My Heart Beets Blood Oranges

I hope you had a nice Valentine’s Day! I know celebrating the “Hallmark” holiday is somewhat controversial but I’ve always taken it as an opportunity to show your loved ones to a little extra kindness. In fact, our main “valentiney” activity came a little early for me and Max this year: we treated each other to the pasta tasting menu at Babbo last Wednesday, where we have been keen on going for months. It was great! I enjoyed the first two the best, and by the time the desserts came around I wasn’t really hungry (but I was so sleepy–the earliest reservation we could get was 9:00 pm, meaning dinner ended at midnight!).

Still, I wanted to do something cute yesterday to celebrate–and you guessed it, that meant something food-related!

After work I braved the crowds at Whole Foods in Columbus Circle (not as good as “ours” on the Bowery, but this one is very close to my office). It was quite a sight–the line for the cash registers, which is always long, wound through the entire store. The only way to find the end of the line was to look for workers carrying signs that declared the ends. Undaunted, I grabbed what I needed to make my Valentines menu, inspired by this recipe for beet gnocchi and a recipe for “Capesante alla Siciliana” that I found in the magazine “Viaggio,” which was given to us as a little gift as we left Babbo. Capesante, I found out,  is the Italian word for scallops, deriving from the shell pilgrims on route to Santiago de Compostela affixed to their cloak’s hood. Which makes sense, as you can read in my first blog post, The Shell of St James. Anyhow, this recipe called for changing things up a bit, calling for pureed cauliflower and blood oranges. Obsessed with scallops and intrigued by the use of blood oranges (something that not only sticks with my silly red theme but I know Max is partial to), I grabbed an entire pound of wild scallops from Whole Foods (while normally I would go to The Lobster Place, they were on sale at Whole Foods and the price won out).

Making gnocchi might seem daunting but I’m becoming a bit practiced at it since Max bought me a potato ricer as a Christmas present. I’ll do a post soon that covers basic potato gnocchi, which you might want to start with before making beet gnocchi, admittedly. However, making gnocchi is certainly not something relegated only to the kitchen of an expert chef.

I didn’t change the Salty Seattle recipe too much, but I will note the changes I made. Another important note: she claimed that her beet gnocchi recipe will convert even the staunchest beet opponent into a fan. Well, being somewhat on the fence about beets (and the fact that they make my mouth taste metallic for days after I eat them) I will tell you that the beet flavor definitely comes through and if you hate beets…well, this recipe will be a miss for you.

The most exciting part of this recipe comes from the sauce, which gets set on fire. What could go wrong there?  I’d never actually (intentionally) lit something in the kitchen on fire before, and there’s no turning back now!

Beet Gnocchi with Cognac Flambé (for 2)

For the gnocchi:

1 lb beets, boiled with the skin on until very soft
1 lb potatoes, boiled with the skin on (Marcella Hazan pro tip: use red boiling potatoes, not Idaho)
1 tbsp salt
1 cup flour (this recipe called for cake flour to maximize lightness, but I didn’t have any and used all-purpose. Since mine came out very light, I wouldn’t worry too much about it if you don’t have any on hand)

The original recipe called for roasting the beets and potatoes, and also added 1 tbsp of baking powder. I don’t know if it would have made a significant difference but all the gnocchi recipes I’ve read call for the potatoes to be boiled (don’t peel them–it’ll only water-log them and make for gluey gnocchi).

Directions

1) Peel the beets and potatoes as they cool by hand: it should be pretty easy and the skin will slide off. You will stain your hands, however if you don’t wear gloves.

2) Rice the potatoes and beets together. If you didn’t let your beets get tender enough, this will not really…work. My smaller beets did well (after 30 minutes of boiling), but I had to give up on some of the large beets that even Max’s vastly superior upper body strength could not squeeze through the ricer.

It’s important not to pass these through the food processor, although if your beets are really really soft you might be able to mash them with a standard masher. It’s also good to set a large pot of salted water to boil, because if you have to wait on it later you will be irritated.

Step 3) Mix in the salt and gradually add the flour, until the dough is sticky but more-or-less adheres to itself and can be manipulated a bit. You’re going to have to do this by hand, so get ready to get dirty.

Step 4) Lightly flour a smooth surface, and take a fistful of your dough and roll it into a thin log with your fingers, like you’d do with clay. You want it to be about an inch thick, but it’s okay if it’s not one hundred percent uniform. If it’s very uneven, you can try to squeeze it into shape a bit.

