Mario Batali

Beet Gnocchi. Enough Said.

This is only the second time I have ever made gnocchi. Or eaten gnocchi. A few years ago, I was watching Mario Batali make it on the Fine Living Network, and I had a revelation. He made it look so easy! Like I should just be able to do it tonight, while conversing with friends over a glass of wine. I also discovered during that Molto Mario episode, that I personally owned a gnocchi paddle. My Mom had given me a bunch of kitchen tools, probably from an auction or rummage, and among them was this paddle. When I had limited wooden utensils, I tried using it to stir and couldn't fathom why it would have grooves. It seemed like the worst idea ever for a kitchen implement. It spent a long, lonely decade in the bottom of a drawer before, fortuitously, Mario showed me it's intended use, and thanks to his enthusiasm, I went right from the couch to the kitchen and made my batch. After all, if I had this neglected piece of kitchen software, I may as well put it immediately to good use.

InnBrooklyn's Veg of the Month Club selection this month is beets, and I felt a particular inclination to outdo myself, since it was my beet pasta experiment that first attracted them to CakeWalk as readers and now to me personally as "froggers" (friends+bloggers). I actually was acquainted with them first through a connection at flickr, and ever since I feel like I'm chatting with old friends when we write (or now Skype) on a fairly regular basis. I feel renewed in my creativity since joining forces with them for LIFEyear, our 365 photography project, and am really happy that I was able to forge such a meaningful connection with people so far away, that I would never have met if it weren't for the Internet!

I also personally wanted to try making gnocchi again; my first attempt with plain russet potato was alright, but far from perfect. Since I really had no way of knowing, I made the dumplings, and then let them sit covered at room temperature for several hours until I boiled them. I've learned since, that if you don't intend to boil them right away, you should freeze them in a single layer on a sheet pan, and then pull them directly from the freezer and introduce them to the boiling water when needed. I'd say I'm still a ways off from perfect gnocchi, but at least I'm having fun and gleaning a bit of extra nutrition along the way.

I used Mario Batali's recipe for gnocchi, but used 1 part beet to 2 parts russet potato. I also opted for roasting the beets and potatoes, to preserve the color in the beets - boiling tends to wash them out.

To roast the beets and potatoes, preheat oven to 375, lightly coat them (unpeeled) with olive oil, and let them stay in there until a piercing knife yields very little resistance. The beets will likely take longer, so start them 20 minutes before adding the potatoes. When they are done, cool them just enough so that you don't burn yourself when handling them, and then scrape off the skins. You'll want to rice them (or finely shred them) when they are still warm, but more on that below.

Beet Gnocchi (adapted from Mario Batali) with Brown Butter and Crispy Lemon Thyme

makes 4 main courses or 8 side portions, but I suspect this will vary with your state of hunger.
  • 1 lb. beets, roasted
  • 2 lbs. russet potato, roasted
  • 2 cups, AP flour (plus additional for rolling)
  • 1 egg
  • pinch of salt
When potatoes are roasted and peeled, use a ricer to finely grate them onto a clean sheet pan. (I have no ricer, but one is now on my list! I rub them through a fine stainless sieve which works well.) If you have a ricer, it may be strong enough to rice the beets, but since I don't, I cut them into large chunks and processed them finely in my food pro. Then, I added them on top of the potatoes, and let them cool slightly.

Mound the beets and potatoes together to make a brilliant pink mass, sprinkle liberally with about a cup of the flour and a pinch of salt, then make a well in the center. Crack in the egg, and beat well, adding more of the flour to the egg and then mixing it in well with the egg. When you have a dough forming, knead it by hand gently into a ball, continuing to add flour as needed, until you have a relatively smooth ball that isn't too sticky.

Have two sheet pans lined with wax paper or parchment paper ready. Cut off small portions, and roll into long "snakes" a little larger than the diameter of your thumb. Use plenty of flour (I found that I actually kneaded more flour into the small portions prior to rolling them out into snakes), to keep them from sticking. Using a sharp knife, cut them into 1 inch portions.

When you have a "snake's" worth of dumplings, roll them across the gnocchi paddle or the tines of a fork. (A good explanation of how to do this: here.) Dust the resting gnocchi with flour if they are sticky, and keep them in a single layer. If you are making them for later, freeze in a single layer, then transfer them to a jar or zip top bag and store in the freezer.

Bring a kettle of water to a boil, and add a bit of salt - as if you were cooking pasta. When the water is at a rolling boil, add gnocchi. (Mario has a bowl of ice water standing nearby to stop them from cooking as you remove them. I will remember to do this step next time! Mine were a touch sticky since I didn't.) When gnocchi floats to the top, remove them from the boiling water using a slotted spoon and plunge them into the ice bath. Let them sit there for a minute, and then drain. Mario tosses them with oil to hold them, but I did not since I made browned butter.

Browned Butter with Lemon Thyme
  • 3 T. unsalted butter
  • 3 or 4 sprigs of lemon thyme
In a small saucepan, heat butter over medium heat until it begins to foam. Add thyme (it will crackle and spit at you), and continue to heat until the butter turns brown. Watch it carefully or it will burn. Spoon the butter over the finished gnocchi, and garnish with crispy thyme.

I wasn't sure what to expect when I took the first bite of hot beet gnocchi. Since I had neglected to do an ice bath, they were a bit sticky... Happily, they tasted terrific with a deep, beet-y flavor, and a very dumpling-esque texture. I had a gnocchi expert for dinner, since Sasa grew up eating it, and she told me that the texture was good, so I'm taking her word on it. I really don't think I have ever eaten gnocchi anywhere, so I have some more homework and experimentation to do. If anyone has a good recommend of any Milwaukee area restaurants making exceptional gnocchi, please let me know so I can go and eat it! I feel like I should have added more flour to my dough, but found myself likening it to egg pasta dough, which definitely can not be an accurate comparison.

