I am just back from Italy, closing out our season with a private cycling tour. After our guests leave, I usually spend a few days exploring and researching destinations for future tours. Next season we are hosting a private group on a cycling tour that will follow the Sudtirol Wine Road from lovely Bressanone down to Lake Garda. Spending some time in this area means feasting on the typical foods of the mountains, and visiting MANY wonderful wineries lie along this lovely wine trail.
One winery I visited had a couple of local cookbooks for sale. I pick up these whenever I can; I continue to discover more about the cuisine of the region, learning both from the traditional recipes as well as more modern versions that the region’s top chefs are introducing. It also gives me the opportunity to practice my Italian a bit, as these are rarely offered in English. Here is my first post from one of these little finds: “Una Montagna di Sapori – Ricette Semplici e Raffinate dell’Alto Adge” – “A Mountain of Flavors – Simple and Refined Recipes from Alto Adige”.
This recipe combined several ingredients I can find now in my nearby farmer’s market. Fresh ricotta, as well as quark. This recipe is the first I’ve seen from Italy that calls for quark, which is different from Italian ricotta (ricotta meaning “recooked” in Italian) as quark is made from sour milk, while ricotta is made from whey. The quark I used was similar in texture to a ricotta, but distinctly more sour and salty. If you don’t find quark, substitute more ricotta. Quark is found more commonly in German speaking countries to the north, so it’s presence here is another demonstration of the influence these northern neighbors play on the cuisine here.
The pumpkin puree is a delightful seasonal sauce for this dish; during our private bike tour we cycled through a wonderful farm where the farmer waved us over to show us his pumpkin harvest – so many types and colors! In the fall, squash and pumpkins appear in a myriad of dishes in Italy, from soups to sformato (savory custard) to stuffed cappellacci pastas to pumpkin breads. The puree here would also be a nice accompaniment to pork.
As for presentation, my disappointment with my dish was not the flavor, but the monochromatic hues. Next time, I’ll find a pumpkin or squash with a much more vibrant orange color, so the puree really stands out.
Gnocchi alla Ricotta Su Pure di Zucca – Ricotta Gnocchi on Pumpkin Puree
1/2 small onion, minced
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
12 ounces ricotta
2 ounces quark
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, grated nutmeg
2/3 cup soft white bread crumbs
4 egg yolks
1/3 cup flour, plus extra for dusting
12 ounces pumpkin, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup milk
Sprig of oregano or marjoram
1/2 cup whipped cream
1/4 cup grated parmigiano
3 tablespoons butter, melted
Beef demi glace or gravy (optional)
For the gnocchi, place 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a medium saute pan and heat over medium high heat. Add the minced onion and cook until soft and just beginning to brown. Remove from heat.
Transfer to a medium size bowl, and combine together with the ricotta, quark, and bread crumbs. Quickly stir in the egg yolks and flour. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Place a light layer of flour on a sheet pan. Dust your hands with a bit of flour. Using a spoon, scoop up about 1 tablespoon or so of the ricotta mixture, and place the spoonful in the palm of your hand. Using your hands, turn the ricotta ball until it is coated with a dusting of flour, then lightly shape it into an oblong dumpling. Don’t worry too much about getting a perfect shape – lumps and bumps are just fine. Place the gnocchi on the sheet pan.
If you are doing this recipe for the first time, or are using a ricotta cheese you haven’t used before, at this point I would recommend you test your first gnocchi to make sure it holds together. You don’t want to shape 80 gnocchi to find out they fall apart when you cook them! Poach the first in a small pot of simmering, not rapidly boiling water; if it holds together, you are good to go. If it blows apart, add a touch more flour.
Continue forming the gnocchi with the remainging ricotta mixture. Let the gnocchi rest in the fridge for 25 minutes.
While the gnocchi is resting, place the remaining olive oil in the saute pan, place again over medium high heat, and brown the pumpkin. Season with salt and pepper, then pour in the milk and add the sprig of oregano, cover and simmer until the pumpkin is tender.
Pull out some of the pumpkin and dice further into small cubes for the final garnish – you want about 2-3 tablespoons for this. Puree the rest of the pumpkin, stir in the whipping cream and keep warm.
Bring a large pot of water to boil over high heat. When boiling, add a liberal amount of salt. Turn down to a simmer.
Remove the sheet pan from the refrigerator. Transfer about a quarter of the gnocchi to the boiling water, making sure not to overfill the pot. You will most likely need to cook them in batches. They will sink to the bottom initially, but as they cook will rise to float at the top. Scoop them up as they float, and transfer to the sauté pan with the sauce.
Spread the pure pumpkin on the plates, place the gnocchi on top of the puree and sprinkle with the small cubes of pumpkin. Sprinkle everything with the grated parmigiano cheese and drizzle with melted butter. Garnish with the beef demi glace or gravy.