Is it me or has it suddenly gone very autumnal over the past week? I’ve had to dig out the jumpers again and the nights seem to be drawing in so quickly. I expect the heating will even go on before long! I’m not complaining though, my pasty skin isn’t a massive fan of all that summer sun and there’s so much to love about the autumn. To me, this time of year is all about crisp walks through burnished parks and bustling markets and returning home with rosy cheeks to steaming hot bowls of food.
The best thing about the autumn is the sheer amount of seasonal British food that becomes available. Squashes, beetroot, sweetcorn and apples to name just a few. It is even the proper time to eat lamb. Ever wondered how all of those tiny lambs running around in March and April seem to instantly produce these big, yielding legs; they’ve often had to travel a bit further to get onto our shelves… For a foodie, the next couple of months are heaven. Despite this glut of amazing food, I am often left with just that; a glut. The use of beetroot in this recipe is a great way of taking care of any that are hanging round. You can also use butternut squash instead, which goes brilliantly well with rosemary, garlic and dried chilli.
Gnocchi is one of those things that rarely gets made at home despite being ridiculously easy. Although it is usually made solely with potatoes, the addition of beetroot makes the little dumplings a touch more interesting and gives the dish that lovely sweet, earthy flavour. Beetroot and strong cheese is a classic combination, whilst the pumpkin seeds add a much needed crunch and the butter sauce brings it all together.
There are a couple of things to look out for when making gnocchi. Firstly, make sure the beetroot and potatoes are sufficiently roasted before trying to mash them. You want everything to be smooth as gnocchi with hard bits is not fun. Once you add the flour to the mashed vegetables, try to work the mixture as little as possible. The dough should be very soft, and only just not stocking to your fingers. Finally, when the gnocchi have poached, make sure that the pan that you are cooking the butter in is non-stick. I’ve had a couple of nightmare occasions where they have stuck to the bottom of the pan and broken up. But apart from those couple of things they are a doddle and well worth the effort.
For the gnocchi:
2 beetroot, halved with the skin left on
2 floury potatoes
1 egg, beaten
100-150g plain flour
Salt and pepper
A few sprigs of thyme
For the brown butter:
2 tbsp butter
1 clove of garlic, finely sliced
A few sprigs of thyme, leaves picked
1/2 a lemon, juice only
3 tbsp pumpkin seeds
Salt and pepper
50g feta cheese
A few basil leaves
Preheat the oven to 200ºC.
Put the beetroot halves into an oven dish along with the whole potatoes and a few sprigs of thyme. Sprinkle on some salt and pepper and drizzle over a little oil. Cover with foil and pop in the oven for about an hour, or until the vegetables are nice and tender.
Fill a large saucepan with salted water and bring to the boil.
Scoop out the soft middle of the cooked vegetables into a large mixing bowl and mash well together. Mix in the egg and a good pinch of seasoning, then finally fold in the flour, adding a little more if needed to make the dough just workable. Roll the dough into a thin sausage and cut into 3/4” pieces. Tip into the boiling water.
While the gnocchi are cooking melt the butter in a large non-stick frying pan over a high heat. When the butter bubbles away and turns brown in colour add the garlic, pumpkin seeds and a pinch of thyme leaves. As soon as the gnocchi floats to the surface of the water they are cooked. Transfer them straight to the butter pan using a slotted spoon. Squeeze over a little lemon and fry for a minute, tossing the dumplings so that they are well coated.
Spoon the gnocchi into two bowls and pour over some of the pan juices. Sprinkle over the feta and torn basil leaves.