano, salt, pepper and cinnamon and nutmeg  (feel free to add more or less of the spices, or omitting, depending on your liking).  Mix with a fork until amalgamated then start adding the flour, initially 50 - 60 g, then one tablespoon at a time until the dough is firm but still sticky (the less flour you add the more gnocchi will be tender and with a deeper flavor).  You should end with some leftover flour to sprinkle over the gnocchi. Dust  a tray with some of the remaining flour. Using a teaspoon take portions of the dough, roll them into even balls and gently place them on the prepared tray. Sprinkle more flour on top and let rest at room temperature at least 2 - 3 hours before cooking (this will help the gnocchi to become firmer).    
Pumpkin ricotta gnocchi on beetroot sauce with pistachios and orange

In the meantime prepare the sauce. Sautée the onion, over a medium heat,  in 3 tablespoons olive oil and 1 water until soft and golden brown. Peel the cooked beetroot, chop and place in a food processor with the cooked onion and its juices. Blend until you have a smooth cream (you can also do it with an immersion mixer). If the sauce is too thick add one tablespoon water or orange juice (from the peeled orange). Transfer the sauce into a saucepan, taste, adjust the seasoning and set aside.
Preheat the oven to 170°C (325° F). Spread the pistachios out on a baking tray and toast for about 8 minutes, until lightly colored. Remove from the oven, allow to cool slightly and then chop roughly. Set aside.
Bring to boil a large saucepan filled with water, add salt, pour half of the gnocchi into the boiling water using a large spatula and let cook until they float to top of boiling water; drain with a spotted spoon and place on a large plate.  Cook also the remaining gnocchi.
Warm up the sauce. Meanwhile in a large pan heat 2 tablespoons butter over medium heat , add the gnocchi in batches - do not overcrowd the pan - and sautée, gently turning,  until they are lightly browned. Be careful not to burn the butter.
Spoon the sauce on warmed serving plates, creating a thick layer, gently place on top gnocchi, add some freshly ground black pepper, garnish with chopped pistachios and orange zests and serve immediately. 

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