Thursday, February 23, 2012

Beet Gnocchi

This fabulous print from 1907 is available from Studiobotanika

Beets are a member of the Amaranthaceae family that includes chard, spinach beet and sugar beet (and here I thought they were related to turnips). They have been cultivated since the 2nd millennium BC, beginning in the Mediterranean and moved through Babylonia, reaching China by 850AD.

I read that 4 charred beetroots were found in ruins in a Neolithic site in the Netherlands (they were smaller than our modern cultivated variety). The earliest mention of beets is in 8th century BC Mesopotamia.

I have one absolutely favorite beet dish: beet gnocchi.

Gnocchi have an ancient history as well. The theory is that gnocchi originated in the Middle East and were brought to Europe by the Romans where they were made with a “porridge-like” egg dough according to Wikipedia. The potato addition is fairly recent since it didn’t happen till potatoes were brought from the New World in the 16th century. Gnocchi exist in Italy, France, Sardinia and Croatia in various forms. The word may come from nocchio (knot) or nocca (knuckle).

Until a few years ago, I wouldn’t ever have made it. Why? My first attempt at gnocchi was so abysmal that I didn't try it again for 20-odd years. Yes, they were that bad. My great friend Pierre teased me about that gnocchi for years. Being a well-brought up Brit, when he said it he said the word “Gnocchi” it would often sound like Edith Evans pronouncing “A Haaaaandbaaaaag?” in Importance of Being Ernest”. I called them “gnucky”. They were horrid death-balls –so tough as to be inedible, tasting of glue. No sauce could have saved these dough-demons.

As years have gone by, I’ve had wonderful Italian cooks generously show me the ways of gnocchi. I realized the error of my ways had a lot to do with working the dough too much… gnocchi doesn’t like to be manhandled. No matter how many times great and kind teachers tried to push me back to the gnocchi table…. I would not go. I felt like a horse that shied at a jump and would not take it.

Then, one day I found this recipe (I think it was Food & Wine but I am not certain... it’s written in my black book). It seemed to address my biggest issue about making gnocchi. The recipe was mostly ricotta and not too much flour. There was no way they could be death-balls. When I made them, they were polar opposite of a death-ball… they were fluffy pink clouds of flavor. Since taking the plunge successfully, I have made many gnocchi from many different ingredients and they have been delicious, but this is still my favorite. Over time I have added things… the last being the hint of rose which makes them so sexy if a dough cloud can be sexy –– something about that pink just asked for rose. It is marvelous with beets. You can’t beat the color, can you –– so pink!

Beet Gnocchi serves 6

1 med-large beet or 3 small beets (around ¾ c grated) **
1 lb ricotta (drained for a day- this you MUST do)
1 egg
1 -2 drops Aftellier Rose Essence or 1-2 t rosewater (optional)* if you are worried people may not like it, add the rose to some of the butter sauce and leave the rest plain.
1 c Parmesan cheese
2/3 c flour (plus extra for dusting)
pinch of salt (the parmesan is salty)
grating of nutmeg
½ t ground pepper
8 T butter (you may want more if you like butter)
10 sage leaves
1t poppy seeds
extra Parmesan for grating while serving

Wrap the beets in foil. Bake beets at 425º 45 minutes to an hour until tender, peel and grate.

Beat the egg, add ricotta, rose, nutmeg and Parmesan and stir well, add the beets and mix thoroughly then sprinkle the flour (and salt and pepper) and mix gently… do not over-handle or the dough will be heavy… you want pink clouds. Ideally, refrigerate for 2 hours (I have made them immediately after –– although harder to work with, they turn out splendidly). You can boil up a sample at this point and check for seasonings.

Flour your work surface liberally. Roll out handfuls into cigar-width lengths, about 12” long

Cut the dough into 1” pieces. Take each one, flatten it slightly over the tip of your finger and roll a fork over it to give it grooves (this helps it hold butter sauce better ––the Italians have a cool grooved board that is used for this). Then gently roll it into a cylinder shape –– this will make it slightly hollow so it is lighter… no death-balls this way! Some people roll the dough around a tube, roll on the grooved board and then cut them and roll them, to give the hollow.  Others just cut them and use them as is.  Don't make them too big if you do it this way as they won't cook properly. You can refrigerate these placed on a well-floured sheet, covered, or use them immediately… or freeze them.

