Red beets always remind me of Valentine's Day, I mean they just look like sweet little hearts, don't they? I decided to get back in the kitchen and whip up a pre-love day dinner, pairing beets with rich cheese, and potato gnocchi, the only pasta I've ever actually attempted to make.
Gnocchi is one of my favorite pasta dishes, although I suppose technically it's more of a potato dumpling. I had the most amazing version in Venice a few years ago with a gorgonzola sauce and wilted arugula... I've been trying to replicate that dish ever since but I've never totally nailed it. Although my versions fall short of the Italian masters, they're still pretty tasty. The sauce is based on a recommendation from a good friend of mine who's mother is Italian (and a chef!). She instructed me to try equal parts gorgonzola and cream cheese with a little cream and butter... so I did just that, except swapping milk for cream since it's what I generally have on hand. It's far faster than making a true white sauce and so good. Perfectly decadent for a Valentine dinner.
Simple Roasted Beets:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Tim the greens off the beets and wash. Wrap the cleaned beets in aluminum foil, if they are very small you can do two at a time, otherwise wrap each one individually. Place them on a baking tray to collect juices and roast (anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on size, mine took 45 minutes and they were fairly small).
Slip the skins off the beets with a paper towel (watch out for those red hands). Slice them into bight size pieces, I halved them and then cut them into 1/8" slices... which just happen to look like half hearts :) Set aside.
Potato Gnocchi: this recipe is from Mark Bittman, "How to Cook Everything". I recommend getting the book and reading the original, I cut some corners, he goes into more detail and has illustrations showing the rolling on the fork (although that part is pretty easy!)
- 1 lb baking potatoes (russet or idaho), whole with skins
- 1 c flour plus more for counter
- salt and pepper to taste
Put the potatoes in a large pot and cover with salted water. Boil until they are tender, 30-45 minutes.
Lift the potatoes out of the water with a fork and transfer to a bowl. Slip the skins off while they are hot and mash with a fork or potato masher. Salt and pepper to taste.
Add half of the flour and mix to combine. Turn the mixture out on a floured surface and add more flour, kneading after each addition. Bittman says not to add too much flour, but I always end up using the full cup. It does depend on your potatoes, and maybe I'm compromising the flavor- but it's never workable for me without that full cup!
Knead the dough until it is a workable consistency, then divide it and roll the pieces into long 1/2" thick ropes. Slice the ropes into 1 inch pieces and roll between your thumb and the tines of a fork to get the grooves.The underside will have a little dent from your thumb.
Set the finished gnocchi on a lightly floured baking sheet. Bittman recommends cooking them right that instant, but I generally make mine in the morning and cook them at night. If your kitchen is hot, store them in a cool room.
When you are ready to cook the gnocchi, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and carefully transfer the dumplings a few at a time onto the boiling water. When they bob to the surface wait about 30-60 seconds, then fish them out with a slotted spoon and place them in a shallow bowl until the sauce is ready.
Gorgonzola and Cream Cheese Sauce: adapted from recommendations from Dana's mom!
- 4 oz (half a box) cream cheese (whole fat)
- 4 oz gorgonzola
- 1/4 c - 1/2c milk (whole fat)
- 2 tbs unsalted butter
- a dash of nutmeg
- salt and pepper to taste
Chop the cheeses so that they will melt more easily. Melt the butter over low heat in a medium sauce pan. Add 1/4 c milk, cheeses, nutmeg, and stir to prevent burning until the sauce is creamy. If the sauce seems too thick, add more milk as necessary. The sauce should be smooth, but small lumps of gorgonzola is okay. Salt and pepper to taste.
Toss the cooked gnocchi with the sauce, reserving just a little sauce to drizzle over the finished dish. Plate the pasta and dot with the sliced roasted beets, or if you want the whole dish to turn bright pink you can also mix it all together. Drizzle the reserved sauce over each dish and top with cracked pepper and grated parmesan cheese.
I think this meal just looks like a little Valentine, and personally I like watching the whole thing go tie-dyed as those potent beets work their pink magic. We served our's with a side of the beet greens, just sauteed in some oil and sliced garlic. If your beets are stored for the winter without their greens, it would also be great with a bunch of arugula mixed in to wilt (I'm still dreaming of that dish I had in Italy!) or a simple salad. Enjoy.
And if you want another truly technicolor beet dish for this holiday, try this risotto. You won't forget that pink!