Saturday, March 7, 2009

Homemade Ricotta Gnocchi

See, I like gnocchi. I like a plate of warm potato dumplings knocking around a bowl of pesto. I like the comfy, sleepy feeling after such a meal. But it's really a once a year hankering or so-- because I really do get sleepy after such consumption. Gnocchi is a big meal. That's if it's the traditional potato gnocchi. But, if you mix it up by making some homemade ricotta gnocchi with some fresh ricotta you just made, that's a whole new ballgame. This is the sort of dish I could eat weekly. And for a while, we were.

Ricotta gnocchi, a traditional Florentine pasta, is as soft as a cloud and heavenly to eat. We have taken to making a simple red sauce, adapted from the same source as the gnocchi recipe, that with the addition of some finishing capers, is the perfect blend of sweet/acid to play off the tender gnocchi.

Both recipes are from the Kitchn, of which I've blogged before. A great resource if you have somehow managed to miss the whole Apartment Therapy enterprise. The gnocchi is made all the more spectacular by taking the extra (and quite easy) step of making your own "ricotta". I use the suggestive quotation marks here because purists will surely object to the fact that the cheese I make is really more of a Farmer's Cheese, not true ricotta. Real ricotta is made by recooking whey - which is easily done after making a batch of mozarella. I haven't made mozz in a little while, but when I do, I will make the real deal ricotta. But until then, my simple recipe for "ricotta" works with no adverse effects.

Homemade "Ricotta"

1 Gallon Whole Milk (Pasteurized, but NOT Ultra-Pasteurized)
1 Quart Buttermilk

Mix the two milks together in a large, heavy bottomed pot.
Heat gently until it reaches approx 180 degrees F. It is easiest to do this with a candy thermometer, but is doable without.

As it reaches 180, the curds (the thicker white part) will seperate from the whey (the thin, cloudy water underneath).
Scoop out the curds and place in a colander that has been filled with several layers of cheese cloth (or even old, clean pantyhose).

After scooping all the curds into the cloth, pull the edges together to make a pouch and secure the top. Don't squeeze the liquid out, but let it hang and drain. I usually attach it to the kitchen sink faucet and let it drain right into the sink.
Drain for about 30 minutes then store in an airtight container in the fridge.

We usually use it up pretty quickly, but it will last for several days.

In addition to the gnocchi, you can use the "ricotta" in pancakes, salads, blintzes, or, as we found, spread on homemade rye bread with lemon curd - oddly decadent and delicious.

Ricotta Gnocchi
Adapted from the Kitchn
Serves 4

2 cups fresh "ricotta"
1 large egg
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan or pecorino cheese
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 - 1 cup flour

If you are using store bought ricotta: set a strainer line with three coffee filters or paper towels over a bowl. Add the ricotta and let the cheese drain for about an hour. (This can be done several days in advance.)

In a large bowl, mix the fresh, or strained ricotta, egg, cheese, and 3/4 cup of the flour until all ingredients are incorporated. Cover and refrigerate for 15 minutes.

Check the dough by rolling a bit in your hand. It should be a bit tacky. If it clings to your fingers like bubble gum, incorporate more flour one tablespoon at a time until you reach a tacky, workable consistency. Refrigerate for another 15 minutes.

Before shaping, put a large pot of water on the stove to bring to a boil. Sprinkle a baking sheet with flour and set it close to your work space - or just prep a counter space if you have it near the stove.

Sprinkle your hands and work surface with a little flour. Break off a tennis-ball sized piece of the dough and roll it into a thick log about 3/4-inch thick.

Using a bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the log into 3/4" pieces. You can leave them as little 'pillows' or shape them into the traditional grooved gnocchi by rolling them off the back of a fork with your thumb.

Transfer this batch to the baking sheet and toss with flour to prevent sticking. Repeat rolling process with the remaining dough.

Add 1 tablespoon of salt to the water and half of the gnocchi. Gently stir the gnocchi to make sure they don't stick. Once they bob to the surface, let them cook an additional 2 minutes. Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer to a colander set over a bowl to finish draining.

Repeat with second batch of gnocchi.

Toss the gnocchi with sauce and serve immediately.

As mentioned, this dish does in fact pair perfectly with the simple red sauce suggested by the Kitchn. We've made a few changes over time that I think are good additions. It is easy to make ahead of time and reheat in a sauce pan while the gnocchi cooks, making this a relatively quick last minute action meal.

Basic Tomato Sauce
Makes 2 cups, enough for 4 modest portions

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 (28-ounce) can whole or chopped tomatoes, with juices
pinch (or 1/4 teaspoon if you like it hot) dried red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon grated lemon peel (about 1/2 lemon)
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf Italian parsley or shredded fresh basil
1 tablespoon capers
coarse salt
freshly grated black pepper

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and light golden brown, about 7 minutes. Add the garlic and cook another minute. Add the tomatoes and their juices and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Add the red pepper flakes and lemon peel then lower the heat and simmer for about 20 minutes, taking some time to smash the tomato pieces so the sauce is more pulpy than chunky. Stir in the chopped parsley and capers. Check for flavor and season appropriately with salt and pepper.

Sauce will keep one week, in a tightly sealed container in the refrigerator.

We really can't recommend this dish enough. It's easy, really fun to make, and insanely delicious. R granted it "instant staple" status and we're sure to add it to the regular rotation.


Erica said...

Ooh wow. Looks delish! I also like the new header to your blog. Looks profesh.

Catalina said...

Yay!!!!! I would have shouted out loud but Jovie and Heath are still sleeping. I was hoping you wouldn't keep this recipe a secret. You are the best! I am making this next week.

Catalina said...

sorry, which milk did you say was pasturized the crystal or the hytop? oh, winco...

Ethan said...

Of course I'll share. Especially since it's not my original recipe. I use the Crystal milk that has no hormones and is pasteurized, but not ultra pasteurized. Amazingly, I think we may have hit the ricotta gnocchi wall. Too much too quick. I'll have to take a few weeks off they try it again with some pesto.

Katia Clark said...

Looks amazing as usual. I'm waiting for my raw milk this week and making our own mozzarella and ricotta. I've ordered my cultures for queso fresco too, and if all goes well then I'm ordering a cheese press to make cheddar. Your pasta looks amazing. We should have a pasta throw down, since I too love the homemade pasta.

Niki Woodard said...

Testimonial: simply put, yummy, so yummy in my full, full ricotta gnocchi tummy!

Grandma said...

so so good, but so light you just can't stop. a wonderful way to over indulge.

Christie's Corner said...

Okay, I've simply GOT to make my own ricotta. It never occurred to me and it seems to be the key to success.

Well done. I'm jealous -- but in a good way.

Michael and Kenna said...

Yum! Nice work!