I recently fell in love with Cook’s Illustrated magazine. In fact, I have already alerted Mr. Cheese that a year’s subscription would be at the top of my Christmas wish list. Fortunate enough to purchase my first ever issue a couple of weeks ago, it happened to be the Italian Favorites issue. This, of course, made me fall slightly more in love with the magazine. There on page 26, in sort of black and white coloring, is a picture of ricotta gnocchi, those little pockets of doughy heaven that are served in restaurants, usually with a bit of sauce. I have commonly seen them on menus, as being made of potato or with spinach. The word gnocchi translates to ‘lump’ or ‘knot’, and makes sense since they are pretty much lumps of dough. I read through the entire recipe first to see what was initially expected of me and figured I would start by playing along. Right away, I ran into a challenge. The instructions mentioned straining my ricotta cheese for at least one hour. I did let it sit over a fine-mesh sieve with three layers of paper towels, as instructed, but only let it sit for a few minutes. I could not see much liquid being absorbed and decided we could easily skip this step. Surely the folks writing that recipe started off with super-fresh ricotta while I, your humble home cook, started with clearly already strained stuff. I think. The recipe also called for white bread, which you toast, then put in the processor to make bread crumbs. I skipped that altogether and used prepared breadcrumbs. I appreciate the idea of fresh ingredients and I go with that when using produce, herbs, seafood and other stuff I can’t think of right now, but if I can use already-cooked breadcrumbs, there is no way I would waste time making my own. So yeah, skipped that.
Mr. Cheese wanted to have some meat with the meal, so we decided on Italian sausage. While cutting them up, I noticed they weren’t smelling so good but it was a brand we never used before. We tasted samples of it at Giant one day and loved it, so we bought some. It really wasn’t smelling as good as I thought it would. I put it in the pan to begin browning it and caught Mr. Cheese walking by. “This doesn’t smell so good, babe.” He took one sniff, shriveled his nose up and said “heh, we’re not eating that!” He dumped the pan, I scoured the cutting board and we worked on Plan B. The only other sausages in the freezer, are the smoked and fresh Polish sausages my friend Emily brought us back from her fabulous butcher back home. I looked at Mr. Cheese with shock and awe, “we cannot have Polish sausage with an Italian dinner! Can we?” We tossed the idea around and figured if anything, the sweetness of the creamy tomato sauce would compliment the sausage perfectly, so why not? I would still recommend this dinner with sweet Italian sausage, cut into bite-sized pieces, but the Polish sausage worked out perfectly and dinner was divine. The gnocchi were surprisingly light and as soon as you taste one, you get a rush of parmesan, ricotta and basil flavors that meld right into the creamy sauce. Enjoy with a side salad of tossed greens and Italian vinaigrette.
Ricotta Gnocchi with Creamy Tomato Sauce
adapted from Sandra Wu’s recipe in Cook’s Illustrated
- 14-15 ounces of ricotta cheese. (we used Sargento)
- 1 egg
- 1/2 cup plain breadcrumbs, fine
- 6 Tablespoons flour + some for work surface
- 2 Tablespoons basil, fresh chopped
- 1 Tablespoon parsley, fresh chopped
- 1/2 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
- 1/2 teaspoon each, salt and pepper
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 2 Tablespoons garlic, minced
- 14.5 ounce can of diced tomatoes, unseasoned
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- pinch of sugar
- 1/3 cup heavy whipping cream
How to Make It!
- In a large bowl combine the ricotta, egg, parmesan, parsley, basil, salt and pepper. Once combined, stir in the breadcrumbs and flour. We found that mixing the dough by hand brought the ingredients together much better than with a utensil. Cover and let sit in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes, for easier rolling.
- To form the gnocchi, sprinkle some flour on the work surface and your hands. Grab a small ball of dough and form it into a log between the palms of your hands. Put the dough on the work surface and roll out, starting at the middle, to form a tube or log shape about 1/2″ in diameter. With a knife, such as a paring knife which worked perfectly for us, cut the dough straight down into 1″ pieces. Continue in this way until all dough has been cut. In a large pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil and season with salt. Lower temperature to bring the boil to a rolling bubble, just over medium-high. Place the gnocchi into the water and stir gently. You will notice them start to rise to the top.
- Once the gnocchi are all risen to the top, give the cooking time about another 2-3 minutes. When cooked through, quickly but gently scoop them out of the water with a slotted spoon or ladle, drain the liquid off and add them to the sauce. Combine with the sauce and let cook for a minute or so, then serve hot.
- For the sauce
- Heat the olive oil in a sauce pot over medium heat and add garlic. Let cook for about five minutes, until lightly browned. Meanwhile, add the tomatoes and basil to a food processor and puree until smooth. Add to the cooked garlic and season with salt and a pinch of sugar. Once heated through, add the whipping cream while stirring, and combine. Turn heat to low and cover until ready to serve. Yields 4 servings