Step 5) With a non-serrated knife (I used a plastic dough scraper, which worked very well) cut through your gnocchi logs about every 1.5″. Normally I would recommend trying to give them cute grooves with a fork, but these are so delicate it’s probably better just to gently place them to the side.

Step 6) Remember that pot of salted water I told you to start boiling? Well, gently transfer about 10 gnocchi into it. Let them boil until they pop up to the surface. Wait until they are all the way at the surface, not just sort of bobbing. Then remove them with a slotted spoon or small sieve. I removed them to a dry serving platter, but if you are worried about them sticking together, use some butter to grease the platter, and don’t stack them up.

Step 7) repeat until all the gnocchi are cooked. I know you just want to dump them all in, but it will cool the water too much and besides, they’ll all stick together in a big goopy lump at the bottom of the pot if you do that. Be patient, it’ll only take about 15 minutes.

Ready for the flambé? It’s pretty simple.

For the flambé you’ll need

2 tablespoons butter

1 shallot, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

3 tbsp cognac

3 tbsp red wine

10 fresh sage leaves, torn up.

Note: I adapted this recipe a bit based on a few things…originally, verjus was called for instead of red wine, which was something I’d never heard of and wasn’t going to track down just to use a tiny bit of it. I also subbed sage in from the original thyme, which I had but I just thought sage would be nicer.

Directions

Step 1) Melt the butter in a large frying pan over medium heat.

Step 2) Add shallots and saute about a minute or two.

Step 3) Add garlic and sage and saute another minute.

Step 4) Add cognac and wine. Set this on fire with really long matches, a grill lighter, or, in a stroke of genius, a piece of uncooked spaghetti that we lit on the burner. This really does flame up, so don’t use a short little match or any old lighter.

Step 5) After the flames subside, gently add your gnocchi to the pan and toss to coat them in the sauce.

DELICIOUS

As I said before, these were quite good! I normally don’t like liquor in my food (even in tiramisu) but I will definitely remake this cognac flambé. It was so quick and simple! Without it, I might have gotten bored of the gnocchi taste. As it was, I didn’t quite manage to finish my meal since I actually ate A HALF A POUND OF SCALLOPS. So did Max, but he’s…a boy! This scallop recipe is great, and really easy. I didn’t change a thing (except using a huge load of scallops), so all credit goes to Chef Cruz Goler of Lupa.

“Capesante alla Siciliana” (should serve 3, but….)

1 lb large wild sea scallops (not bay) patted dry with paper towels

1 blood orange

1 tbsp fresh ground fennel seed (I don’t know if grinding it freshly makes a difference, but we didn’t have ground fennel so I used a mortar and pestle)

2 tbsp butter, divided

3 tbsp olive oil, divided

4 tbsp water

salt & pepper

Directions

1) Dice cauliflower into 1 inch pieces and place in saucepan with the fennel, 1 tbsp butter, 1 tbsp oil and 4 tbsp water. Cover with a lid and put on low heat. Just let this sit, don’t stir it or do anything at all to it.

2) After 10 minutes, poke the cauliflower with a fork. If it’s not yet very tender, leave it alone another five minutes. But if it is, put it in a food processor or blender and puree until it’s smooth. Add some water if necessary to get the blades moving. They say to do this while it’s still hot, for the record, and then let it cool off elsewhere.

3) Divide the blood orange into segments and supreme them. (This is where you peel off the membranes on each segment. You can do this by hand or with a knife.) Chop them very roughly…about each segment cut into three or four equally sized pieces. Toss with a pinch of salt and pepper and 1 tbsp olive oil.

4) Heat a saute pan over high heat. Add 1 tbsp olive oil (actually I used canola oil here, since it handles heat better). Add the scallops to the pan, not crowding them, and flip them after about 30 seconds to 1 minute, depending on how large your large scallops are. Right after you flip, add a tablespoon of butter and “lightly baste the scallop.” I loosely interpreted this as making sure the scallops slid through the butter as it melted.

5) To assemble, spoon the cauliflower puree onto a plate. Put the scallops on top, and spoon some of the blood orange mixture on top of the scallop.

The Lupa picture is better, but tell me this doesn’t look good!

Well there you go, an unbeetable Valentine’s Day! PLUS, I got beautiful sapphire earrings and a pearl necklace.

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