Pink! + Beet Gnocchi

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Please excuse the grammatically incorrect title of the post, but I am trying to convey that I am not just talking about pink, but hot, vibrant pink and I hope the exclamation mark helps to convey that. Saturday morning I found myself in Denver with a blissfully free day ahead of me... and it turned out to be, as  I like to say, a delicious day. It began with an iced coffee and a walk in Wash Park with a dear friend and a trip to the Cherry Creek Farmer's Market.

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The encounters with pink were early and often... beautiful roses climbing up the side of Chelsey's house, fragrant peonies for sale from Pastures A Plenty Farm, a shocking pink stand mixer at Williams-Sonoma and finally the deep pink beets that I found at the farmer's market.

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A few years ago, I discovered that I love beets. If you've only had the canned variety and think you don't like them, I implore you to give them a second chance. Roast sliced beets with olive oil and sea salt I suspect you'll change your mind.  

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The impetus for finding beets was a dinner I had last week at Root Down, a fantastic restaurant in the Highlands neighborhood of Denver. The restaurant's dinner menu includes an awesome dish, beet gnocchi, and I desperately wanted to attempt to replicate it at home. I searched my cookbooks and online for a recipe and was disappointed to find that they all contained ricotta cheese, which neither Rob nor I like, so I improvised a bit. Rob and I both agreed that the end result was a flavorful, pillowy and delicious.

I've included two versions of the recipe below. The first is simply gnocchi in a thyme-infused butter. It is simple and delicious and really highlights the beet flavor of the gnocchi. The second is my version of the gnocchi they serve at Root Down. The gnocchi is paired with steamed spinach, fresh blueberries, slivered almonds and, if you'd like, crumbled goat cheese. Not only is the dish stunning because of the rich colors, but it tastes great. Either way, I have altered the recipe below as I used it to make the gnocchi smaller. I found that I would have preferred mine to be at least half the size of those pictured.

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Beet Gnocchi & Beet Gnocchi à la Root Down

8 first-course or 4 main-course servings

3 small beets, trimmed

1/2 lb fresh goat cheese (note - the recipes I found that included ricotta cheese called for 1 lb of cheese. I only had 1/2 lb available, plus I didn't want the goat cheese flavor to overwhelm the beets. If you want to add more, I think you can safely add up to 1 lb)

1 large egg

3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups flour, divided

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter

8 fresh thyme sprigs

Additional freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Beet Gnocchi à la Root Down

1 pint fresh blueberries

2 bunches of spinach, washed and steamed

1 cup sliced, blanched almonds, roasted in the oven just prior to serving

1/2 pound goat cheese, crumbled

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1.  Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Wrap beets in foil and roast until tender, about 1 hour.

2. Cool beets for 15 minutes. Slip skin off beets; discard skins. Coarsely grate beets. Place 3/4 cup grated beets in large bowl (reserve remaining beets for another use). Stir in goat cheese, egg, 3/4 cup Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Mix in 1 cup flour. The gnocchi dough can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.

3. Lightly dust a baking sheet with flour. Place remaining 1/2 cup flour in small bowl. Using a teaspoon measure as aid, scoop dough into rounds (in my opinion, the smaller the better). Transfer each round to the bowl with the flour, then roll each into a 1" log. Hold in palm of hand and gently press centers with fingertips to make slight indentations or use a fork to make indentations if you are feeling ambitious (this never really works for me so I have accepted that mine will not have indentations). Transfer the gnocchi to prepared baking sheet. The gnocchi can be prepared 6 hours ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Note that if you double the recipe and have extra gnocchi, freeze them on the baking sheet and, once frozen, drop the frozen gnocchi in a Ziploc bag for future use.

4. Melt butter with thyme sprigs in a heavy large skillet over medium heat. Cook until butter begins to brown, about 3 minutes. Set aside.

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5. Working in batches, cook the gnocchi in large pot of simmering salted water until the gnocchi float to the surface, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook for an additional 90 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnocchi to the skillet with the butter and thyme. Heat the butter and gnocchi over medium heat, stirring gently to coat. Remove the thyme sprigs. Transfer to the gnocchi to a plate; sprinkle generously with additional Parmesan cheese and serve.

If you'd prefer to add a few ingredients to complement the beet gnocchi, place the gnocchi on a bed of steamed spinach and garnish with fresh blueberries and slivered almonds. The Root Down menu notes that the dish also contains an apple cider reduction and Iberico cheese - since I used goat cheese in the gnocchi, I think sprinkling goat cheese over the dish would also taste great. I know it seems odd to use spinach, blueberries and almonds to complement these gnocchi but it really does work.

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