Let me cut to the chase here: fall and I have what you might call, erm, a complicated relationship. When it comes to the seasons, my allegiance lies firmly with summer, the time of the year where my freckles make their annual appearance, my wardrobe consists solely of sundresses, and my days are spent at the beach. As you may imagine then, I very much resent the halt to longer days, sunshine, and gelato weather marked by the September 21st, and I find myself at odds with my friends who are self-proclaimed Fall People. You know the ones I’m talking about – the people who welcome the chilly weather and celebrate things like scarves, boots, jackets and changing leaves, the ones who are (the nerve!) happy to see summer’s back.
Having said this — it’s always good to look on the bright side in these sorts of situations, yes?! The silver lining, the upside, the break in the clouds? While fall may mean that my favorite time of year is over, it also means the opportunity to prepare Italian fall recipes with the season’s finest. Pumpkin, mushrooms, apples, pears, grapes, and chestnuts are just a few ingredients that go on to star in dishes that manage to soften autumn’s edges and usher me (begrudgingly) into the next season through the comfort of my kitchen.
Though I have a special place for all of the Italian fall recipes that I’ve added to my repertoire over the years (six years of blogging will do that to you), there are a few that stand out in my mind just a tiny bit more, ones that deserve some extra recognition. These pumpkin gnocchi, artichoke lasagna, and Tuscan grape flatbread are examples of just that, all dishes that make me (momentarily!) grateful for autumn. Bottom line: whether you welcome the arrival of fall or lament the end of summer, I sort of think these are dishes that we can all agree on.
Schiacciata con l’Uva
Tuscan Flatbread with Grapes
Schiacciata con l’uva is one of my favorite Italian recipes to make each fall. This Tuscan sweet bread made with grapes, and the name comes from the verb schiacciare, which means squashed or pressed, referring to the fact that the bread is fairly flat. It is traditionally eaten for breakfast or as a snack in September and early October during la vendemmia, the time of the year when wine grapes are harvested. This recipe comes from my friend Carla Tomasi and makes a schiacciata that is light and fluffy with sugar, fragrant with cinnamon, and thick with juicy, slightly caramelized grapes. The grapes should deliver a telltale crunch from their seeds (connoisseurs claim that this crunch is the best part of the whole experience). Full discretion: this schiacciata even caused the phenomena I’d grown to associate with fudge brownies, or rather – the tendency to repeatedly creep back to the kitchen “just to even out the corner,” because, well, symmetry.
Ingredients for the dough:
- A little over 3 cups (400 grams or 14 ounces) strong white flour (00 flour in Italy, bread flour in the U.S)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons dried yeast
- 1 cup (250ml) warm water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 5 tablespoons olive oil
Ingredients for the topping:
- 5 tablespoons sugar
- 2 large bunches of grapes, preferably wine grapes (see notes)
- A good sprinkling of cinnamon
- A drizzle of olive oil
Dissolve the yeast in lukewarm water. Combine the flour, sugar, salt, and olive oil in a bowl pour the yeast mixture in. Stir to combine until a dough forms.
On a clean, lightly floured workplace, knead the dough for about five minutes, or until the dough is shiny and smooth. Form the dough in to a ball and place it in a greased bowl. Using your hand smear a film of olive oil on the top, to keep the dough from drying out. Cover with a tea towel and leave to proof in a warm place for about 2 hours or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius). Grease the bottom of a rectangular pan.
Roll out the dough into a rectangle big enough to fit snugly in to the pan and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of sugar. Top with enough grapes to cover the surface completely, and press each grape down in to the dough and if you're me, give it a little squish.
Sprinkle over the cinnamon and a drizzle of olive oil, plus another two tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and the grapes have almost caramelized. Let cool slightly and then enjoy.
Gnocchi di Zucca
These pumpkin gnocchi are feather-light – a float-off-your-fork kind of deal – just barely sweet and tinged with nutmeg, blissful when paired with melted butter (what isn’t) and the herb equivalent of a-hug-on-a-bad-day sage. With a shower of Parmesan and a sprinkle of toasted walnuts for a little crunch, there are few things more satisfying. BONUS: Thanksgiving may not be celebrated in Italy, but if you, like me, tend to do something every year anyways, these gnocchi are the perfect Thanksgiving-in-Rome sort of dish, a little nod to my adopted country of Italy and still not so out of place next to the usual stuffing and Turkey. Win win!
- 1 pound (500 grams) Delicata squash
- 12 ounces (350 grams, to be more precise) red-skinned potatoes, scrubbed clean
- 1 1/4 cups (150 grams, to be more precise) 00 flour
- 2 tablespoons potato flakes
- 3/4 teaspoon (3 grams) salt
- Freshly grated nutmeg
- Butter, sage, parmesan, and walnuts for serving
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees celsius) and then get to preparing your potatoes. Bring a pot of water (salted) to a boil and cook your potatoes for 30-40 minutes, roughly - this will vary based on the size of the potatoes, but they should be ready when they are easily pierced with a fork but not so soft that they are falling apart (remember: the less water they absorb, the better!) . Note that if you prefer, you can also cook the potatoes in the oven.
