Every so often, I’ll get together with a friend or two who also like to cook, and spend the day making something elaborate and extravagant. A couple weekends ago, my friend Phuong and her boyfriend came over, and we made gnocchi. And, in the process, I had another breakthrough.
Since this was our first time making gnocchi, we decided to go all out and make two batches: potato and ricotta. It was a long, starchy, floury, methodical process, and we were all dusted with white up to our elbows by the time we were done. After several hours of mixing and rolling and cutting and shaping and simmering–not to mention the sore feet from standing, and stiff arms from crowding four people into one tiny kitchen–we sat down to lunch: piles of dumplings blanketed with rich homemade tomato sauce. We passed a hunk of Parmesan and a grater around the table, and sipped wine from mismatched glasses. It was a solid, homey, nap-inducing meal.
My first discovery was not much of a surprise. As it turns out, I’m just not crazy about potato gnocchi. Even when I make them myself–when they’re delicately handled, coddled like newborns, so light they almost fall apart–I don’t like the way the starch stumbles over my tongue and settles like a brick in my stomach.
The ricotta gnocchi were something else: springy instead of starchy, soft but chewy, with just a whisper of milkiness from the cheese. Blanketed with tomato sauce and showered with cheese, they felt right at home–satisfying in that bone-deep, comfort-food way. We gobbled our portions like maniacs. But yet, as I was eating, I felt odd. It took me until later that day to put my finger on why.
When I first realized as a teenager that food was going to be my albatross, one of the things I mourned most was big bowls of pasta. I’d never even tasted gnocchi at that point, and now they would always be tainted. But, as I was eating those ricotta gnocchi, I felt none of the turmoil I was used to. I knew they were fresh, and made with my own hands, and not especially healthy. And I knew I could finish my portion, and enjoy it, and deal with the gut-rumbles and heavy eyelids that would come later in the afternoon, and then chalk it up as a lesson learned. I wasn’t thinking about gnocchi as a forbidden food, but as a fun and lively indulgence that I’d probably never make again.
That was worth all the hours and the delicate handling. A terrific-tasting batch of gnocchi, and another small weight lifted.
Ricotta Gnocchi (serves 4)
Adapted from The Kitchn
16 oz (about 2 cups) whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg (optional)
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/8 tsp ground or grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
3/4 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed*
*You can replace up to 1/2 cup of the initial flour dose with whole wheat flour. I wouldn’t do more than that, or the gnocchi will be heavy.
Line a fine mesh strainer with three layers of cheesecloth or paper towels. Scoop the ricotta into the lined strainer and let it drain at room temperature for about 1 hour. (This can be done up to 3 days ahead; put the strained ricotta back in its container and refrigerate until needed.)
In a large mixing bowl, combine ricotta, egg (if using), olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, and mix until smooth. Add 3/4 cup flour and mix just until it’s incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Once the dough is chilled, test it by pinching off a small lump and rolling it in your hands. The dough should be slightly tacky and roll easily into a dumpling shape; if it’s too sticky, add more flour, 1 tbsp at a time. You may need to use as much as 1/4 cup extra flour, depending on the dough and the day. Once the dough is the right consistency, re-cover the bowl and return it to the refrigerator for another 15 minutes.
Lightly flour a work surface, a baking sheet, and your hands. Pinch off about a tennis ball-sized piece of dough, and use your hands to roll it on your work surface into a log about 3/4 inch thick. Use a bench scraper or a sharp knife to cut the dough into 3/4 inch pieces. You can leave the pieces as-is, or dip a fork in flour and roll the dumplings off the back of the tines to create the characteristic ridged shape. Transfer the gnocchi to the baking sheet, and repeat with the rest of the dough.
Once the gnocchi are formed, you can cook them right away or freeze for later. To freeze, spread the gnocchi on the baking sheet in a single layer and put the sheet in the freezer until the gnocchi are frozen solid. Transfer the gnocchi to a zip-top bag and store in the freezer for up to a month. Frozen gnocchi can be cooked straight from the freezer.
Cook the gnocchi in boiling salted water, stirring once after they go in to make sure they don’t stick. Boil the gnocchi until they bob to the surface, then let them cook an additional 2 minutes before draining. Once the gnocchi are boiled, you can sauce and serve them as-is, or pan-fry them in olive oil or butter for a little extra pizzazz.