Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Fresh Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi

Because I am the kind of person who doesn’t easily accept failure, I set out again last weekend to make the spinach and ricotta gnocchi that I had first (and successfully) made for my friend in NYC last month and again a few weeks ago (which didn’t make it to the table for reasons that have been sworn to secrecy ;)

I’ve probably said this a million times already, but I think one of the basic rules of cooking is that dishes that require a few ingredients require that those ingredients be the absolute best you can get. It makes sense – if there are only 4 ingredients in something, you’re going to be able to taste each and every one of those ingredients. So, for example, if you use store brand ricotta cheese in these gnocchi, you will definitely taste it. And that won’t be a good thing, because store brand ricotta is grainy and tastes funny. I learned that lesson a few years ago, and never again will I be so cheap as to buy the store brand – I’ll at least spring for the Polly-O or something.
So with that mindset, I set out to make spinach and ricotta gnocchi using the best ingredients I could get my little paws on: fresh spinach from the farmers market, fresh homemade ricotta made from milk and cream from a local dairy, and eggs from that same dairy. Oh, and King Arthur flour, because that’s the only flour I use in my kitchen (although I used to use Gold Medal and it worked just fine, so if that’s what you use, cool). I should probably go into this further in a separate post on baking but I have to get it off my chest now while I’m on the topic of good ingredients: I refuse to stock up on generic brand flour when it’s on sale at the supermarket – unbeknownst to many, there is a huge difference among different brands of flour, and store brand flour, well, it just sucks. And because you will use it as a base for your cakes and cookies and bread…well, that’s what your baked goods are going to taste like.

Anyway, back to spinach and ricotta gnocchi. Seriously, these are so easy to make, although they do require a tiny bit of prep work, what with the making of the fresh ricotta (which is not hard, just a little time consuming because you have to let it drain for a while). If you’re not feeling up to making it, definitely buy fresh ricotta (and not the aforementioned Polly-O, etc.). All you need to do after that is cook the spinach (the microwave is awesome for this), chop it up, mix it with the rest of the ingredients, and then drop little spoonfuls of it into nearly boiling water. Then you finish them off by giving them a little bath in a splash of lemon juice and butter and then dressing them with parsley and grated cheese. Sounds easy, right? That’s because it is.

As a testament to the amazing power of fresh, high-quality ingredients, I will leave you with a (not really verbatim) quote from the bf: (said with a mouthful of said gnocchi) “Oh my god I think this is one of the best things you’ve ever made.”

Fresh Ricotta and Spinach Gnocchi
(makes about 40 gnocchi – serves 4)

For the gnocchi:
12 ounces fresh spinach
1 cup fresh ricotta
½ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 egg yolk
¼ cup all purpose flour
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon white pepper

For serving:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Make the gnocchi:
Working in batches, wash the spinach in 2 changes of water. Shake off any excess water and tear the leaves into bite-size pieces and the stems into pieces no larger than 1 ½” inches long. Put all of the spinach into a large (4-quart) microwave-safe bowl. Place a large plate over the bowl and microwave on high power for 4 minutes, stirring halfway through. Let the spinach cool for a few minutes. (If you don’t have a microwave oven, you can cook the spinach on the stove, either by dropping it into boiling water for a few minutes, or by steaming it – just don’t overcook it and let it turn into a stringy mess.)

In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water simmers.

Squeeze as much water out of the spinach as possible – you can either put all the spinach in a dish towel and wring it out, or, if you’re like me and don’t feel like dirtying a towel, take small handfuls of spinach and squeeze them out over the sink. Once all the spinach has been drained, chop it finely. You should have about 1 cup.

Pour any water out of the bowl and put the chopped spinach in it. Add the ricotta, grated cheese, egg yolk, flour, parsley, salt, and pepper. Mix well until evenly blended.

Use a tablespoon (not a measuring spoon) to scoop up enough of the spinach-ricotta mixture to form a dumpling the size of a walnut. Shape the dumpling by passing it back and forth between two spoons. Push the dumpling off the spoon (using the other spoon) into the simmering water, and repeat this process until there are about 10 gnocchi in the pot. After the gnocchi rise to the surface, cook them for another 2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to transfer the cooked gnocchi to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat the entire process until you have used up all of the mixture.

To serve the gnocchi:
For each serving, melt ½ tablespoon butter in a small non-stick skillet set over medium-low heat. When the butter has melted, add 1 teaspoon of lemon juice and stir to combine. Add ¼ of the gnocchi (about 10) to the pan and heat them for about 90 seconds, turning them over halfway through. At no point should the butter start to bubble or foam – if this happens, immediately remove the pan from the stove and lower the heat. [You do not want the butter or the gnocchi to brown. This will totally alter the taste and turn this dish into something autumnal – which we don’t want, since we’re going for light spring flavors here.]

Transfer the gnocchi to a plate and top with 1 ½ teaspoons of the parsley and 1 tablespoon of the grated cheese. Serve immediately.


kristen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
kristen said...

ignore me - i was tired and dumb. lol.

Anonymous said...

These look so simple and lovely! And easy, too.

perfect bound said...

YUM. Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. I am going to devour the rest of your recipes.

M^2 said...

Unbelievably delicious. I couldn't keep my hands off of them.

ron said...

I made these last week, and they were exceedingly delicious. Thanks for sharing the recipe!

I must say, however, that in Baltimore you either have very large cups or incredibly small walnuts, for I got 20 unshelled-almond-sized gnocchi out of the recipe, enough for two people as a main (which thankfully was the intent).

FibroLady said...

I know I'm incredibly late leaving a comment on this post, but I just found your blog. I simply wanted to say that in Italy, Ricotta is made from whey left over from making other cheese, usually moz, and the 'real' ricotta IS grainy. It's only in America that it's made from whole milk or cream. You can read about it here:
I'm enjoying your blog very much.

PJ said...

I tried this last night for a dinner party and my gnocchi fell apart before rising to the top of my boiling water! fortunately I salvaged the dinner party with a nice last minute bolognse and bowtie pasta, and a bit of a later dinner!

what do you think i did wrong? maybe I didnt dry the spinach well enough?

roopa said...

PJ - Sorry to hear that they fell apart! Did you use fresh ricotta or store bought? I'm thinking that you may have had too much moisture in the spinach-ricotta mixture and that's why they fell apart.

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