Ricotta, ricotta, ricotta. So versatile, so simple, so delicious when done well, and so awful when done wrong. For most of my life I hated ricotta, thinking it too rubbery and tasteless. That is, until I tried (quote unquote) REAL ricotta. Not the stuff from the grocery store, but the artisan cheese that is traditionally the by-product of making mozarella.
Artisan ricotta is an entirely different entity than typical grocery store ricotta. And for those of you who think I might just be snobby about these things, well, I must say it’s simply not true! Take cottage cheese, for example. I have sampled and re-sampled artisan cottage cheese and compared it to regular cottage cheese…. and the result? the grocery store variety is good enough for my day-to-day. However, this is absolutely not the case with ricotta.
So now that we’ve established my ricotta obsession, let’s move onto the gnocchi!
About two weeks ago Steven and I decided to do a night on the town, complete with a few Berlioz pieces at the San Francisco Symphony and a dinner at the much renowned Zuni Cafe. After two hours of wonderful music, we sat down to a late dinner at Zuni. After perusing their tempting menu we decided on the ricotta gnocchi with brown butter sauce, along with their world famous burger.
The gnocchi were the first to arrive, and after taking the first bite I turned to Steven and said, “I just ate a little piece of cheesy heaven”.
They were that good. If you are in SF, run, don’t walk, to Zuni to get these gnocchi.
Returned home, the wheels started turning and I decided I must make these at home. After perusing one of my favorite blogs, The Paupered Chef, I came across a recipe that seemed like it might be as good as the Zuni gnocchi — Ricotta Gnudi from The Spotted Pig.
A week and a few cups of semolina later, I found myself fishing ricotta gnocchi out of their flour bath and dropping them into a vat of boiling water. And the result? Wonderful! When you bite into them, the gnocchi basically explode with warm ricotta in your mouth. Though that may or may not sound appealing to you, it is simply delightful.
The other thing about these little balls of deliciousness is that though they take time, the effort required is quite minimal. MUCH easier than making, say, homemade fettucine or lasagne noodles since no pasta machine or rolling is required. But even though they are easier to make, the effect is no less dramatic, and if you were to serve these at your next dinner party, accolades would most surely follow.
Zuni inspired Ricotta Gnocchi
1 c. high quality ricotta, preferably sheep milk
1 c. grated parmesan
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 t. grated nutmeg
1/2 c. AP flour
3-4 c. semolina flour
Your favorite sauce (suggestions: brown butter with fried sage, bright and spicy tomato, light cream, pesto, bacon/cream/parmesan/parsley/olive oil)
Combine the ricotta, parmesan, eggs and egg yolk, and nutmeg in a bowl. Whip until light and fluffy. Fold in flour and mix until well combined. Add more flour if the mixture is too sticky to roll into balls.
Roll the mixture into roughly 1 inch balls. Pour a 1/2 inch layer of semolina into a baking pan, and place the balls in the flour, spaced about 1 inch apart. Cover with the rest of the semolina and make sure the ricotta balls are well-buried. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
The next day, carefully fish out the gnocchi from the semolina, gently shaking the balls to rid them of excess flour. The flour that remains can be sifted and saved for a later use.
Allow the gnocchi to come to room temperature, and in the meantime bring a large pot of generously salted water to a boil. Carefully slide the gnocchi into the boiling water and cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes. Be careful that you do not overcook them, which results in a rubbery texture.
Serve immediately with your favorite sauce, perhaps browned butter with fried sage, a bright and spicy tomato sauce, a light cream sauce, or even with a crumble of bacon along with some olive oil, red pepper flakes, and parmesan.