Thursday, September 24, 2009



I am gnocchi-obsessed right now. I just can't stop making the stuff! It's so tasty and (too) filling.
This has been an obsession of mine in the past, but my love for gnocchi was rekindled in Italy. I had some fabulous bites in Sorrento and a strong desire to recreate that experience at home.


The picture above is of the dish that fired up this most recent incarnation of my gnocchi obsession. This gnocchi in combination with a glass of wine made for a near-perfect meal. The gnocchi was tiny and smooth with none of the expected ridges or dimples on the side. The chef knew just how to dress the itsy bitsy dumplings -- simply. Rather than piling on a cream sauce or heavy ragu, the gnocchi was tossed with olive oil, a few perfect roasted tomatoes, red pepper flakes, chopped fresh parsley, and a little lemon. It was topped with the most fabulous mussels and clams. I assume once the gnocchi was cooked it was thrown into a sauce pan with the tomatoes, red peper flakes, olive oil, and shellfish (so the mussels and clams could open over the gnocchi and flavor the dish with their juices). It was all so delicious. Everyone else at the table had food envy when the server brought it out.


My travel buddy, Paige, had the gnocchi pictured above on our second night in Sorrento. The color was so shocking when the server brought out the dish! It's a spinach gnocchi dressed in a creamy salmon sauce, and if you look closely you can see the flecks of poached salmon in the picture. Paige said more than once that this was the best thing she ate on the trip, and it's easy to understand why. The creaminess of the sauce complimented the tenderness of the dumplings, and the strong salmon flavor was delightful. I was a little surprised to see dairy paired with seafood, as that is a classic no-no in Italian cooking, but I'm glad they did it! Delicious.

Before I start sharing recipes and posting pictures of homemade gnocchi I would like to clear up a few common misconceptions. The first, most obvious, and most common is that gnocchi is always made from potatoes. This is true sometimes but not always. Gnocchi first appears in Italian cookbooks in the 13th century, predating the arrival of potatoes in Italy by about 300 years. Before the arrival of potatoes it was generally made of semolina flour mixed with eggs and water, and these days just about anything goes. Gnocchi can be made of potatoes, semolina, riccotta, or bread crumbs and can include a variety of other ingredients (spinach, rosemary, pumpkin...). The name refers not to ingredients but to the shape. Gnocchi literally means "lump" and refers to a small, dense dumpling. I think this is great because it leaves it open for plenty of experimentation and can be paired with a number of diverse sauces. Most gnocchi have ridges on the side for sauce to cling to, but (as previously mentioned) even that's not a requirement.

The gnocchi I've been making is ricotta-based and includes some semolina (for texture and added yumminess).   I've made it several times and have modified the recipe slightly each time.  So, here's the basic recipe with plenty of notes to follow.  

Ricotta Gnocchi

2 cups whole-milk ricotta
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup semolina flour plus more for flouring work surfaces

Stir together the ricotta, eggs, cheese, and nutmeg.  Salt and pepper to taste.  Add the flour, stirring to form a soft dough.  On a well-floured work space (use the semolina for this), shape the dough into several 1-inch-thick ropes.  Cut crosswise at an angle into 1-inch pieces with a very sharp knife.  Put in one layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet sprinkled with semolina flour (or all-purpose if you don't have semolina).


Refrigerate the gnocchi for 15 minutes (or up to 24 hours).  Bring a large pot of salted water to a rapid boil, and cook the gnocchi in batches.  Each batch should take 3 to 4 minutes.  (When the gnocchi is fully cooked it will float.)  Lift the gnocchi out of the boiling water with a slotted spoon or a small strainer and drain.

That's it!  I bet that's a lot less work than you were expecting.  Right?!  

You may have noticed that the gnocchi pictured above is flecked with green.  When I made that batch I decided to throw a handful of chopped spinach into the dough.  I was very pleased with the results as the spinach added a splashy bit of color and packed a gentle flavor punch.  Other additions I plan on trying out include rosemary, pumpkin and cinnamon, garlic, and lemon zest.

Another thing you may have noticed is the size of my gnocchi compared with the restaurant pictures at the top of this post.  I chose to make a larger gnocchi with a more rustic cut.  Partly this is because I really like a less refined look, and partly it's because I can be a lazy cook at times.  It's much faster to make larger gnocchi and after a long day at work I'm not always patient when it comes to dinner.

So, the next step to making great ricotta gnocchi is dressing it.  There are countless things that can be done, but here are a few that I've tried.  The first time I slowly sauteed two chopped shallots in a generous chunk of butter until they were caramelized and the butter browned.  I then added three cloves of garlic, a sprinkling of red pepper flakes, and some fresh rosemary.  I threw the cooked gnocchi in at the last minute and gave the pan a couple of tosses so the gnocchi was well coated.  I then plated the gnocchi, topped it with a handful of shredded parmesan (along with sea salt and cracked pepper), and finished it off with a dash of extra virgin olive oil.  It was very simple and also quite tasty.  



Check out those little bites of deliciousness!

The next batch of gnocchi received a similar treatment.  I omitted the rosemary and instead added fresh sage leaves which I fried in the butter along with the shallots.  I also sprinkled a few chopped walnuts on top.  I don't have any pictures of the finished product, but it was quite pretty and had a more autumnal flavor.  

The last time I made ricotta gnocchi I added the chopped spinach.  I was so pleased with the results that I decided to try a bowl with nothing more than olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground pepper.  


I liked that very much but decided to punch things up a little.  Charlie made a wonderful tomato sauce with plenty of fresh herbs from our container garden so we tried that on the gnocchi with parmesan cheese on top and spinach as a garnish.  It looked and tasted beautiful.


Now you know the story of my recent gnocchi adventures.  I've had a blast making it and can hardly wait to try out other versions!



  2. I wish I had your skill here. I have tried to make gnocchi before and it ended up being one of my worst recipe FAILs ever. I'll have to get up the courage to try again.

    Also, I really like the idea of your variations on the basic recipe--the chopped spinach in particular sounds like an exceptional modification. Thanks for sharing!

    Casual Kitchen

  3. Now that looks yummy!! I will have to try it although I am sure it won't look as good as yours!!