Nyuk, Nyuk, Nyuk, Gnocchi

I’ve never made gnocchi before. I’ve had the dish in restaurants, seen recipes for it while reading through my cookbook collection, and even bought them frozen from Talula’s Table. It’s not that I regarded the dish as overly complicated, it’s just that I’ve never really thought about making the dish at all. So, I was somewhat surprised, when I really put my mind to making gnocchi, to find that they’re one of the simplest, yet most versatile, dishes that one could conjure up in the kitchen.

Trying my hand at gnocchi for the first time, I wanted to keep things as straightforward as possible. When going down the gnocchi path, you have three options – flour, potatoes, or ricotta. I chose ricotta based on what we had on hand that day, and because ricotta gnocchi also seem to be the easiest to assemble, if you have access to the right equipment. Potato gnocchi require potatoes to be cooked, pressed or mashed, then cooled before proceeding. Flour-based gnocchi are typically rolled out into thin ropes, cut, then boiled. By comparison, ricotta gnocchi can be whipped up in one bowl using a hand mixer in less than five minutes. If this recipe were going to fail, I’d want to get there sooner rather than later.

The gnocchi mixture is essentially ricotta cheese (15 oz) blended with eggs (3), with flour (1 cup) added to give it body. I had mentioned that you need the right equipment to make ricotta gnocchi – since the batter is far looser than flour-based gnocchi, it can’t be rolled out and cut by hand. Instead, you use a pastry bag, or something similar, to pipe small lengths of gnocchi batter directly over boiling water. It seems to be a bit faster than the rolling-cutting-shaping routine of flour-based gnocchi, but you’ll have to wait until I tackle those before I can weigh in with an honest opinion. I used a mechanical pastry bag for this recipe, and it worked beautifully. Pressing the plunger against my chest, I extruded small lengths of batter through the tip (recalling early childhood experiments with Play Doh), using a knife to sever the dough into the roiling, salted water below. Each batch made about 30 gnocchi, which took about five minutes to cook (like most boiled things, they are done when they float to the top), and as each batch was done, I fished them out using a large Chinese bird’s nest scoop, placing the gnocchi on a plate lined with parchment paper.

After all of the gnocchi had been boiled, I melted some butter in a nonstick pan and fried them up in batches, giving them a quick toss to make sure they had all browned evenly. Accompanied by a quick tomato sauce and a grating of parmesan, these light and airy ricotta pillows turned out to be a substantial, inexpensive meal. You could even freeze the gnocchi after boiling them, and they become quick dinners that can be sauteed, sauced, and on the table in less than 30 minutes.

My gnocchi eyes have been opened, to say the least. This was a very basic test recipe – some obvious additions would be parsley and chopped spinach. I can’t wait to try out different compositions and flavor components (sweet potato and sage come to mind), and you’ll see the results right here, every time.