Thursday, June 28, 2012

Red Beet Gnocchi with Basil Pesto

The colour is intense, the flavour earthy and sweet, and the texture like little pink pillows of pure heaven. This gorgeous recipe for Red Beet Gnocchi is the perfect marriage of vibrant, nutritionally-rich roasted red beets and the ultimate Italian comfort food — ricotta gnocchi. A traditional Florentine pasta, ricotta gnocchi is the lighter, hipper cousin to northern Italy's potato gnocchi, and cook up as soft, fluffy, delicate little lovelies. Gnocchi make a great base for any sauce, especially a simple Basil Pesto or rich Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, for an amazingly delicious ruby red feast for the palate, as well as the eyes.

Red Beet Gnocchi with Basil Pesto
Serves 4-6

3 small red beets
1 egg
1 lb ricotta cheese
3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
1 3/4 cup flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper

Preheat oven to 450°F. Wrap beets in aluminum foil and roast in the oven for an hour. Remove from oven and let cool for about 15 minutes. Carefully remove the skin and place the beets in a food processor and purée.

In a large mixing bowl, add the beet purée, ricotta, parmesan, egg, salt and pepper. Add one cup of flour and mix gently, being careful not to over handle or the dough will become heavy, and the gnocchi, little dough demons.

Place the remaining flour in a separate bowl. Scoop out a handful of the gnocchi dough, place it into the bowl with the flour and lightly coat. Sprinkle some flour on a clean work surface, then roll the dough into long logs about 3/4-inch thick. Cut the logs into one-inch pieces then using a fork, roll each gnocchi with the tines to create grooves.

To make the dough easier to work with, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 15 minutes or up to 2 hours. This will firm up the dough and make the rolling easier. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in a large pot of simmering salted water until they float to the surface, about 3-4 minutes, depending on the size of the gnocchi. Using a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi once they float to the surface and keep warm until ready to serve.

If you like, sauté the gnocchi in a little butter or olive oil for a minute after they're cooked, then serve immediately with a spoonful of Basil Pesto or Gorgonzola Cream Sauce, and garnish with some young shoots or fresh herbs.

Basil Pesto

2 cups fresh basil leaves, packed
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup pine nuts
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Combine the basil, garlic, and pine nuts in a food processor or blender and pulse until coarsely chopped. With the machine running, slowly add the olive oil and process until smooth. Add the cheese and pulse until combined. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. After sautéeing the gnocchi until they're crisp and lightly 'browned', remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of the pesto. Serve warm and garnish with Parmesan cheese.

Gorgonzola Cream Sauce

2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp flour
1 1/2 cups whole milk
12 oz of Gorgonzola cheese, crumbled

In a saucepan melt the butter over medium heat. Stir in flour to create a roux and cook for 2 minutes. Slowly add the milk, whisking constantly to keep lumps from forming. Continue to stir while the sauce starts to thicken. Once the sauce has thickened and will coat the back of a spoon, blend in crumbled Gorgonzola and Parmesan until the cheese has melted. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Place the gnocchi into the skillet and toss to coat. Serve immediately in warmed dinner bowls and garnish with toasted walnuts and a sprinkle of parmesan cheese.