I received Jack Bishop’s The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook for Christmas last year and ever since I got it I’ve been meaning to make this herbed ricotta gnocchi. So on Sunday morning I went to my trusty Dupont farmers market for ingredients to do this recipe justice – fresh whole-milk ricotta cheese, parsley, garlic, and fabulous tomatoes. The basil came from my own garden.
Making gnocchi is easier than you think, and ricotta gnocchi are far simpler and quicker to make than potato gnocchi. If you can’t find fresh ricotta, store-bought is fine, but Bishop recommends avoiding generic varieties.
Ricotta-Herb Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce (adapted from The Complete Italian Vegetarian Cookbook by Jack Bishop)
For the gnocchi:
2 cups ricotta cheese, preferably home-style
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1/2 cup finely minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup finely minced fresh basil leaves
1T finely minced fresh mint leaves
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
For the tomato sauce:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
handful of basil leaves (optional)
2 1/2 cups peeled, seeded, and diced tomatoes (or 28-oz can crushed tomatoes)
If using supermarket ricotta, line a large colander or mesh sieve with several layers of paper towels. Spread the cheese over the towels and let drain until thickened and creamy, about 1 hour. Remove the cheese from the colander and discard the paper towel; they should be quite moist.
Combine the ricotta, Parmigiano-Reggiano, parsley, basil, mint and 3/4 teaspoon salt in a large bowl. Sprinkle 1 cup flour over the cheese-herb mixture. Using your hands, work the mixture into a soft, smooth dough. If the dough is sticky, add flour as needed, up to 6 tablespoons more. Do not overwork or knead the dough; just incorporate the flour into the cheese mixture.
Lightly flour a work surface. Break off a piece of the dough and roll it out into a long rope about 3/4 inch thick. If the rope won’t hold together, return it to the bowl with the rest of the dough and work in more flour as needed.
Slice the dough rope into 3/4 inch lengths. Hold a fork in one hand and press a piece of the dough against the ridged surface with the index finger of your other hand to make an indentation in the center. Flip and roll the dough off the ridges and allow it to drop onto the work surface below. The gnocchi should look like slept-on pillows on one side with several thin grooves on the other.
Repeat the rolling, cutting and shaping process with the remaining dough. (The gnocchi can be placed in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerated for several hours. The baking sheet can also be placed in the freezer for about 1 hour. Transfer the partially frozen gnocchi to a plastic bag or container, seal and freeze for up to one month.)
Now it’s time to make the sauce. Bishop calls for one 28-oz can of crushed tomatoes, but I wanted to use the the glorious fresh tomatoes I got at the market instead. Mark Bittman, in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, recommends peeling and seeding fresh tomatoes when substituting for canned.
Heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan. Add the garlic and saute over medium heat until golden, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer until the sauce thickens considerably, 10 to 15 minutes. Swirl in the butter and add salt to taste. Remove the pan from the heat and keep warm.
Too cook the gnocchi, bring 4 quarts of water to a medium boil in a large pot. Avoid cooking the gnocchi at a rolling boil, since violently churning water makes it difficult to determine when they are floating. Add 2 teaspoons salt, or to taste. Add about one third of the gnocchi and cook until they float to the surface, 2 to 3 minutes for fresh gnocchi. Do not thaw frozen gnocchi before cooking. Cook them for about 3 minutes, or until they float. (Bubbles my cause the gnocchi to bob temporarily to the surface and then sink again. The gnocchi are done when they float and not before.)
Scoop up the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer them to a warm, shallow serving bowl or platter with as little cooking liquid as possible. While you boil the next batch of gnocchi, top the cooked gnocchi with sauce. When the last batch has been added to the serving dish, toss, gently and either bring the bowl or the platter to the table and divide the gnocchi among individual warm pasta bowls. Serve immediately.
Makes 4 servings.