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Beetroot gnocchi recipe and tips for eating healthily through a vegetable rainbow

PUBLISHED: 12:00 16 May 2016

Beetroot gnocchi by Frances Bissell

Beetroot gnocchi by Frances Bissell

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Farmers markets are now filled with vibrant fresh produce, the brighter the colour, the more anti-oxidants they contain; so load up on lycopene by cooking up a tomato sauce or beetroot gnocchi.

Eat your way through a vegetable rainbow. Picture: Frances BissellEat your way through a vegetable rainbow. Picture: Frances Bissell

One recent afternoon I was unpacking my shopping bags and sorting out the fruit and vegetables when I could not help but notice how beautiful they were, and how they represented virtually all colours of the spectrum.

Colourful fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins and anti-oxidants which help neutralise free radicals, those nasty little organisms which accelerate cellular aging.

And the more colourful the product, the more anti-oxidant it contains, and even better if we eat it raw.

It would be a pity to regard such food as a penance.

And now that the farmers’ markets are beginning to throw off their dull winter colours, this is a perfect time to enjoy eating a rainbow of fresh produce.

Try, for example, a beetroot soup, including apple and onion, cooked in vegetable stock. Cream or soya cream can be used to enrich the soup.

And I highly recommend my beetroot gnocchi, a little time-consuming but worth it because beetroot, containing betanine, has the highest proportion of antioxidants of any vegetable.

Lycopene, the most powerful anti-oxidant of all the carotenoides, is found in tomatoes, and enhanced in cooked tomato products such as sauce, soup and roasted vine tomatoes.

So a dish of pasta with a rich, homemade tomato sauce would scarcely be a hardship.

Before it you might serve a pear and rocket salad with goat’s cheese and a dressing of cider vinegar, mustard and walnut oil. Dark green rocket is full of beta carotene (three times as much as lettuce), quercitine (another powerful anti-oxidant, also found in onions) and luteine, twice as much as other salad leaves.

Mustard itself, with other ‘warming’ spices, such as ginger, chilli and black pepper are good sources of polyphenols which have a moderating influence on insulin production, as does cinnamon.

Other herbs and spices also have nutritional benefits; mint and star anise have digestive properties, so why not combine them to flavour a pink grapefruit and orange salad to serve at the end of a rich meal?

Turmeric – especially the fresh root, has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and is found in virtually all curry pastes.

I use these to flavour root vegetable soups, especially good in pumpkin soup, and also with potatoes.

But without getting too technical about the beneficial properties of a rainbow of fruit and vegetables, let us just bear in mind how good they are; and the more of them we eat, the less room we will have for too much protein, dairy produce and sugar.

Later in the year, I like to make a red coleslaw, using red cabbage, red onions, beetroot and dried cranberries or cherries.

Raisins or currants can be substituted.

Make a large bowlful of this with the dressing of your choice, and serve it with marinated herring pieces or smoked fish for a first course.

Mediterranean vegetables tossed with fennel juice combine to make another easy and satisfying first course, with a hint of sweetness. Roughly chop a fennel bulb, and juice it.

Slice another into wedges.

Fry a peeled, sliced onion in a little olive oil, and then add the fennel, some green beans, a couple of sliced courgettes, and some grilled and peeled red peppers. Cook, stirring until the vegetables are crisp

and tender, for about six to eight minutes.

Stir in the fennel juice, raise the heat, and stir in the some chopped spinach, chard or other greens.

Splash on some sherry vinegar, stir in a handful of pine nuts and raisins, and serve immediately.

A juicer is a useful piece of kit, as I use the juice as a cooking medium, as well as serving freshly juiced vegetables in a glass; it makes easy work of the beetroot gnocchi recipe.

Beetroot gnocchi (serves 4)

Ingredients:

4 small beetroot

1 carrot

1 shallot, peeled and diced

1 tablespoon olive oil

Splash of balsamic vinegar

400 g freshly mashed potatoes

Plain flour – see recipe

½ teaspoon sea salt

100 g cheese – Gorgonzola or Dolcelatte, or fresh sheep or goats cheese

Greenery such as rocket, parsley or micro greens

Method:

Put two of the beetroot in a saucepan of water and simmer until very tender. Scrub the other two and juice them with the carrot. Put the juice to one side.

When the beetroot is tender, peel both of them.

Dice one and sauté it gently with the shallot in the olive oil. Make a purée of the other beetroot, sieving it if necessary to obtain a fine texture.

Put a large shallow pan of water on to boil.

Put the mashed potatoes in a bowl and add a tablespoon or so of juice.

Mix well, and add the puréed beetroot. Gradually add enough flour to make a soft, still rather sticky dough.

Take a handful and knead it lightly on a floured work top. Roll it with your hands into a rope, about 2 – 3 cm in diameter.

With a sharp knife, cut into 2 cm lengths.

If you have the patience, roll into ovals and press the tines of a fork into each one.

Once all the dough has been used up, carefully lower the gnocchi into the pan of simmering water. They are ready once they float back to the surface.

Remove with a slotted spoon and transfer to heated shallow soup plates.

Serve with the beetroot sauce, some crumbled cheese and a little greenery, Parmesan too if you like.

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