Boil in batches in water. After they rise to the surface, let boil a minute or 2 longer (best to try a sample and see what you like for texture) at a low boil and remove to a warm platter and cover. If you cook them too long they will dissolve.

Warm the butter and fry the sage leaves in it (I like my butter browned a bit). Add the gnocchi and warm them. Serve with additional Parmesan for sprinkling on the top with the poppy seeds.

** I am often asked if I want my beet tops cut off and tossed. This is a crime. They are delicious and nutritious and like getting two vegetables for one…. Sometimes even 3 vegetables since some people do the stems and leaves separately. You can serve the tops alongside the gnocchi if you wish or with a salad ( I like arugula with it).

Here's a quick treat for beet stems (you can add some of the leaves too).  Saute them in butter till softened, spoon a little harissa on them and wrap them in bacon, microwave wrapped in paper toweling (from 1 1/2 min. for 1 piece upwards... depends on how many you do at once) and you have a delicious treat.  This one was 3 small pieces wrapped in 1/2 piece of bacon. You can add a shmear of goat cheese or feta to the inside if you would like.

PS.  I am off to do a movie so will miss a few posts and won't be able to visit blogs as much as I would like. 


Anonymous said...

Great to learn more history of both beets and gnocchi! The beet gnochhi have an absolutely stunning color! Excellent!

Tasty Trix said...

Death balls! Demon dough! So funny - but yes that is an accurate description of tough gnocchi. I love to make (and eat) gnocchi and haven't yet tried making a beet version. They are so pretty!!

Lora said...

These are just gorgeous. I love the rosewater addition.

Evelyne CulturEatz said...

I adore your gnochi. I came so close to making them as well for this challenge but they would for sure not have turned out as lovely as yours, and sexy!

Diane said...

Now I wonder if I could convince Nigel that he really does like ricotto cheese if cooked with beetroot :) I often add my young beet leaves to salads. Diane

Erika Beth, the Messy Chef said...

Lovely! I totally understand that "didn't attempt again for x amount of years" due to failure thing. I'm scared to revisit some things as well.

T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types said...

This is a beautiful thing! I've never ever seen or tasted beet gnocchi before - I LOVE beets and the combination has me all starry-eyed right now!

La Table De Nana said...

Lovely~ I recently attempted Beet Ravioli..
Martha..what a mess:( Lots of red everywhere..but no edible pasta..

Glad yours was a success.

andrew1860 said...

Interesting post. For the last three months I have been craving beets like a mad man. I probably eat a jar of beets every night for a month.

Linda said...

Omg..i love beets...i love gnocchi...
I think i have a bowl in the same pattern as your plates...i bought two at the Marin flea market in 1980....
I love them! And your plates.!xoxoxoxoxoxo

Sippity Sup said...

So gorgeous. I pinned it under "My talented friends" I hope that wasn't presumptuous! GREG

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Your beet gnocchi are so beautiful! Apparently 10 years ago people here loathed beets and farmers couldn't sell them. Things have definitely changed now though! :) And great tip about the stems too!

Barbara said...

To begin with, really, is anything better than a roasted beet? I remember introducing my daughter to these and she ate the entire batch.

I've never made gnocchi. I did make gnudi once and thought it was lovely. (Makes me so angry check my old posts and find the photos missing. My fault entirely, and I have all those photos on a disk but can't face the task of reloading all of them.)

This is a super "Make-Over" contribution, Deana. Beautifully made and perfectly presented. Your dishes are always so elegant. I am envious. The soft pink of your divine gnocchi is picked up by the flowers. Simply lovely. A big part of eating is in the eyes, isn't it? But I know anything you make will also have flavors to make your eyes close in pleasure.

Keep us posted on your movie. Sounds exciting.

Frank said...

Beets are actually the one food I don't really care for, but I bet I'd actually like these. And they're so very pretty, too.

FOODalogue said...

