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A Celebration of Spring

This week I have the honor and the pleasure of hosting Presto Pasta Nights #266, a weekly foodblog event organized by Ruth of Once Upon A Feast. This is my first time hosting since I began participating well over a year ago.


Even if you’ve never participated before, we’d love to have you! Here’s the deets: All you have to do is write about a pasta, share the recipe, mention Presto Pasta Nights and Simple Kitchen Seasons (with links) . Send your entries to SobaAddict70 (at) gmail (dot) com and cc ruth (at) 4everykitchen (dot) com by Thursday to make it into this upcoming Friday’s roundup.

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Tonight’s dinner is a dedicated to spring in New York in all its verdant beauty.

As I’ve mentioned before, I think vegetarian food should be joyous and a celebration of flavor. Too many people have this odd idea that vegetarian food isn’t something worth pursuing, that a meal with no meat can’t be delicious or satisfying. Hopefully, maybe, this post may persuade you to be open to new ideas, or at least, begin to think differently.

Celery "pasta" and heirloom tomato salad

Celery “pasta” and greenhouse heirloom tomato salad

I’m testing ideas for a dinner that will take place later this year where tomatoes will be a featured ingredient in each course. This is one of them. Did I mention that this is 100% vegan and gluten-free?

As written, this recipe is sized to serve one so you may have to increase proportions if you elect to make this for more than one eater.

2 stalks celery, trimmed and shaved into strips with a vegetable peeler
1/4 cup vegetable stock or water
2 small heirloom tomatoes, cored and finely diced
a very small pinch of sea salt, to taste
a very small pinch of freshly milled black pepper, to taste
1-2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon chopped fresh oregano

Place celery and vegetable stock or water in a saucepan. Bring to a simmer and cook for 1-2 minutes or until the celery becomes partially softened. The celery should still retain a little crunch, yet become pliable enough to curl around as normal pasta would. Drain, then immediately shock in a bowl of ice water. Drain again.

Combine celery, heirloom tomatoes, sea salt, black pepper, extra-virgin olive oil and oregano. Mix well, then spoon onto a salad plate and serve at once.

Time: 20 minutes, including prep.

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Ricotta gnocchi is a delicious variation of the traditional form of gnocchi, which is most often made with potatoes. These dumplings have a delicate, creamy sweetness that’s really noticeable, especially when matched by seasonal vegetables. They’re extraordinarily versatile and so easy to make that I’ll look for any excuse just to have them for dinner.

Vegetable pairings change with the season and availability. Spring suggests tender asparagus, morels or pungent ramps, while summer would not be complete without the exquisite sweetness of corn and Sun Gold cherry tomatoes. Autumn heralds the arrival of heirloom tomatoes of all kinds, as well as peppers and pumpkin. The winter palette presents a challenge — slow-cooked cabbage comes to mind, along with cauliflower and winter greens, or perhaps a purée of roasted root vegetables or chestnuts.

Sheep's milk ricotta gnocchi, with Greenmarket spinach, crimini mushrooms and baby peas

Sheep’s milk ricotta gnocchi, with Greenmarket spinach, crimini mushrooms and baby peas

1 cup sheep’s milk ricotta cheese
1 cup flour
1 egg
sea salt
freshly milled black pepper
freshly grated nutmeg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 shallot, peeled, trimmed and minced
6 crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 cup spinach (loosely packed), trimmed
1/4 cup baby peas, either fresh or frozen (if using fresh, briefly simmer in vegetable stock or water until tender, then immediately shock the peas in ice water to stop the cooking)
minced onion chives
freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

For the gnocchi:

Prior to making the gnocchi, you’ll want to drain the ricotta of any excess moisture. You can place it in a strainer or colander or double-wrap it in cheesecloth. Suspend over a bowl and let it drain for 8 to 24 hours, refrigerated. Cheesecloth is more efficient as it absorbs moisture from the ricotta while gravity does the rest of the work.

Combine ricotta cheese and flour in a large bowl and mix with a fork, making sure to break up any large lumps. Ideally the mixture should eventually look like this:

Make a well in the center, add 1 egg, a pinch of sea salt, an equal amount of freshly milled black pepper and a smaller amount of freshly grated nutmeg. Starting at the inside of the well, slowly fold the egg into the flour with the tines of a fork in a circular motion or until the mixture forms into a soft, pliable dough.

You’ll want to knead the dough as little as possible. Shape the dough into a ball, then divide it into four portions. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.

Lightly flour a cutting board or your work area. You want enough flour so that the dough won’t stick. If you add too much flour, the dough will be difficult to roll.

Take a portion of gnocchi dough and roll it out into a long, thin cylinder and cut into pieces. You can leave them as is or run them on the reverse side of the tines of a fork to fom ridges that characterize traditional gnocchi.

Drop a few at a time into salted boiling water. Simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until gnocchi rises to the top. Lift out with a slotted spoon and set aside. Ideally your sauce (if you decide to skip the vegetables) should be ready once the gnocchi are done. Top with the sauce and serve immediately.

For the vegetables:

Melt 1 tablespoon unsalted butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add mushrooms to the pan along with a pinch of salt. Sauté the mushrooms until they become tender, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Melt the remaining tablespoon of unsalted butter in the same pan. Add the spinach and peas. Cook the spinach until the leaves wilt yet still retain their bright green color, about 1-2 minutes. Taste for salt and pepper. Reduce heat to medium-low. Return mushroom mixture to the pan. Add the gnocchi. Cook until the gnocchi are warmed through, stirring occasionally, about 3 to 4 minutes. Sprinkle with chives, then spoon onto individual serving bowls. Top with Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, then serve at once.

Time: About 1 hour, including prep. Gnocchi dough can be made one day ahead and stored in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap.

6 replies »

  1. Great post! Gorgeous photos and finally… for me…. a real photo “how-to” for making gnocchi! I’m not a real celery fan, but I see myself using your recipe with shaved fennel instead. Thanks for the ideas and thanks for hosting presto Pasta Nights this week.


    • Thanks Ruth, and if you happen to make ricotta gnocchi, please let me know how they turned out.

      Thanks for stopping by as always, and for commenting.


    • Thanks. If you don’t like tomatoes, you can substitute another vegetable, like chopped, sautéed zucchini or asparagus. Tomatoes were what I had on hand, so I used those.


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