By Nancy Caivano
My absolute favorite time of year is upon us again—lovely, crisp, cool autumn. Every city, every area has its peak times, and autumn in New York is the absolute best time to be here. The humidity of the summer is finally gone, the leaves are starting to turn their beautiful colors and the light foods of the summer give way to the hearty, warming foods of fall.
For this edition, I focus on what I call the "unsung heroes" of produce: root vegetables. These are vegetables that we have all the time and take for granted—carrots, parsnips, onions, celeriac, beets, turnips, and of course, the dizzying array of potatoes, plus their vitamin C packed cousins sweet potatoes and yams. These staples have long tasted like autumn to me. Sure, you have potato salad or maybe vichysoisse in the summer, pickled beets or maybe a carrot and raisin salad too; but when I think of roasted potatoes, or brown sugared carrots or mashed turnips, I definitely think of fall.
Now, this being a pasta and risotto column, you might be thinking "Potatoes and Pasta or Potatoes and Rice?" Well, don't think I've lost my mind yet! For the pastas, I am using the best thing that ever happened to a potato (or a parsnip): gnocchi these tender dumplings are one of the world's best comfort foods. As for the risotti, there are many root vegetables that fit in beautifully, whether in their solid form or as a purée.
So for this month's pasta recipes, I present two terrific gnocchi recipes. One is the traditional potato kind, and one is a fabulous, light, baked recipe that uses parsnips instead of potatoes. The first recipe, Potato Gnocchi with Veal Mushroom Sauce is not only traditional, but absolutely delicious as well. The actual gnocchi recipe is very simple and strait forward, using minimal ingredients. The topping is more involved, a savory combination of ground veal, rosemary, tomatoes, red wine and aromatics that make a sublime sauce. The sauce can be made ahead and frozen, and any leftovers are wonderful over pasta. Our other gnocchi, Baked Parsnip Gnocchi, is a very different kind of gnocchi from the traditional potato variety. The dough for this gnocchi is very soft, and it is piped out onto baking sheets with a pastry bag, then baked until crispy and brown. They are a lovely change of pace from more conventional side dishes, or make a perfect starter course all on their own.
For our risotti, we again have two different kinds of recipes. The first, Risotto with Sweet Potato and Pancetta uses roasted sweet potato purée and the terrific, smoky flavor of the pancetta. It has a beautiful orange color, speckled with the darker pancetta that would make it perfect if you were having a Halloween dinner party. Both of the risotti can be a first course, hearty side dish or entree. The other risotto, Risotto with Caramelized Onions and Mushrooms has a sweet and savory flavor that comes from the caramelizing of the onions and the earthy flavor of the mushrooms. The vegetables permeate this dish with the sweet, mellow flavor they get from the deep browning, making it a dish you can't seem to get enough of.
Don't worry—I didn't forget about dessert! This being Halloween month, I thought I would give you a decadent dessert to reward yourself with after traipsing all over the neighborhood with your trick-or-treaters. Or maybe you're having a Halloween party and need a terrific make-ahead dessert. Either way, this one fits the bill. Chocolate-Orange Cheesecake with Orange Glaze is full of luscious, creamy flavors. The rich dark chocolate combines with a triple shot of orange—zest, juice and Grand Marnier—to form a smooth, divine cake, that is then topped with a sweet orange glaze made with marmalade and more Grand Marnier. The dessert can be made ahead of time, since the cheesecake tastes best on the cold side, right from the fridge.
Enjoy the cool weather, Happy Halloween, and I will see you again in November when we'll talk turkey!
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