8.10.2011

Ricotta Gnocchi with Basil Oil to Make Your Mama Proud

There comes a time in life when roles reverse and you start feeling proud of your parents. For me this happened about a month or so ago, when my mother and I took a mini retreat to New York City for her birthday. The whole trip was spot on.

We arrived for happy hour at precisely 5:29 pm at The Mermaid Inn in the East Village. (To sweeten the deal, they also serve tiny espresso cups of chocolate pudding with your check.) We ate soft shell crab sandwiches at The Dutch. We stayed at the fancy pants Mondrian hotel in Soho. And we had one of the best meals of our lives at Torrisi Italian Specialties.

Torrisi is a 20-seat restaurant that only serves a prix fix dinner with a menu that changes daily. You can choose between surf or turf for your protein. The rest is up to the kitchen.

We sat at window seats covered with lace curtains and drank red wine, while they served us a parade of little dishes, which included a warm, oozy homemade mozzarella that was better than any fresh cheese I've ever tasted. It was also at Torrisi that a sense of pride bubbled up as I sat, a bit wine-eyed, and watched my mother—notorious sushi-hater—bravely eat raw scallops. And like it.

I could have wept. Over my daughterly pride. Over the uncooked mollusks. And over the goat cheese gnocchi that appeared for the pasta course.

Lucky for me, no tears would be needed over the gnocchi. This was a course I was pretty certain could be replicated, with a few minor tweaks. For my first attempt, making goat cheese gnocchi seemed a bit ambitious without a recipe, so I opted for Barbara Lynch’s guide for homemade ricotta gnocchi.

While the recipe is fairly simple, it requires some steps, a gentle touch, and care and patience. Given the meal and service we received at Torrisi, I’m fairly certain this is how they view their food as well. This ricotta gnocchi is worth the time it takes, as Torrisi alone is worth a trip to New York.

And it was over a pastel-colored birthday cupcake from buttercream institution, Magnolia Bakery, that my mother revealed that our trip had been one of her best birthdays; noting she felt similarly on her eighth birthday, when she received a sweater dress with a dog on it (it was the first dress she owned that wasn’t homemade).

With the passing of a half-century, things have come full circle. 'Homemade' is a prized commodity these days. And I’m fairly certain my mother would be tickled to see the stacks of homemade gnocchi in my freezer. There they lay waiting for the moment to be called into duty: to be joined with a summery tomato sauce or, like today, celebrated in basil oil. They are light, wispy creatures. They also standby, ready to be cooked in minutes and are worthy of a special occasion (or of an occasion to make special).

So with a tear in my eye, I say: make the gnocchi. Or perhaps just do something to make someone you love proud. It could be eating raw shellfish for the first time. Or buying someone a sweater dress with a dog on it. Whatever the gesture—and especially if there is homemade gnocchi involved—it will likely be a special moment.

Ricotta Gnocchi with Basil Oil

RICOTTA GNOCCHI
Adapted from Barbara Lynch

Ingredients:

1 pound (2 cups) fresh ricotta, drained if wet (recipe follows)
3/4-1 cup flour, plus additional as needed
1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup grated pecorino cheese
1.5 tsp kosher salt

HOMEMADE RICOTTA
1 gallon of milk
3/4 cup white vinegar
1 tbsp kosher salt

Instructions for the ricotta:

Line a strainer with a cheesecloth and set it over a large bowl.

In a large saucepan combine all ingredients over low heat. Clip a candy thermometer to the pot and, while stirring constantly, bring the mixture to 140 degrees. (This should take about 10 minutes.) When the temperature reaches 140 degrees stop stirring and allow the mixture to come to 180 degrees. (Stay close by and do not let the mixture boil.) When the mixture hits 180 degrees, remove it from heat and ladle the white cheese curds out of the pan and into the cheesecloth-lined strainer. (You may have to drain the bowl of some of the liquid during this process.) Discard the liquid and allow curds to drain in the cheesecloth for about 1 hour, or until desired consistency is achieved.

Ricotta yield: 2 cups

Instructions for the gnocchi:

In a large bowl combine ricotta, 3/4 cup flour, egg, cheese and salt and mix ingredients together. Lightly flour your work surface, as well as a baking sheet. With floured hands, knead the dough briefly until it just comes together (it will be wet and sticky).

Dump the mixture onto your floured work surface and cut off a piece of the dough and try rolling it into a 3/4 inch-sized log. If you can't get it to roll, add a little more flour to the dough. (You want as little flour as possible to keep the gnocchi light, so only add as much as you need.) When the dough rolls fairly well, begin to cut off chunks, shaping them into 3/4 inch logs and then cut the logs into 1 inch pieces.

