The NY Times food section seems to be on a bit of a beet kick lately. First there was a series of articles extolling the many, many health benefits of these sugary gems. Then they started showcasing a few recipes promising to instruct loyal Times readers in "new ways" to cook them. New ways?! Pshaw! There's nothing new or exciting about "roasted beets" or "borscht." Even "Mediterranean Beet Salad" has failed to pique my interest. Maybe it's just me, but I expected a bit more from the people who taught us how to make no-knead bread and the "world's best chocolate chip cookies." Sorry, but beet salad just isn't going to cut it.
Having recently come into a wealth of beets thanks to our in-office farmer's market, I decided it was the perfect time to try out a few experiments of my own. I usually keep a few roasted and peeled beets in the fridge as they are perfect for slicing into salads paired with tangy goat cheese, peppery arugula, and drizzles of hazelnut oil. But this time I wanted something a little out of the ordinary. The pile of gorgeous beets (torpedo beets! giant candy cane striped chioga beets! baby beets!) was growing bigger and bigger and was just begging me to do something lovely with it. And so, upon discovering a wonderful log of creamy local chevre on sale at Fairway (it's like no other store!) I decided to give beet gnocchi a shot. And I figured that while I was at it, I might also try a sweet beet ice cream.
When I IM'd my Ukrainian-born (and therefore rather beet-acquainted) boyfriend my plans, he seemed a bit skeptic.
"I just can't wrap my head around it," he said, referring to the ice cream plans and instead suggested I try a Russian salad that paired the beets with mayo and garlic.
"boiled grated beets+mayo+garlic=$" he messaged. As a mayo-fanatic I didn't doubt that this combination was, in fact, "money," but I was in the mood to be weird with my beets and couldn't be dissuaded.
"Just wait until Friday," I insisted.
My plans for both the gnocchi and the ice cream were similar. I wanted to cut the natural sweetness of the beets with something cool and tangy. Goat cheese and sour cream are perfect and traditional accompaniments for beets and both lend themselves well to gnocchi and ice cream-making.
I based my beet pasta on a delicate (and surprisingly simple) goat cheese gnocchi recipe I learned in Florence, combining the roasted beet puree with equal parts chevre and fresh ricotta. I hand formed the nuggets and used a fork to imprint the traditional grooves on each one. I boiled the gnocchi then finished them off in a simple sage and butter sauce in a skillet to give them a slightly crisp exterior. A sprinkle of nutmeg and salt and they were ready for plating. (I served accompanied by a stuffed pork loin filled with goat cheese, spinach, and sun dried tomatoes.)
Now for the ice cream I wanted something smooth and creamy. I opted for a base of sour cream to go along with the roasted beet puree. I also added a bit of blood orange juice to the blend; a decision which I think did a lot to lift the deep flavors of the beets. During the last five minutes of churning I tossed in a handful of coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate chunks which added color and an
additional depth of flavor.
Not wanting to stop there, I paired the finished ice cream with a tangy and sweet goat cheese panna cotta flecked with vanilla beans; a kind of dessert riff on my favorite salad. The final combination was wonderful. It's by no means a traditional dessert, but if you're in the mood for something a little offbeat and unexpected, I absolutely urge you to give it a try.
Oh and if you're wondering, my boyfriend said he couldn't really taste the beet flavor in the gnocchi, although he did enjoy them. And he didn't hate the ice cream! In fact, he completely finished off his portion and my own. He liked the combination of the goat cheese panna cotta with the beet ice cream, although he noted that he didn't think the ice cream could stand alone.
Here are the recipes so you can recreate your own beet meal at home:
Beet & Goat Cheese Gnocchi
1/2 cup goat cheese
1/2 cup fresh ricotta
1 cup roasted beat puree (approximately 3-4 large beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed)
2 cups flour (sifted), plus additional for flouring work surface
1 teaspoon nutmeg
2 whole eggs
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
1.) In a large bowl, combine the goat cheese and ricotta until smooth. Add the beat puree and mix until evenly combined.
2.) Add the eggs, one at a time, followed by the nutmeg, salt, and pepper.
3.) Slowly add the flour, 1/2 cup at a time until it is all incorporated into the dough. If your dough seems a bit too wet, feel free to add an extra 1/4 cup of flour.
4.) Turn the dough out onto a heavily floured work surface and knead for a few minutes. The dough will still be fairly wet, but you should be able to handle it.
5.) Working with about a handful of dough at a time, roll out a long snake about an inch thick. Use a floured knife to cut out the gnocchi every inch and a half or so. Roll each gnocchi along the tines of a fork (or simply indent by gently pressing the back of the fork into the side of each nugget).
6.) Place the formed gnocchi on a floured baking sheet.
7.) When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil and add the gnocchi in batches. Let cook until they bob to the surface and then cook for an additional 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to pull out of the pot and serve with your favorite sauce.
TIP: For extra crisp, finish in a skillet with a bit of butter and torn sage. Let toast on one side (the contrast make for an interesting texture) then serve with a sprinkle of nutmeg and additional torn fresh sage.
Beet Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
1 cup roasted beet puree (about 3-4 medium sized beets, roasted, peeled, and pureed)
1/2 cup blood orange juice (fresh is awesome, but I used from concentrate)
1 cup sour cream
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup chopped dark chocolate (60% Cacao or greater)
1. In a large bowl, combine the beet puree, blood orange juice, sour cream, heavy cream, and sugar and mix until completely blended and smooth (use a fork to break down any lumps).
2. Add the sugar and continue to mix until thoroughly combined.
3. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve and refrigerate to chill for at least one hour.
4. Freeze and churn in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s directions. Five minutes before the end of the churning process, add the chocolate chips.
5. Pour into a freezer safe container and freeze for at least 4 hours or until it reaches the proper ice cream texture.