Fall Isn’t Over Yet

What is it about Pumpkin? Weeks before the official start of fall, we are already being bombarded by Pumpkin Spice Lattes, Pumpkin-themed cookies, pastries, and all of the decorative paraphernalia that you can imagine. I suppose that it’s a way to celebrate the season or to invoke memories of childhood–remember that a chef’s ultimate weapon is nostalgia.

Having said that, this month the Morrell Wine Bar and Chef Juan Carlos have treated us with their entry to the world of everything pumpkin, and it’s through one of the most enjoyable methods possible, a savory Gnocchi dish.

If you’ve never had Gnocchi, or don’t know what it is, Gnocchi is essentially a dumpling that’s par-cooked and then sauteed, often like a dry pasta dish. Their origin is Northern Italy, where the cooler climate means that potatoes are available year-round. It’s believed that the use of potatoes is predated by squash in Gnocchi, which is how our dish is prepared in this month’s recipe. The best part about Gnocchi is that they’re incredibly versatile and can be combined with almost any other ingredient to form unique dish after unique dish. Mushrooms, bacon, fresh herbs, butter–or dress them with red sauce and parmesan–there are no boundaries.

In the end, it’s a great preparation to have in your culinary arsenal. However, most people are intimidated by them, fearing that the process of making Gnocchi would be too complicated or laborious. In my opinion, it’s anything but that, and chef Juan Carlos has spelled it out for us in this month’s recipe.

I say it’s not too late for Pumpkin, and I can think of no better way to enjoy the last few weeks of Autumn.

Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi

Fall is not over yet, and what a better way to celebrate it than with a seasonal dish made of pumpkin. These little pillows made out of pumpkin, ricotta cheese, flour, and eggs, are sure to put a smile on your face, and they’re much easier to make than you’d think. The trick is to make them as light as possible, and the ricotta cheese will help to keep them fluffy and tasty.” — Chef Juan Carlos Mendoza

The Ingredients
Serves 4 — (Also try serving family-style and adjusting your ingredients by the size of the group.)

For the Gnocchi

1 cup of puréed cooked pumpkin or winter squash (save some puree for plating)
¾ inch cubes (four for each serving) of Pumpkin or Squash (Optional)
1 cup ricotta (use whole milk for best results)
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 cup parmesan or pecorino cheese
3-4 cups all-purpose flour

Into the Pan and for Plating

1 cup washed and dried minced green kale
1/4 cup unsalted butter
1 Teaspoon light brown sugar
1 Pinch cinnamon powder
1 Pinch fresh grated Nutmeg
Black pepper for seasoning
Deep-fried sage for garnish
Toasted Pumpkin seeds for garnish

The Method

Making the Pumpkin Puree (and optional pumpkin cubes)

1. Preheat your oven to 350°F.

2. To make your own pumpkin purée, use a strong chef’s knife to cut your pumpkin or winter squash in half. Scoop out the seeds and strings.

3. If making the pumpkin cubes, cut 16 pieces from your pumpkin, toss in olive oil and cinnamon, and place on a foil lined sheet pan. These can be cooked with the pumpkin, but only for 20 minutes, or until fork-tender and then allowed to cool.

4. Lay the pumpkin face down on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake at 350°F for 45 minutes to an hour until soft.

5. Allow to cool, then scoop out the flesh and mash with a fork. (Alternatively, if you are working with leftover fresh pumpkin pieces, roast or boil them until tender, and then cut away and discard the skin.)

Making the Gnocchi

1. Mix the pumpkin puree, ricotta, parmesan, eggs and salt together in a large bowl.

2 Add cups of the flour and mix well with your hands. The dough should be very sticky, impossible to work. Add another half cup of flour and mix that in — you want the dough to still be pretty sticky but pliable enough to shape into a large log. If it’s not, keep adding a little flour at a time until you can get a soft dough that will be rollable. It should never require more than 4 cups of flour. Cover the dough with a damp towel.

