Friday 18 January 2008

WHB Beetroot Gnocchi with Pea Pesto

The celery’s in the salad
The mint is in the punch
But I’m in the freezer til Sunday’s lunch
I’m a green pea, freeze freeze
I’m a green pea, freeze freeze
I’m a green pea, wont you thaw my frozen heart!
From: I’m a Green Pea by John Shortis

This is the story of my vision of a riot of colours! You’ll see below why I started to think of this above song from my childhood. My story started with Nupur’s list of links to bloggers’ best of 2007 posts. Firstly it took me to Haalo’s best of 2007 with her amazing gnocchi made of purple congo potatoes. She even served it with peas which made me think of Holler’s amazing green pea pesto. But chances of me finding purple potatoes at the same time I fancied making gnocchi were slim. Then I saw Stef’s best of 2007 which included brilliant coloured beetroot gnocchi (as well as amazing meatloaf cupcakes that I’d love to try with nutloaf!). Stef described her gnocchi as bright pink but I think mine was a deep enough pink to be purple. Hey, I was the little girl who liked purple not pink, and the student who loved purple and green because they were worn by feminist heroines. These were my colours!

I don’t really like the idea of cooking dumplings in water – it seems unnatural to put dough or batter in water – the stuff is too delicate to survive such cruelty and seems unlikely to come out in one piece! It is little comfort that people have been doing it for centuries. But when I have the chance to cook something of such great colours, I throw caution to the wind. I think I have made boiled gnocchi before but most gnocchi I have made in the past has been baked. Beetroot is easily available so I thought I would have a go at Stef’s recipe.

Well, I wont say it was quick or easy. Stef warned that more flour was needed than the recipe required – I put in two and half times the recipe’s suggested cup of flour and still found the dough hard to work with. Possibly I still needed to mix in more. But with a lot of flour on my hands, the knife and the board, I was able to tame the sticky beast sufficiently to form the little dumplings.

It was a good night for E to ring to say he’d be home a bit later. When he got home the kitchen was still a mess of flour and rows of purple dumplings. I think it took me half an hour to roll the dough into little balls and make fork prints on them. I finally got them whirling in the boiling water and turned my attention to throwing the ingredients for the pesto into the food processor. As I started blending it, I wondered if I should have defrosted the peas. The resulting pea pesto sorbet gave me my answer. (‘I’m a green pea, wont you thaw my frozen heart’!) Nothing a quick defrost on low in the microwave couldn’t fix. Microwaving pesto is probably not at all traditional but I am not sure if beetroot gnocchi is either.

We sit down to eat our purple and green feast. The Grim Eater pushes at a wee gnocchi with his fork and asks what the purple blobs are. Pearls before swine! But we both enjoyed it.

The gnocchi was a bit bland, as gnocchi can be. Might have been improved if I’d remembered to add the salt. The pesto also needed a bit more seasoning and I found adding a bit of garlic gave it the bite to balance the sweetness of the peas. But I liked the combination. The chunky and nutty texture of the pesto worked well with the soft gnocchi pillows.

I had been keen to make Holler’s wonderful pea pesto and I will definitely be making it again. It stays a vibrant green in the fridge, unlike traditional pesto, and feels mores substantial for use as a spread or dip. And according to the George Mateljan Foundation, Green Peas are high in vitamins K1, C, B1 and B6, and also a good source of folate and iron so they will be good for your bones, your heart and boost your energy levels.

However, E said that the purple colour of the gnocchi seemed unnatural so I fear when I next attempt gnocchi it wont be such an exciting colour. But if I find some purple congo potatoes when I fancy making gnocchi – if fate is kind enough to present me with the opportunity – then E will have to put up with more purple blobs!

I am sending this to Rinku at Cooking in Westchester who is this week’s host of Weekend Herb Blogging, which was started by Kalyn at Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Beetroot Gnocchi
From Iron Stef
Serves 8 as first-course or 4 as main-course

3 small beetroots (to make up ¾ cup when grated)
375ml fresh ricotta cheese
1 egg
¾ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
1 ¼ teaspoons salt
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
2½ cups flour, or more if needed, plus extra for handling dough
Additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese, to serve

Trim beetroots, wrap in foil and roast in 230 C oven for about an hour or until tender. When cooked, cool for at lest 15 minutes and then rub skins off.

Grate beetroot to make up ¾ cups. (I had half a beetroot over and cut it into chunks and scattered on gnocchi when I served it.) Add ricotta, egg, Parmesan, salt and pepper. Mix in flour gradually til the dough comes together in a ball. As I commented above, my dough was still very sticky so I was unsure if I needed more flour but I was able to flour the board and my hands and make it into a plump sausage that I could slice with a floured knife.

