10 February 2010

Golden Beet Gnocchi, Two Ways

I never ate beets growing up; they were a strange vegetable my mom grudgingly bought for my dad for holiday meals. But in the past few years I have cautiously added them to my diet. I've eaten them roasted, sauteed in stir fries, or stewed in curries. At the farmer's market a few weeks ago I saw a truly massive golden beet, and my mind filled with ideas of new ways to enjoy this sugary root. Then I promptly forgot about it, until I noticed it getting disconcertingly squishy in the vegetable basket. Gnocchi seemed like the perfect way to use it all up quickly.

Until now my only gnocchi experience was with this potato gnocchi recipe, which intimidated me – it basically said that gnocchi is extremely difficult to get right, and if you haven't been personally taught how by an Italian grandmother then your attempt will very likely end up a disaster. Needless to say, I approached the task with a fair amount of anxiety. But the end result was delicious and, more importantly, easy to make.

I couldn't find many beet gnocchi recipes online, and the ones I did find either involved potatoes or Parmesan, and I didn't want to use either. So I used the recipes as rough guideline and pretty much did my own thing. The result was scrumptious and simple to make. I split the dough in half and prepared the first half the traditional way, by boiling. The second half was pan-fried the next day. Here's how I did it:

To make the gnocchi dough:
Wrap your beets in foil and roast until tender, about an hour. My ginormous beet was probably the size of 2 or 3 average-sized beets. If your beet is very large, cut into quarters before roasting.

Once the beets are cool enough to handle, remove the skins and finely grate them. Add about a cup of ricotta cheese, one large egg, salt, and pepper. I also added a few shakes of allspice and some garlic powder, but I couldn't taste it in the finished product. Stir everything together until well combined. Begin adding flour. I used around 2 cups, but the amount will vary depending on the size and moisture content of your beets. The dough should gather into a ball and be tacky. I stopped adding flour when it still seemed a little too sticky, and that seemed like a good place to stop. At this point you can put some or all of the dough into the fridge for later.

Pretty colors!

To form the gnochhi:

Divide the dough into manageable portions and roll each into a log, about an inch thick. Slice each log into inch-long segments. Roll each gnocchi under the tines of a fork to get those wonderful indentations that hold sauce so well, and place your finished gnocchi pieces on a lightly floured surface.

To boil and serve with rosemary-garlic olive oil:
Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add your gnocchi in batches and boil for a few minutes, removing them with a slotted spoon when they are done. Normally gnocchi are supposed to float to the surface when they are cooked, but mine did not – they were too big or too dense, I suppose. I cooked half of the dough and got two good-sized servings out of it.

You can just drizzle these with olive oil, or do what Heidi did and make garlic-infused olive oil with rosemary. Just heat some olive oil in a small sauce pan, then add a few cloves of sliced (not minced!) garlic and a couple pinches of dried or fresh rosemary. Cook until the garlic turns brown, then drizzle over the pasta. The perfect simple accompaniment!

These gnocchi were dense and chewy and slightly sweet. And completely satisfying. Heidi made a salad to go with it that may appear in another post; it involved pears and goat cheese. It was one of those meals that sounds (and tastes!) fancy, but is incredibly simple to make.

To fry:
Since my gnocchi dough was pretty sticky, I rolled the raw pasta lightly in flour before frying, just to keep them from sticking to the pan. I don't know if this was really necessary, but frying things makes me nervous.

Coat the bottom of a small frying pan with oil – I used half olive oil and half safflower oil, since safflower oil has a higher smoke point. Bring the oil to medium-high heat, and add your gnocchi, working in small batches. Turn after about two minutes; your pasta should be lightly browned on both sides. Lightly salt and serve!

Fried gnocchi has an even sweeter flavor than the boiled variety; I can easily imagine this sprinkled with powdered sugar instead of salt and served as a dessert. Since my gnocchi were bigger than the average variety, they were still doughy on the inside, and slightly crispy on the outside. Personally I thought this was perfect, but if you think you'd like a more thoroughly-cooked dish, either make your gnocchi smaller or cook for longer on a lower heat setting.

All in all I got five servings out of one beet – not bad at all!

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