Isn't it amazing how beets can transform the look of so many dishes? Love the gnocchi.

Faith said...

You have a real knack for not only making incredibly delicious food, but also for plating it in such a way that it takes my breath away each time. The food looks inviting, the dishes that you plated it on are perfect, and the light has an ethereal quality. Really, another masterpiece.

Priscilla said...

I love that your little black book contains recipes :) Gnocchi or spaetzle crossed my mind but since I had no experience making them, thought better of it. With your tips and this recipe, I definitely want to try my hand at them. They're absolutely beautiful and I can see how the rose can make a fluffy dough cloud sexy!

Sarah said...

I must try this. I love my sweet potato gnocchi and this would be similar but different. Lots of good fibre and nutrition in beets.

Fresh Local and Best said...

These are a beautiful way to create gnocchi. I love the pink hues on the plate.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

My darling friend,

THAT GNOCCI IS SUPER GORGEOUS!!!!! And, I just bought some beets last night to make a healthy cocktail today...I need a lift! BEETS CARROTS and APPLE will be whizzed through my juicer today; OH IS IT GOOD! I also ADORE the texture and taste of gnocci; I use to make a potato one that was out of this world.

Dear heart, you are always so kind and uplifting in your comments to me. THANK YOU, MERCI MILLE FOIS for your intelligent character, your tender heart, and YOUR vision to NOURISH not only our bodies, but to nourish our minds and imaginations with the foods of the gods!!!!!


angela@spinachtiger said...

Very beautiful take on beets. I love beet gnocchi. You've added more beauty to our beautiful challenge.

Laura@Silkroadgourmet said...

Wow! You've outdone yourself! The are beautiful - especially on that pretty dish! And rose is a nice color/flavor choice as well.

If I were to make the beet momos again, I would make them pink, not dark purple.


Magic of Spice said...

I always hate it when I am picking up beets or other veggies with edible greens, and they ask if I want them removed...why? A crime indeed!
Your gnochi looks like the farthest thing from "dough-demons", lol. In fact they look incredibly scrumptious, and of course the beets give it such a lovely color :) Beautifully done!

Bren @ Flanboyant Eats™ said...

It's so great to see this challenge so many of us to get over a fear or dislike of some sort 20+ years not making the dough-demons is a long time my friend! But, what a great way to reintroduce them back in your cooking repertoire. Lovely shape, too!

mandy said...

What a wonderful post Deana, congratulations on your glorious re-match with gnocchi! And thank you so much for including my rose essence – I’m honored to be in your gorgeous & captivating blog!
xo Mandy

SavoringTime in the Kitchen said...

The color of the beet gnocchi is gorgeous! I've made butternut squash gnocchi and would love to try them with beets.

Love the idea for beet greens too!

Can't wait to hear more about the movie you're working on.

Lazaro Cooks said...

I love beets and I love gnochi, so this composition is a winner. Marvelous color and the plating is flawless. My only question is can I grab a peek at your "Black Book?"

Two thumbs up!

Lori Lynn said...

Beet + Rose = Brilliant
Addition of Poppy Seed - This is a crazy fabulous flavor combination Deana.
"Pink Clouds of Flavor" absolutely!
You rocked the Cooking Group BEET Challenge.

Caffettiera said...

Yes gnocchi can be quite tricky if you don't have a light hand, but once you learn to embrace the softness as a positive thing, you're in for a treat! This version sounds really tasty. I really like the flavour of beetroot, but I find the colour always a bit suspicious, even if I know it is all natural. I'll probably use the quieter golden beetroots for this.

Jill Mant~a SaucyCook said...

Well you had me at Beets, but Beet Gnocchi? Two of my favorite foods, combined? This is just a huge revelation!! Be still my heart. And your photos-oh, so divine. Kudos to you; I'm off to the kitchen to make this!!

Needful Things said...

Hey, I love beets too! And your gnocchi looks just sublime. I guess I will have to step out of my comfort zone and make gnocchi for the first time ever!

Margherita said...

I'm about to venture in making these gnocchi. I'm scared and excited at the same time!
I'll let you know the outcomes.

biteDelite said...

i made this

Yummy! <3