Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Beet Gnocchi with Roasted Fingerlings, Spigariello with Bacon, and Sage Butter Sauce

Spigariello. The name caught my attention immediately. I said it in my head, spigariello, then whispered it, and finally said it aloud, trying to conjure up my Italian roots. “Spigariello?” I have never heard of it before. But there it was, the curled edges of the blue-green leaves resting tantalizingly juxtaposed against a beautiful, pastel-orange head of cauliflower. The neighboring onions, carrots and peppers, though gleaming and well endowed, never stood a chance.

I had been walking around the Dane County Farmer’s Market, quite leisurely, surveying pastries for a future blog post. It was only 7 a.m. (the latest you want to arrive at this market if you are seriously shopping. By 9 a.m. it is packed with people, strollers and wagons plodding slowly in a counter-clockwise direction, making it nearly impossible to browse the selections), and the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon rolls and flaky pain au chocolate was hard to pass up. I was very focused on the job at hand – hey, someone has to do the hard work! To be honest, the vegetables just weren’t catching my attention - until I caught sight of the spigariello, that is. I just couldn’t walk away. It was as if someone had whispered the most romantic word in my ear. There it was, bold ruffles, draped seductively across a robust cauliflower. How could I leave it there, untended?

I imagined myself at home, drizzling a little olive oil in a hot, cast iron skillet, ready to sauté the spigariello leaves. My husband asks, “What’s for dinner?” and I say, “Spigariello, honey.” My thoughts leap to Sophia Loren, who supposedly attributed her great figure to pasta. I’m sure she has spigariello in her day, too. Pasta and spigariello? If it worked for her, it could work for me, too!

The farm-stand guy is holding out a plastic bag for me, and seems less enamored with the leafy vegetable and its potential for romantic enlivenment than I am. In fact, he seems impatient to move on to the other customers. “Sauté it with a little salt and garlic,” he says, as he practically shoves the bag in my hand. I snap out of my cooking-à-la-Sophia Loren fantasy, and join the morning shoppers again. I love greens with garlic, but think these are deserving of something more. I embrace the bunch of greens with my hand, and then load them in my shopping bag. In my smitten state of mind, I impulsively grab a chiogga beet, pay up and move on.

Although I am admittedly mystified and sidetracked by my new find, I am somehow able to refocus on my search for great pastries. I’m sure Sophia Loren ate those, too. A woman’s goodness cannot come from pasta alone! As I continue to walk around the market stalls, I am planning and plotting about how to cook this heirloom Italian vegetable. Pastries are easy. Bite, dunk in coffee, another bite, sip coffee, brush crumbs off shirt. But what is worthy of being cooked with seductive spigariello? Baby fingerlings call out to me, their asymmetrical orientation an odd compliment to the audacious bunch of greens. Farm-fresh bacon? I buy a package and head home wondering how I will piece this together. A cup of coffee and pumpkin scone later, I have the answer. Rosebud pink gnocchi, and a simple herb butter sauce will amply, yet demurely, support greens cooked with garlic, bacon and pepper. I think even Sophia Loren would approve.

Beet Gnocchi with Roasted Fingerlings, Spigariello, Bacon and Sage Butter Sauce
(feel free to enjoy any portion of this meal on its own!)

Beet Gnocchi
These are simply beautiful and easy to make. They are just time consuming to roll and cut. Well worth it!

(from Bon Appetit October 2006)

3 small beets, trimmed
1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
1 large egg
3/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
salt and pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour, divided

1. Preheat oven to 450˚. Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour. (Cook potatoes at same time! See below)
2. Cool 15 minutes and slip skins off
3. Grate coarsely. Place 3/4 cup of beets in large bowl
4. Stir in ricotta, egg, 3/4 cup parmesan cheese, salt and pepper to taste
5. Add 1 cup flour
6. You can make it ahead up to this point and refrigerate
7. Lightly dust baking sheet with flour. Place remaining 1/2 cup flour in small bowl
8. Measure out tbsp-sized scoops of dough and coat with flour
9. Roll with a gnocchi board or a fork to get the traditional indentations, or roll into a 1 1/2 inch log and gently press the center with your fingertip to make slight indentations
10. Transfer gnocchi to prepared baking sheet
11. Can be prepared to this point up to 6 hours ahead. Cover and chill
12. Put a large, well-salted pot of water on to boil. Cook gnocchi until they float to the surface, about 2 minutes
13. Cook about another minute, then remove with a slotted spoon.
14. Transfer to skillet with Sage Butter Sauce.
15.Serve immediately, sprinkled with additional Parmesan cheese.

Sage Butter Sauce

Slightly less than 1/4 cup each unsalted and salted butter
1 tsp dried sage, or 2 tsp fresh chopped sage, or to taste
11/4 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

1. Brown butter over very low heat. Keep an eye on it as it browns quickly!
2. Add in sage leaves, and walnuts and turn off heat. Keep warm if it cools quickly.

Roasted Fingerlings
6-10 Fingerling potatoes
coarse sea salt
olive oil

1. Toss fingerlings in olive oil and salt.
2. Wrap in foil.
3. Roast at same time as beets, turning once as they cook.

Spigariello with Bacon and Pepper

4 strips bacon (I prefer uncured)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 bunch spigariello leaves, or other slightly bitter greens, like kale or brocolli rabe, washed and thick stems removed. Chop greens if you like.
2 cloves garlic
hot pepper flakes or crushed to taste (I used just a pinch)
salt to taste

1. Heat skillet medium high and cook bacon until brown and crispy.
2. Remove bacon and drain on paper towel.
3. Remove most of bacon fat, leaving a tsp or decent coating in bottom of skillet.
4. Add a touch of olive oil to pan and turn down heat to medium.
5. Add washed greens and salt, covering to let steam cook them.
6. After they have wilted add in garlic and sauté another 2 minutes or so. Add in chile pepper to taste.
7. Serve with crumbled bacon.

Heap plate full of greens, gnocchi and potatoes. Enjoy!

1 comment:

Carolyn Jung said...

Wow, fuschia-colored gnocchi is definitely an eye-opener. What a beautiful color. And what an inventive recipe.