If you have a gnocchi board, this is when you roll the 1 inch pieces down the board to create ridges in the dough. Alternatively, you could roll the dough pieces on a fork to form the ridges.

Repeat until all the dough is rolled, cut, and marked with ridges. Place pieces on the floured baking sheet and freeze the gnocchi for at least one hour. (They are much easier to handle when slightly frozen.) After this, you can cook them in boiling water for 1-2 minutes, or until they float. You can also freeze the gnocchi in an airtight container or ziplock bag and boil them for a quick meal, as needed.

Makes about 8 servings

BASIL OIL

Ingredients:

15-20 basil leaves
About 1/4-1/2 cup olive oil
Salt and black pepper to taste
A few drops of freshly squeezed lime juice
Toasted pistachios for garnish, if desired

Instructions:

Combine all ingredients together in a food processor and blend until combined, with little bits of basil remaining. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed.

Yield is roughly 1/4-1/2 cup, depending on the amount of oil you add (which is absolutely "to preference")

TO FINISH: toss cooked ricotta gnocchi with basil oil and garnish with pistachios, if desired.

Notes:

-The amount of basil oil will depend on how much you desire on your serving of gnocchi (and how big your serving is). Since I very rarely cook for 8 people, I didn't make enough to cover 8 servings of gnocchi. You could always make extra oil and drizzle leftover oil on top of tomatoes, grilled fish, you name it. It's super easy to make and great to have on hand for quick summer meals.

-When making ricotta, I often pull the edges of the cheesecloth up around the draining cheese and tie the tops of the cheesecloth together with a rubber band around the sink to let the liquid (whey) drain out. With this method you must remember not to use the faucet during the draining. Remembering this is always a little dicey for me.

18 comments:

  1. Oh My! ricotta gniocchi, with home made ricotta, this is fabulous.

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  2. Mmm! Looks wonderful.

    One question: does the milk for the ricotta have to be raw, or is pasteurized okay too?

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  3. Love love love gnocchi! Always see it made with cream sauce so this is a pure delight for me!

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  4. Adele, the milk can definitely be pasteurized to make the ricotta! That's what I used.

    Maris, I completely agree. Gnocchi can be so heavy sometimes ... this sauce keeps it super light!

    Umm Mymoonah, the ricotta itself is worth making. It's delicious!

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  5. that is some lovely looking gnocchi. your Mom and the NYC trip sound so special!

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  6. ooh, this looks amazing! stumbled across your blog from 'in good taste' + i'm so glad i did. super sweet story about your trip, + the pasta looks amazing. i love pretty much any herb oil - basil oil, rosemary oil, cilantro oil, they're all fab! lovely pairing with the gnocchi.

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  7. This posts makes me drool. Love, love, love ricotta gnocchi.
    Big thumbs up.

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  8. Ok, cross fingers…I have the ricotta hanging now. This recipe is a bit more involved than I'm accustom too so I'm curious about the outcome. I've never made cheese before - I'll be very stoked if it turns out as delicious as yours looks!

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  9. I can't remember the trail of links that led me here, but I'm glad they did. Discovering your blog was the highlight of my day - your writing is lovely. Thanks for making me smile today.

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  10. What a wonderful bonding moment. I would be incredibly proud of my mother if she stepped out of her box. She has her moments. The gnocchi looks delicious. I need to try my hand at making some again someday.

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  11. nice homage to your mother figure. :)
    i've yet to attempt gnocchi-making myself, although it's certainly something i enjoy eating. don't give up on me yet...

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  12. This looks incredible -- thank you for sharing. I love that trip for your mom ranked right up there with the sweater dress.

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  13. Love the go-to recipes...all of them! Can't wait to try the ricotta as I've made yogurt before at home and it sounds very similar, and the basil oil...to die for! Great post!

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  14. Thanks for all the kind words! Mixedsoup, I have my fingers crossed that your recipe was a success! I've made gnocchi before and this is by far the best recipe I've found so I hope it treats everyone kindly. Happy pasta making! ;)

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  15. Lovely pillows of deliciousness! I was surprised how much of the delicate cheesy flavor came through in the gnocchi. Not only was it very good, it is also a very pretty dish. Don't skip on the toasted nuts; it adds a beautifully earthy crunchy foil to the squishy cheesy-ness. I ate the left over ricotta with a spoon : \ I had to, it was that good. Thanks Emily!

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  16. What a special thing to share with your mom. Sounds like you guys had an amazing time. And this gnocchi - could not sound more delicious.

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  17. The gnocchi looks wonderful.

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