It had been quite some time since I tackled homemade pasta. And, honestly, my earlier attempts had been less than stellar.
But, these days, there’s wonderful imported dried pasta out there. And my recent retirement from working full time left me little excuse but to give fresh pasta making another try.
Plus, I bought a new cookbook by Lidia Bastianich who, along with Marcella Hazan, is considered one of the queens of Italian cooking. She is a classic Italian chef. But her book, “Lidia’s Commonsense Italian Cooking,” includes many simple and seasonal recipes to make for family and friends.
Lidia’s recipe for cheese gnocchi intrigued me. Traditional gnocchi is usually made with cooked potatoes and, without care, can result in a very heavy dish (haven’t we all experienced those?). Lidia’s version calls for fresh ricotta cheese and a relatively small amount of flour. The result is a much lighter gnocchi and a recipe that is much easier to make.
I decided to give cheese gnocchi a try one lazy afternoon. As a matter of full disclosure, the whole process took about two hours, and there was flour absolutely everywhere. It was a “project” for sure but it turned out to be a lot of fun.
Ingredients for the Gnocchi
- Kosher salt for the boiling water
- 1½ pounds fresh ricotta cheese (drained if “watery”)
- 2 cups FRESHLY grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
- ¾ cup all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling the gnocchi
- 4 large egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons chopped parsley
- Pinch of freshly ground pepper (white if you have it)
- Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (don’t omit this!)
Ingredients for Finishing the Gnocchi
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 8 whole fresh sage leaves (do not use dried sage)
- ¼ cup freshly grated Parmesan
- Bring a large pot of salted water to boiling.
- In a large bowl, mix all the ingredients to make a smooth dough. (Tip: Beat egg yolks slightly before adding to the mix. And it’s OK to use your hands to mix the dough!)
- In a large, wide skillet (I used non-stick), melt the butter and add the sage leaves. Let the sage sizzle for a few minutes then turn off the heat and keep warm. The sage will delicately flavor the butter.
- Flour a cutting board (I used my large butcher block cutting board) and flour your hands, too.
- Roll the dough into “logs” that are ½ inch in diameter by 2 inches long. I did this in several steps and thought it was the hardest part of the whole process. Try to make the logs uniform in size along their length.
- Then cut the logs into ½-inch nuggets and roll them along the tines of a fork to make traditional gnocchi ridges. (You really can omit this step. It won’t affect the texture or taste.)
- Place each completed gnocchi on a floured dishtowel to rest.
- When all the dough has been cut, place about 10 gnocchi at a time into the boiling water. When they rise to the surface, remove them with a mesh strainer and place them into the warm sage butter. When all the gnocchi are cooked, toss them very gently in the butter so that they are evenly coated.
- I left the gnocchi in the skillet until dinnertime. Then I re-warmed them and showered them with lots of freshly grated Parmesan cheese before serving. The recipe made at least 3 to 4 healthy servings.
I drizzled a little red sauce over the gnocchi, but they are just as delicious with only the butter sauce. I wasn’t expecting much of my renewed pasta making efforts. But these gnocchi were light as a feather and absolutely wonderful. And there were raves from a husband who normally avoids heavy pasta of all kinds.
I think I’m hooked. I’m planning to drag out my dusty Atlas pasta maker that’s been put away for a long time. Maybe fettucine on a rainy October afternoon?
Gnocchi Note: Gnocchi boards are available from kitchen supply stores or online. They are small, wooden, handheld, ridged boards for shaping the gnocchi. I found a fork worked just as well, but you might consider one of these if gnocchi becomes your specialty.