15 Minutes to Fame - Gnocchi for Beginners. And for Braggarts.
May 19th, 2009

I just don’t know where to start. Sometimes a proper introduction to a recipe is so far out of reach & the spark just won’t catch – not so today. Too many options, which one to choose? I could tell you about bad timing. Or about my friend Ulrike, who mastered this recipe and how she inspired this post’s headline. Or about my dear friend Hande, who I consider the most knowledgeable person when it come to both food and wine – yet it took me forever to convince her to finally make her own gnocchi. Or about the old myth, that homemade gnocchi have to be labor-intensive and time-consuming. See?! How could I possibly make up my mind and choose just one single introduction? I feel like a little kid wanting to tell you all about a great day in 2.5 seconds.

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First things first, and most importantly: These gnocchi are heaven in a bowl… velvet-like cushions to your bite… a revelation to your tongue… I could go on and on and on. Having mastered potato and pumpkin gnocchi many times in my own kitchen, I didn’t expect another sort of gnocchi to take my heart by storm. But Ricotta gnocchi, where have you been all my life? This variation is even easier to prepare than the former two mentioned, taste-wise open to all kinds of flavors, and – I kid you not – they take less than 15 minutes to prepare before you can release them for a little swim in softly bubbling saltwater.

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This is why I chose this recipe for a little cooking get-together in our kitchen two weeks ago, my ulterior motive: could I convince my friend Ulrike to take home this recipe and give it a shot herself? I had completely forgotten that she is the queen of crafting and her skillful hands bake the neatest cookies, therefor her little gnocchi of course looked perfect, from start to finish. Asked if she thought that this would qualify as a beginners’ recipe she cheekily replied: “For beginners… and for braggarts – I’m going to impress my parents with it on our next family reunion!

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Armed with a new serving of confidence I called my friend Hande in Rome the other day. We chatted about this and that – this being food and that being another planed food-related trip – before I placed my tempting appetizer: “You simply have to try my newest gnocchi recipe – they take no more than 15 minutes.” A short hymn of praise and she gave in to prepare her first gnocchi ever. I promised to mail the recipe over the upcoming weekend and she added Ricotta to her shopping list.

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Meanwhile she and her husband not only called to report back – Hande was totally delighted with her gnocchi results and couldn’t stop raving – she made them in less then 10 (!) minutes and said a few more things that made me blush and happy… So when she offered me her wine expertise on this dish (she’s a fantastic sommelier by profession), I couldn’t say YES! fast enough:

Hande on these gnocchi and the perfect wine:
Oh, Nicky makes it sound as if it was a piece of cake selling me the idea of making my own gnocchi – you should know: I don’t do doughs. I don’t make any pie doughs. I don’t make my own pasta. And I sure don’t make any gnocchi! I live in Rome, where thursdays is the official gnocchi day – I just need to go out of my house and fall into any of the 27(?) trattoria around me. The only thing that made me give it a shot was the hope (or should I say dream?) that I just might replicate the fluffy, cloud-like gnocchi we once had in a secret trattoria somewhere in Italy.
Ok, there was a second reason, too: I wanted to find the perfect wine match for the gnocchi she was talking about. You know, for me a good meal becomes a perfect meal when it is matched with the right wine. So tonight it took me a whole 8:39 mins from weighing my ingredients to carrying the plates to the table – and about as long to try 1 bubbly and 3 wines (all Italian of course, we are talking gnocchi here!) to find the perfect match: The verdict – the ricotta and the sauce, especially if you are using the roasted pepper pesto, have a distinct acidity, followed by a creaminess and a persistent taste that lingers around for a long time. You want a wine that has as much persistence but not more. It also definitely has to be soft. Neither too much acidity (common to North Italian wines, which will taste like water if you match them here), nor too much minerals (the salty/briny taste you have with southern Italian wines, that will completely overpower the gnocchi), the perfect wine is central Italian, like a Trebbiano or Grecchetto, with enough fruity, flowery and spicy aromas, oily and pleasant in your mouth.

Now what about bad timing? Have you heard about the newest food blogging event, the Daring Cooks challenge? No? Me neither, but I have several good excuses. The best: this monthly event is brand-new (short explanation for non-food bloggers: every month a different host picks a challenging recipe, which the group members will cook and document on their blog). So when Hande sent me a note with said link to the Daring cooks’ first challenge (Ricotta gnocchi!) I was ready to skip my gnocchi recipe and file it under bad timing. But on a second though I changed my mind. When my gnocchi cravings kick in, it’d be ridiculous to assume I could possibly wait another 25 hours the Zuni Cafe cookbook recipe requires… That’s like putting a nice piece of beef tenderloin in front of a hungry lion and telling him, tomorrow you can have it. Ain’t happening! My recipe is made for the impatient cook, who wants to have instant gratification and delight… (which doesn’t mean I won’t give the Zuni recipe a try some time soon, simply to appease my curiosity… ;) Anyway, if you have never prepared your own gnocchi, this is the time to conquer the world or at least your kitchen, don’t chicken out – just give it a go!

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Discard any excess liquid that the Ricotta’s packaging may contain, then add Ricotta cheese, egg yolk, salt and freshly grated Parmigiano into a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden or regular spoon. Now add the flour and stir in briefly, just until combined – the dough will still be quite sticky. (Of course you can add more flour at this point, but keep in mind, that the more flour you use, the denser the gnocchi become in the end. And you want them to be as light & fluffy as possible, with a velvet-like texture.)

Forming these gnocchi is the slightly tricky step, this is the technique that works best for me: Generously flour a board, take a big tablespoon of the dough and scoop it onto the board. It gets dusted with flour (dust your hands generously, too!), before rolling it into a finger-thick roll. Cut it into little pillows (stick the knife’s blade into the flour to prevent it from sticking to the dough). Then place each gnoccho on a floured board or parchment paper lined baking tray. Continue quickly with the next step, otherwise they will get soggy and stick to the paper/board anyway.

Meanwhile bring a large pot of water to a boil, add a generous pinch of salt and reduce heat until the water bubbles lightly. Add the gnocchi and stir once, so they don’t stick to the bottom – then let cook until they start floating on top. Depending on their size this may take 2 to 4 minutes. Take out with a skimmer and serve immediately. I like to serve them either with a simple tomato sauce (like this one or this one), browned butter with fresh sage or any kind of pesto (my current favorite: roasted peppers, toasted pine nuts, Parmigiano and olive oil).

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Quick Ricotta gnocchi

Recipe source: own creation, inspired by many others

Prep time: ~15 minutes

Ingredients (for 2):

250 g Ricotta

1 egg yolk (M-L)

1/4-1/2 tsp fine sea salt

30 g Parmigiano (or Pecorino), freshly grated

50-75 g all-purpose flour, extra for dusting the dough/board

serve with tomato sauce or any kind of pesto

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