2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil, then add enough salt to it so that the water tastes salty. Let this simmer while you make the gnocchi.

3. To make the gnocchi, spread flour on a large work surface and have more flour ready. Cut the dough log into four equal pieces. Take one piece and cut it in half. Roll the piece of dough into a snake about 1/2 inch thick, then cut it into pieces about the thickness of a fork.

4. Dust the gnocchi with flour.

5. Gently pick up a few gnocchi at a time and drop them into the water. Increase the heat to a rolling boil. Boil the gnocchi until they float, then remove them with a slotted spoon or spider skimmer. Lay the cooked gnocchi on a baking sheet and toss with a little olive oil so they don’t stick together.

6. Now go back to the next big chunk of dough and repeat the process. It’s important to boil gnocchi in small batches so they don’t stick to each other.

Into the Pan

1. When all the gnocchi are made, heat the butter over medium-high heat until it starts getting a golden brown color, add brown sugar mix, then add enough gnocchi to the pan to cover it in one layer. Do not let them stack up on each other.

2. Toss to assure that the Gnocchi brown on both sides, and toss in a chiffonade of sage and four pieces of cubed roasted pumpkin, then let them fry undisturbed for another 60 seconds.

3. Sprinkle the minced green kale over the pan and toss. Cook for another minute.

The Plating

1. Reheat the remaining pumpkin puree, and spoon it in an even layer on your plate.

2. Next, add the gnocchi from your pan.

3. Sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds and grate a fine layer of pecorino cheese over the plate.

4. Lastly, garnish the dish with a fried sage leaf.

The Pairings

Anna-Christina Cabrales

Pairing: Kutch Pinot Noir McDougall Ranch Russian River 2014 M

Why it works: With the Kutch McDougall Ranch, there is a great sense of power in the wine, with a great deal of body and structure. The red-toned fruit notes play nicely off of the gentle, natural sweetness of the gnocchi, and the touch of green from the whole-cluster pressing ties nicely to the green of the kale and fried sage.

My thoughts: Anna really hits the nail on the head with the whole-clusters accentuating the Kale here, but there’s also something very autumnal about this wine, which plays perfectly against the pumpkin and spices. At first it was difficult to wrap my head around a California Pinot pairing with the delicate flavors of Gnocchi, but the combination of cool-climate sources and a gentle touch in the winery make the Kutch an ideal choice. It’s a perfect pairing.

Christian Fentress

Pairing: Camille Giroud Bourgogne 2015

Why it works: The Camille Giroud evokes the ‘perfect’ fall/Thanksgiving meal, matching the warming earth tones of the roasted pumpkin and the savory aspects of the cheese and sage to the bright, lively notes of cherry, red currant and spice, and the undertones of earth and spice that are found in the wine.

My thoughts: While this dish features pumpkin and the spices usually associated with it, it’s important to keep in mind that what it speaks to first is savory squash and earthy herbal tones. The richness of the pumpkin puree also creates a great canvas to add the flavors of that come with red Burgundy–and that’s exactly what makes this pairing for me. What’s more, the forward style of the 2015 vintage means that the Camille Giroud Bourgogne is already displaying a great presence of fruit, which is accentuated by the autumnal spices in the preparation. Bravo.

To Sum it all up

I can’t stress enough my feelings that this is a dish that should be tried in your home. Remember, this is Italian peasant food, simply recreated in a New York City restaurant, so don’t overthink it. The steps of the preparation may seem a bit intimidating to a beginner, but it’s worth trying, because once you master one Gnocchi dish–you’ve mastered them all.

Don’t forget that you can stop into the Morrell Wine Bar and Cafe at any time in the next four weeks to try the Pumpkin Ricotta Gnocchi for yourself, along with our suggested pairings. It’s a great way to compare your efforts to our own. And don’t forget to say hello to Christian and Anna-Christina when you do.

Until next time, keep cooking and tasting.

Eric Guido

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