Beet Gnocchi Flambé That Will Make You Weep
*If you live in the Seattle area and you want to see me make these gnocchi live this weekend, you’re in luck. Sunday January 23rd at 2:00pm I will be demonstrating beet gnocchi technique on the cooking stage at the Bellevue Home Show. I welcome hecklers and supporters alike, but what I’d really love is for someone to throw a sweaty bra at me. If you can oblige, by all means, meet me at the home show.
A few weeks ago I made a promise to y’all and lookie here, my pretties, I’m keeping it! I posted a recipe for goose bourguignon that I thought was genius, if I do say so myself, and as an afterthought I nested it on top of some beet gnocchi so the pictures would pop. Well lo and behold, you thought the goose bourguignon was dandy, but what really pinched your panties was the gnocchi. I am nothing if not benevolent, so I’ve spent the last few weeks dialing in this recipe and actually trying to measure ingredients since before I just tossed a little of this and packed a bit of that in until I had something resembling gnocchi.
I am feeling extra proud of myself because it’s late January, which means the hopeless romantics amongst you are no doubt fretting over what exuberant display of love you wish to bestow upon your betrothed for the impending sapfest otherwise known as Valentine’s Day. Can you think of anything better to serve than tufts of tender gnocchi naturally-dyed the hue of amore itself? I say screw the reservations at your local Steak n Skanky where you’ll be treated like a lemming and offered a choice between CAFO tenderloin or hatchery-mad salmon. Instead, go out on a limb and create a platescape with the added bonus that your bedroom is mere slipper steps away for a little after dinner consummation to accompany your snifter of sauternes.
Did you avert your eyes from these ruby jewels because you or someone you know is a beet-loather? Well strap on your big boy stilettos and get ready to put something extremely pleasing in your mouth because guess what? This is one of those rare, game-changing foods that will convert even the staunchest opponent of all things beet-y into an amorous advocate.
Any post that alludes to Valentine’s Day would not be complete without a bunch of (words on) flours, so here it is: flours, like flowers, are not created equal. While some Pollyanna pines for peonies, another might lust over lilies. I cannot speak of others’ experiences, but when I lived in Italy tipo 00 flour was most common, so I rolled a dumptruck-full of gnocchi over the years using it. When I returned to the US and started subbing American all-purpose, the tooth of my gnocchi changed considerably.
There is nothing worse than dense gnocchi- you might as well be eating stone-ground SpaghettiO’s. I have a few tricks up my sleeve for combating density in potato gnocchi, however with beet gnocchi the problem is compounded because beets are denser than potatoes. While tipo 00 flour helps, it still doesn’t lean far enough in the lower gluten, less protein realm it needs to in order for ethereal texture to manifest. Plus, it’s expensive and not easy to find in some cities. Plus Plus, when you do find it, it’s often old from being shipped and stagnating on the shelf of an ill-frequented specialty shop. Just like in people, age has a slackening effect on flours. Better to buy what you know is sold with decent regularity.
Enter cake flour. There are enough industrious baking Betties in this country to ensure that cake flour flies off the shelf of my local market. While they’re making cakes in the shape of rocket ships (that really look like penises) for their little boy’s first birthdays, I’m making gnocchi, hold the waxy fondant and blah buttercream.
In addition to using cake flour, I amp up the fluff by sifting in baking powder. Both of these elements combine to create the most-delicate gnocchi you’d ever imagine, and I mean that literally. They are delicate. As in handle-with-care. If you can’t bother with making sure they don’t dent each other bumper cars’ style when you fish them out of the boiling water, use plain old all-purpose flour, or a mix between the two. But if you’re willing to coddle your gnocchi to ensure greatness during dinner, cake flour is the way to go.
There is one final clincher that will guarantee your night of baby-making practice on Valentine’s Day, and that is the element of fire. Who loves fire and food? For starters, every person reading this who has two opposable thumbs, since I can see you all pointing to yourselves with those thumbs in true “this guy” fashion as you’re reading this.
I’m desperately trying to bring flambé back to the modern American kitchen, and yes, I have insurance to protect myself should you wish to blame me in a court of law for the loss of your eyebrows. These gnocchi are so good they call for a simple, light sauce, and the only way to make a light sauce better is by torching some alcohol in it.
So there you go- the elements of a successful dinner as translated by SaltySeattle: something Italian, something red, something with alcohol and something involving fire. If you have a greater recipe for winning than that, don’t hesitate to let me know, but in the meantime I’m going to go polish my leather lingerie in anticipation of a Valentine’s Day well-spent.
Beet Gnocchi Flambé that Will Make You Weep
*note- cake flour makes these gnocchi extremely delicate. I much prefer the texture- they are light as air, however you will want to be mindful not to crush them when you remove them from the boiling water, and also when you toss them in the skillet. If you don’t want to be quite so tender, you can substitute regular flour for a slightly denser texture.
4-6 substantial servings, 6-8 small servings
Takes 1 hour
For the gnocchi:
- 500 g beets, roasted until very soft
- 500 g potatoes, roasted (tip- if you don’t own a scale, measure the beets and potatoes at the store when you buy them)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp baking powder
- 1 c cake flour
- all purpose flour as needed for rolling the gnocchi snakes
- Softened butter as needed
For the beet crème fraiche:
- Beet stems from 1 bunch of beets
- ½ c crème fraiche
For the sauce:
- 3 tbsp butter
- 1 shallot
- 4 cloves garlic
- ¼ c cognac
- ¼ c verjus (can substitute red wine, but verjus gives the best flavor)
- ½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Meyer lemon zest to taste
- Pass beets and potatoes through a potato ricer. If you don’t have one you can use a medium-mesh sieve, but it will be harder. Don’t blend or food process them- the goal is for the potato-beet mixture to be as light and fluffy as possible and those machines densify the consistency. Put the beets through the ricer first as they are denser, and the potatoes will help push them through as they follow.
- Sift together salt, baking powder and 1 c cake flour. Fold in to beet mixture until thoroughly incorporated but not overmixed.
- Turn dough out onto a floured surface and divide into eight balls. Using two light hands, roll each ball into a snake roughly 1” thick. Cut the ropes into ½” gnocchi. Dust with flour and place on a parchment-lined sheet pan. At this point you can make indentations in the top of each gnoccho with the back of a fork or with another tool with a nice impression, but this step isn’t critical.
- Drop the gnocchi into a large pot of boiling, salted water about 10-15 at a time. Remove with slotted spoon or straining tool immediately once gnocchi rise to the surface. Reserve gnocchi in a buttered pan, and continue to add butter as you add gnocchi so they don’t stick.
- Steam beet stems until quite tender, about 10 minutes. Puree in a food processor for about 20 seconds. Add crème fraiche and puree for an additional 10 seconds, or until fully-incorporated.
- Melt butter in a large, nonstick skillet. Add shallot and sauté for one minute. Add garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Tilt the pan away from yourself and add the cognac. Ignite, either using a gas flame or a barbecue lighter. Once the flames subside add the verjus (or wine if substituting). Stir until liquid reduced by half (about one minute) then add the gnocchi, thyme, salt and pepper. Stir gently until gnocchi is coated in sauce and heated through- about three minutes.
- Place gnocchi on serving plates and top with meyer lemon zest and beet stem crème fraiche.