Crispy Beet Gnocchi, Horseradish Brown Butter, Mint

Savory Recipes, Winter • 15 Mar 2014

I was a scrupulously obsessive child. Everything in my juvenescence had to be “just so” or else my boat flowed down a wild river of woes. It is safe to say that my toddler years were fraught with a wide berth of anxieties; demure, was I, a wide-eyed fledgling obscured behind a mop top of springy curls.

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As a kid, my palate was limited. Sure, I know a lot of kids struggle with a picky repertoire, but my youthful cravings were a bit oddball. While I probably luxuriated in the occasional bowl of creamy mac and cheese, my preferences were more iron-rich: dense platefuls of spinach, mounds of crimson beets, anything with soy sauce, and shellfish. While I’m sure my mother wrung her hands with frustration trying to feed me, at least she never had to tell me to eat my veggies.

The tables have turned, as tables tend to do in life. I find myself telling my son to “try this, just one bite.” With the promise of a bit of sweet after dinner, or a similar time-honored bribe, I do my best to cajole foods outside his repertoire into his belly. He, too, is a fan of spinach (though disguised in the form of frittata) and shellfish. He, too, is smitten with soy sauce (especially when draped over dim sum).

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The jury is still out on beets, however. He is repulsed by the drippy ruby-red juice, confounded by its resemblance to blood. I have yet to find a tenacious, stealthy disguise but decide to give bright red beet gnocchi a go. His love of pasta might win the battle over the hidden ingredient. And I want to use up the last remnants of our food coop’s rustically earthy winter beets.

I was on the fence about using beets alone, along with egg and flour, to construct the gnocchi. Should I combine beets with a traditional riced potato? I settled on gnocchi WITH potatoes. I cannot get behind beet gnocchi sans potatoes.

Begin with your beets, of course. Our coop’s beets were huge, not like the petite garnet-hued jewels of mid-winter. We’re talking boulders! Luckily, cooking rendered a sweet, tangy vegetable, equally tasty as their smaller counterparts. Scrub the beets scrupulously, along with your reliable dirt-encrusted baking potatoes (which are almost always caked in a trusty layer of earth). Russets are best for their dry, fluffy-when-cooked texture and will give way to ethereally pillowy gnocchi.

Next, roast your beets with a bit of olive oil. If they are enormous, cut them into halves or quarters and bake until tender. This takes an hour to two, depending on the size of your beets. Meanwhile, half your potatoes and boil them. Timing is of the essence here. You will need to rice your potatoes while hot, and the boiling process takes about 40 minutes. I roasted my beets a day prior to avoid an awkward and potentially recipe-destroying cooking cross over.

If you’ve never made gnocchi before, ricing potatoes is easy; simply pass the hot potatoes through a food mill for excellent results. Be careful when assembling your dough. A very light touch is required- overworking the dough yields tough, chewy gnocchi.

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My gnocchi are somewhat free form dumplings, rather than sweetly rounded nuggets that have been embossed with the ubiquitous markings of a fork or gnocchi board. After I form my dough, which is soft and puffy but not sticky, I divide into 8 equal parts, which I roll into 1-inch logs and cut with a pastry scraper. A knife also works well. Flour should be at hand at all times in case the dough becomes sticky while you are working. After your gnocchi are formed, dust with yet more flour. Pop into salted, boiling water and wait for them to buoy to the surface. After a quick, frenetic fry in a swarm of brown butter, you are in business. Crispy, delicate, fluffy and tender gnocchi with a major kick of earthiness. A reminder that spring is on the way, and a farewell to winter’s rustic bounty.

The sauce is simple- brown butter, a touch of garlic (optional), devilishly arousing horseradish, a spritz of acidy lemon. I dress the whole thing in a tumbling chiffonade of musty mint. Parmesan, as it tends to be with pasta, is the unifying ingredient, the peacekeeper, with its harmoniously nutty, earthy and tangy flavor.

The verdict? He’s still afraid of beets. But that only means more for mommy and daddy. I’m not complaining.

Crispy Beet Gnocchi, Horseradish Brown Butter, Mint

For the Gnocchi:
1 pound Russet potatoes
1/2 pound beets
A drizzle of olive oil for roasting the beets
1 1/4- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for dusting the gnocchi
1 large egg
1/4 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

For the Sauce:
6 1/2 tablespoons of butter, divided
1 garlic clove (optional)
2 packed teaspoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
Parmigiano Reggiano to taste

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle. Wash and scrub both the beats and potatoes. Cut the potatoes in half crosswise. Remove stems and greens from the beets. If the beets are small, leave them whole and if they are large, cut them in half.

2. Cover a rimmed baking sheet with foil and toss the beets with about 1 teaspoon olive oil. Cover the pan tightly with another sheet of foil and roast until the beets are tender, about 1 hour for small beets and 2 hours for larger beets. When they are cool enough to touch, remove skin. Transfer half the peeled beets to a food processor and pulse until smooth.

3. While the beets are roasting, fill a large pot with cold water. Salt the water and add the halved potatoes. Bring the water to a boil of medium-high heat and simmer until potatoes are tender, about 30 minutes.

4. Remove the potatoes from the water with a slotted spoon. Promptly peel the skin from the potatoes and immediately pass them through a potato ricer or food mill while still hot.

5. Mix potato and beets in a big bowl and combine well.

6. Flour the clean surface of the counter and make a mound of the potato and beet mixture with a well in the center. Add the eggs, salt, Parmigiano and mix well with clean hands. Add half the flour and work gently into the potato mixture. Add the rest of the flour, 1/4 cup at a time, folding very gently with your hands until the dough is soft and uniform. If you find the dough is too sticky, add a little bit of flour at a time until the texture feels soft and puffy but not sticky.

7. Cut the dough into eighths. Flour the work surface and roll section of dough into long rolls, about 1-inch in diameter. Cut each roll into 1 to 1 1/2-inch nuggets.

8. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Work in batches, boiling the gnocchi in a rolling boil for about 2 minutes, until they rise to the surface. Cook another 30 seconds. Remove with a slotted spoon and continue to boil until all the gnocchi are cooked. Scoop them onto an oiled baking sheet.

9. To make the sauce, melt 5 tablespoons butter over medium heat in a medium saucepan. When it begins to foam, start swirling the pan a bit so the butter doesn’t burn. When the color changes from yellow to a light brown and you start to smell a nutty odor, add the horseradish and garlic to the pan. Cook for about 30 seconds and remove the pan from heat.

10. In another large skillet, preferably a non-stick pan, melt the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. Add the gnocchi and cook until browned on the bottom, about 2 minutes. Give the pan a stir with a metal spatula and remove from the heat. If the pan is too small to fit the gnocchi in a single layer, split into two batches, adding a bit more butter for the remaining gnocchi.

11. Pour the browned gnocchi into the pan with the butter sauce. Turn the heat to medium and add the lemon juice and fresh mint and toss. Remove from heat.

12. Transfer gnocchi to a serving plate, drizzle with the sauce, sprinkle with parmesan and serve.

Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

5 Responses

  1. Lovely post, makes me want to actually go to the trouble of making these. Beautiful.

    • They really aren’t that horribly challenging. I find dough making relaxing. And as long as your family doesn’t become vegan, a good vegetarian dish!

  2. Julie

    These look AMAZING. One of my favorite condiments is beet horseradish, so I know I would LOVE this dish!

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