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Ricotta Gnocchi, with Tomato, Butter and Onion Sauce

Do you know about ricotta gnocchi? No? Well, you’re in for a treat.

I love the creaminess of fresh ricotta cheese (either cow’s milk or sheep’s milk is perfect), with either seasonal vegetables or simple pasta sauces.

From the middle of March to the end of November, ricotta gnocchi appears on my table about once every 2-3 weeks. I adore it, for its lovely flavor and texture, and for its elegant simplicity.

If I’m pairing it with a pasta sauce, I prefer non-complicated sauces like “tomato sauce with butter and onion” from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan, or brown butter with sage and a whisper of onion.

If I’m serving it with vegetables, it depends on whatever I have on hand and the season. In the spring, that might mean fava beans and asparagus, or morels and ramps; in the summer, perhaps Sungold cherry tomatoes and corn niblets, or summer squash and mint. In the fall, consider heirloom tomatoes and peppers, or pumpkin and wild mushrooms. I don’t serve this kind of dish in the winter, but if I had to, I might use chestnuts paired with either cabbage or cauliflower.

Ricotta gnocchi with Marcella's tomato sauce

Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato, Butter and Onion Sauce

The recipe for the gnocchi is an adaptation of Suzanne Goin’s version from her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 cup flour
1 cup cow’s milk ricotta or sheep’s milk ricotta, drained
1 egg
pinch of kosher salt
freshly milled black pepper
pinch of nutmeg
extra flour for rolling

The day before you make the gnocchi:

You’ll want to drain the ricotta of any excess moisture. Place it in a strainer or colander or double-wrap it in cheesecloth. Suspend over a bowl and let it drain for 12 to 24 hours, refrigerated. Cheesecloth is more efficient as it absorbs moisture from the ricotta while gravity does the rest of the work. To test the ricotta for moisture, place a scant teaspoon on a paper towel and wait 5 minutes. If the ricotta leaves any moisture behind, it’s not ready for use.

Combine 1 cup ricotta cheese and 1 cup flour in a large bowl and mix with a fork, making sure to break up any large lumps.

Make a well in the center, add 1 egg, a pinch of kosher salt, some freshly milled black pepper and a pinch of 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.

Here is a closeup so you can see just how thin I’ve rolled the dough out. The thinner the roll, the less time the gnocchi will take to cook.

You can leave them as is or run them on the reverse side of the tines of a fork to form ridges that characterize traditional gnocchi. I usually skip this part if I’m cooking for myself. If I’m cooking for a crowd, that’s a different story.

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. Ideally, your sauce should be ready once the gnocchi are done. Top with sauce and serve immediately.

If you have the 2012 edition of “Essentials”, the recipe for the sauce is on page 152.

For the tomato sauce:

1 can crushed tomatoes
4 tablespoons unsalted French butter (regular unsalted butter is fine)
1 onion, peeled and cut in half

Combine all ingredients into a saucepan. Simmer, partially covered, on low heat until droplets of fat separate from the sauce, about one hour. Stir occasionally.

When done, the sauce should look something like this:

M. Hazan's tomato sauce

Time: About 1 hour, including making the gnocchi. This does not include the time it will take to drain the ricotta cheese of its moisture.

The gnocchi recipe is scaled for four servings (or alternately, make enough for four different meals).


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