Haalo suggests making gnocchi the size of fingernails but I think my dough was too sticky for such elegance so mine was a lot larger! Both Haalo and Stef used the tines of a fork pressed into the dough to make lovely looking gnocchi (by balancing the gnocchi on a finger so there was a finger dent on the other side). I found the dough very sticky for such decorative touches but I could press a floured fork each side which made mine look like floured lumps of gnocchi but when cooked you could see the indentations. (Stef says you should dip each dumpling in a bowl of flour but I didn’t find this easy to do.)

Gnocchi should be transferred to a floured baking sheet after you have made the fork indentations (waiting for the hot water like lambs to the slaughter!)

Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and reduce to a simmer (I didn’t salt mine but maybe it would help). Drop batches of gnocchi in water (I only did about 10 at a time). They are cooked when they begin swirling to the surface and can be transferred with a slotted spoon to a serving plate. (Stef transferred hers to a saucepan of rosemary infused butter as this was the sauce she served hers with.)

Serve with pea pesto (below), fresh black pepper and extra freshly grated parmesan cheese. The first night I also served some roasted pumpkin and the second just did some tomato and cucumber on the side!

NOTE: Stef says that gnocchi dough can be made a day ahead and kept covered in the fridge, and that the gnocchi/dumplings can be made 6 hours ahead. I actually only cooked half my batch and put the other half in the fridge til the next night. It seemed to work ok but despite liberal sprinkling with flour they stuck to each other a bit so maybe layers of baking paper between gnocchi would be a better way to store them in fridge (or even freezer).

Pea Pesto
From Holler at Tinned Tomatoes

225g/8oz frozen peas (thawed)
1 large handful fresh basil
2 tbsp grated parmesan
1 tbsp cashew nuts (I used ¼ cup)
1 tbsp soft cream cheese (I used 40g)
2 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed (optional)
salt & freshly ground black pepper

I have to quote Holler on this one because she says it so perfectly: ‘Basically just blitz it all in a food processor and voila, the most volumptous green sauce!’ I agree with Holler that is it that easy and that tasty.

On the stereo:
Black Magic Woman: Santana


  1. What an amazing riot of colours, indeed! Gnocchi is my favorite form of pasta, but I haven't had much success trying it with spelt flour. As you say here, the dough always came out too wet and soft--maybe I just needed to add more flour.

    Anyway, final result certainly looks pretty. I may just give it another go!

  2. Well, that is the most beautiful combination of colours on a plate I have ever seen! Glorious!

  3. Wow the colour contrast between the gnocchi and the pesto is amazing. A really stunning dish.

  4. thanks Ricki - I don't think mine were the prettiest gnocchi but they did taste good - but I still prefer making baked gnocchi which tastes just as good.

    thanks Lucy - it gave me a lot of pleasure - glad you enjoyed it too

    thanks Katie - it is exciting to find food that holds its colours so well!

  5. Wow! The colors are gorgeous!

  6. I am rendered speechless. Too perfect. I will explore.

  7. Having mostly made potato gnocchi, which is basically just potato and flour, the huge quantities of ricotta in this recipe seem more like the problem as far as the texture goes. I would half the amount of ricotta, or perhaps leave it out altogether (I mean, it doesn't taste of much), to give you a better chance of a good dough consistency.
    But they still looked good!

  8. thanks Ann - why don't we have more purple and green meals?

    thanks Lisa - don't believe the photo - my gnocchi were not at all perfect - but fun to try!

    thanks Yarrow - I did wonder if my problem was in thinking they had to be like the potato gnocchi - I suspect these are meant to be lighter but how much lighter I don't know - need to check other recipes!

  9. I've never made gnocchi, but the idea of making it out of beets is pretty intriguing, and definitely colorful. Love the sound of pea pesto. Peas are so delicious!

  10. thanks Kalyn - I think the beetroot gnocchi is worth making at least once in each lifetime - and the pesto is such a wonderful and easy way to eat peas!

  11. I've been on a beet kick lately, so these are right up my alley. Even with all the challenges you describe, the photographs show that you prevailed. Great recipe, thanks!

  12. thanks Laurie - meals do seem to taste good when you know you have overcome the challenges, but it leaves me less tempted to repeat them!

  13. one day I'll love beets. Perhaps I should begin with the gnocchi. Thanks for sharing the recipe
    Ulrike from

  14. thanks Ulrike - if it is the taste you don't like then these are a good introduction as the taste is quite muted - but if it is the colour you dislike then maybe a sauce that can really cover it up will help!

  15. What a great colour on that beet gnocchi!

  16. Just made the pesto - it's just as you both say. Gorgeous, green and really very good. Thanks for the recipe!

  17. thanks Kevin - nice to hear from another lover of purple food

    thanks Lucy - glad to hear you are sharing the joys of pea pesto!

  18. Beet gnocchi?? How did I miss this!! I see that you found it bland but still find it really exciting.


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