2. While the potatoes cook, prepare your squash. Cut the squash in half and clean out the seeds and stringy inside; cut in to slices and remove the skin on the outside too. Using a kitchen scale, measure out 350 grams (12 ounces) of squash. Line a baking sheet with kitchen paper, and bake the slices of squash in your preheated oven for 20-25 minutes, or until softened and slightly dried out -- the squash should be losing excess water here, which is what we want! Once cooked, remove from the oven and leave to cool slightly.
3. At this point, the potatoes will be cooked. Drain them and set them aside to cook slightly. Next sift, your flour on to a clean work surface (I used my pasta board) and create the classic "volcano" shape. Next, once the potatoes are cool enough, peel them and mash them with salt, pepper, and a bit of nutmeg.
Next, mash the pumpkin (or pass through a potato ricer). Place the potato and pumpkin into the "well" part of the volcano, and working quickly with a bench scraper to help you, incorporate them in to the flour, mixing them and cutting them in as you go.
4. Once your ingredients are well mixed, give them a knead or two to bring everything together - the minimum amount of work possible here! - and sprinkle over the potato flakes. Work everything together briefly to incorporate them, then bring your gnocchi dough together and give it a round shape. Cover it with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest for about 10 minutes.
5. Once the 10 minutes are up, sprinkle your work surface lightly with flour. Cut a piece of dough - keeping the rest of the dough covered - and roll it out into a rope. Using your bench scraper, cut the rope into uniform pieces to form your gnocchi, placing them on a floured baking sheet as you go. Feel free to use a gnocchi board if you have one.
6. Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water, until you see them start to float to the top - that's when they're done! Drain and toss with melted butter, sage, a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese, and a handful of chopped walnuts, if you're feeling fancy. Serve immediately.
Lasagne ai Carciofi
Artichokes thrive in cold weather and are available starting around November and through to April (hurray!). They play an important role in Roman cuisine, whether fried whole until crispy and deeply golden as carciofi alla giudia, tossed with fava beans and peas to make vignarola or braised with herbs and garlic alla romana. I personally like them best in this comforting lasagna, braised and steamed slowly in lots of olive oil with a little parsley and garlic, tucked in between delicate sheets of pasta and layered with velvet-y béchamel, gooey rich taleggio and salty sharp Parmesan. Swoon.
- 15 lasagne sheets, whatever brand you like
- 8 carciofi romaneschi (the purple-violet ones)
- Olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic
- A generous handful of parsley
- Salt and pepper
- 1 cup (240mL) water or white wine
- A little less than a pound (400 grams) taleggio cheese, rind removed, cut in small pieces
- 3 ounces (84 grams) of freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Ingredients for the bechamel:
- 3 tablespoons (32 grams) of butter
- 3 tablespoons (24 grams) of flour
- 3 cups (750 mL) whole milk
- A pinch of salt
1. Start with your artichokes!
Using a sharp knife, trim away fibrous outer layer of the stem (I use a vegetable peeler for this) and feel free to trim any longer stems; you can cook the stems with the artichokes (they're delicious). Next, work your way around the artichoke and remove the tough outer leaves to expose the tender inner leaves. Cut off the spiky ends of the artichoke globe, then use a sharp knife to cut off the bits of artichoke base remaining from where you removed the tough leaves. Detach the trimmed stem and chop it in small pieces (lengthwise), then cut the trimmed globes into 8 wedges, removing away any hairy choke. Immediately, drop the wedges and stems of artichoke into the bowl of lemon-y water. Note: the artichokes here are all going to be hidden in between layers of pasta, cheese, and bechamel, so they don't have to be perfect!
2. Warm the olive oil in a large skillet. Add the garlic cloves and let cook over medium-low heat until fragrant, then add the artichokes (don’t forget the stems!) and stir. Add the water (or wine if you prefer) and a little salt, stir again, and then cover the skillet (if you have an electric stove and a pan without a lid like I did, aluminum foil works well for this). Allow the artichokes to cook for about 15 or so minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, and then stir in the parsley. Let the artichokes cook for another 5 minutes, or until tender. Taste and adjust seasonings, if necessary.
Prepare lasagna noodles according to the package, removing them from the water with a slotted spoon to drain off the excess water, and place the pasta on the aforementioned tea towel to dry. Repeat with the rest of your pasta.
3. On to the bechamel!
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat and whisk the flour. Let the flour and butter cook for a minute or so, then whisk in the milk and bring it to a bubble. Add the salt and let the milk mixture cook a few minutes more, or until the béchamel is thick and dense and easily coats the back of a wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper (if you have fresh nutmeg on hand, now is the time to add a few grates into your bechamel).
4. Time to assemble!
Adjust oven rack to middle position; heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread a little of the bechamel over the bottom of the baking dish. Place 3 pasta sheets in a single layer on top of sauce, positioning them to fit the pan. Ladle some more bechamel over the pasta, scatter 1/3 of the artichokes over, scatter over the pieces of taleggio, and then sprinkle with some Parmesan. Repeat this layering of the pasta, bechamel, artichokes, and cheeses 3 more times. Place final 3 pasta sheets on top of the lasagna, and cover completely with remaining béchamel, artichokes, and Parmesan.
5. Ready for the oven!
Cover the lasagne with aluminum foil and bake until bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and continue to bake the lasagna until the parmesan and béchamel have browned, about 10-15 minutes. Let the lasagna cool and settle before serving.