Since I heeded Ina Garten's advice of never cooking anything you have never cooked before when you are having company for dinner, I had a fresh loaf of bread and a big slow cooker full of shredded Italian Beef ready before I even brought my kettle to a boil... and Sasa told me that in Croatia, they always had gnocchi with a beef sauce kind of like a goulash.

She easily convinced me to experiment with a portion of plain, un-butter-sauced gnocchi. We heated a pan over medium heat and added a tablespoon or so of leftover browned butter. Then, I made a roux by adding an equal amount of flour and stirring it for about a minute. I added maybe a half of a cup, all told, of warm water, and continued stirring with Sasa adding salt, aleppo pepper and finally, a good amount of sweet smoked Spanish paprika. Lastly we stirred in a heavy cupful of shredded beef and let it turn into a sauce:

I grabbed my camera, and she told me that maybe it wasn't the most photogenic thing. I agreed, but was it tasty! We all mixed everything together as we ate, grating Parmesan cheese over our whole plates, and devouring all but about 11 little gnocchi. It was suspiciously quiet during dinner, so I know that it is certainly a meal that I would make again, and hopefully soon, since I only cooked half the amount of beet gnocchi that I froze.

I may be hesitant to join more organized groups, but I have to say I really like participating on a whim to "round-ups" such as the Veg of the Month Club, and Buttermilk Party Cake's Elevenses sweets. I do think that it forces me to be creative in my kitchen, if for no one else, then for myself. My Husband detests beets, and they are one of my favorite things, so I was very happy to have fellow beet lovers to enjoy my hard work with. If you love beets and have a beet recipe you want to share with others, consider submitting it to innBrooklyn before May 9, 2010. I know I'll be eagerly searching their results on the 10th for my next beet adventure!

Looking for someone to eat beets with...

Today I decided I had to make pasta with beets. Nevermind that I am the only one in my house that will actually eat beets...I really just had to make this pasta.

This bright pink, cling wrapped ball is all natural!

Since the onset of football (and fantasy football) season, I've found myself basically cooking for 1: Me. Boy-O has newly entered the "cereal stage" and insists on eating cold cereal for 2 meals a day. Maybe I lack the parenting skills needed to insist that he should eat something else, but for breakfast and lunch, I just don't sweat it. And my Husband, since he's been busy with fantasy football drafts and pre-season games for the beginning of September, (somethings that I completely avoid - like all sports) has been eating out or just needing something quick...partially why I've been making all kinds of sandwiches lately. (Tuna Salad with a layer of the Roasted Red Pepper Salsa is really good!)

It's kind of nice to have a break from dinners, I guess, but I do need a reason to be in the kitchen, or I end up knitting. I have to be careful with that since I think I'm a tense knitter and end up with very sore hands for several days after completing a project. I have to work on being a relaxed, mellowed-out knitter. Any non-drug or alcohol related tips on that would be appreciated...

Since I've been trying really hard to cut back a little on the dessert faction of my life, when I saw a recipe for beet pasta in the Outpost Exchangethat came this month, it's kind of been nagging me that I'd have to try it. I've been making pasta since 1996, I think, when my Mom gave me her Atlas pasta machine that she wasn't using. For many years after, I never bought any pasta, I just made it when I needed it - since after having it the first time, no boxed stuff could really compare.

It does make a mess of your kitchen, but it really is worth it. I never really make any flavored pastas, after reading Marcella Hazen who firmly states that pasta itself should never be flavored, and all flavors should be added on top of the pasta. I've really basically held true to her doctrine, and only made a spinach pasta once from a Saveur recipe for a really delicious Bolognese Lasagna. But bright fuschia pasta from farm market beets? Yes, please. Now I just need someone to eat it with.

Clean workstation, before the flour flew...

The Exchange recipe used no eggs and semolina flour. But if I'm going to go through the trouble of making pasta, I'm going to use eggs. Nothing compares to fresh egg pasta. So, I used

Mario Batali's Roasted Beet Pasta recipe

. Since I am really going to try and find someone to eat this with, I am going to experiment with freezing fresh, dried pasta. The Exchange recipe did say to refrigerate or freeze, I think due to the addition of a vegetable, since dried egg pasta will stand quite awhile if well dried beforehand.

I love Mario Batali. When I used to watch more Food Network, I liked to watch him. He is always so passionate about whatever he is doing, and it seems to me that he really WANTS you to try it too. His recipe for pasta worked well, but it was extremely sticky even more so after it rested for 30 minutes. I probably worked in about another 3/4 cup of flour while rolling it through my maker. It did make a mess, but for some reason a crazy, pink flour mess didn't really upset me too much. I did taste the raw dough, and it did taste faintly beet-y, but I'll have to wait and see how it tastes boiled up.

The Exchange recipe also served the pasta with a blue cheese sauce with walnuts, kind of a riff on a classic roasted beet salad. I think this is how I will serve it, when I make the big batch. Usually when I make pasta, I keep the little ends and unattractive noodles to eat for lunch, and this beet pasta was no exception. So tomorrow, I think I'll cook up my little batch of seconds and just mix it with s&p and olive oil, maybe a few nuts. I'm sure a picture with be forthcoming.

Meanwhile, just look at the natural color of the beet pasta below!

So, now, who wants to eat some beets with me?