Easy lemon ricotta gnocchi (really)
Home-made pasta was a regular event in our house growing up. My Italian mother Louise would make all types and for special occasions she would painstakingly create potato gnocchi. It was a BIG deal. Our long family table (which sat all 11 of us) would be piled high with flour and we would all help with ricing the boiled potatoes and then cutting and rolling. Served up with a rich tomato ragu, they were divine and one plate was never enough. But they did have a sinister side to them though. My sisters and I called them potato bombs; hours after eating they would start expanding in your already ‘full’ stomach. Track suit bottoms or elasticated waistbands were the clothing of choice when indulging in this delicious but pasta.
Last year I wanted to create a gnocchi recipe for my book, but not with potatoes. It was through sheer laziness that I settled on the ricotta variety. These can be made start to finish in less than one hour, don’t require as much messing around and are guaranteed not to cause any stomach gripe. Good quality ricotta and ’00′ flour (Italian finely ground flour) are the key to their light fluffy texture and you can buy both at most supermarkets. A little bit of garlic and lemon round out the flavour for a superb pillow-like pasta.
Pommodoro is my favorite sauce to serve with them but try others like; butter and fried sage, pan-fried cherry tomatoes and mozzarella, or broccoli and Italian sausage. Luca, my Venetian friend, taught me this recipe and its quick and delicious. The secret is using good ruby-red tinned tomatoes. Buy ‘whole peeled plum’ instead of passata or chopped. In the Naples area, where most of them are produced, the best tomatoes are chosen for whole peeled plum, and the lesser are pureed. My family and I make this at least once a week with spaghetti and other dishes. Not a bad idea to buy the cans by the case.
lemon gnocchi with pommodoro sauce
prep time 35 minutes cook time 15 minutes
500 g/1 lb good-quality full-fat ricotta
2 egg yolks
half garlic clove, finely chopped
35g/1/4 cup finely grated parmesan
1 tsp finely grated lemon rind
1 tsp sea salt
200g/7oz ‘00’ flour, plus extra for dusting
semolina flour, for dusting
2 x 400g/14oz tins peeled plum tomatoes
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic finely chopped
pinch of crushed dried chili
1 tsp salt
small handful of torn basil leaves
Place the ricotta in a fine sieve for 5 minutes to drain off as much liquid as you can. Scrape into a large bowl, add the egg yolks, garlic, parmesan, lemon rind and salt and mix well. Add the ‘00’ flour and mix. It should come together to form a light and sticky dough. Dust a work surface with a bit more ‘00’ flour and place dough on top. Gently roll dough in the flour and mix in so it’s not too sticky. Knead for a few minutes, then cut into 4 pieces. Roll each piece on the counter with the palms of your hands to form a long 21/2 cm (11/4 inch) thick cylinder. Cut into 2 cm (3/4 inch) lengths with a knife and place on a tray lined with baking paper and dusted with semolina flour. Repeat with remaining pieces. If you aren’t using it until later and want to refrigerate it, then cover with another sheet of baking paper and then plastic wrap. This will keep dry for up to 12 hours.
To make the sauce, heat the olive oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute or until slightly golden. Add the tomatoes and salt and cook on medium-high heat for 10-15 minutes until thick and no watery liquid is left. Use a splatter screen to keep it from spraying your kitchen. While its cooking, use a flat wooden spoon to break up the tomatoes. Remove from heat and set aside until using. This can be reheated at anytime.
Bring a very large stockpot of salted water to the boil. Drop in the gnocchi and once they float to the top, cook for another minute, then use a small sieve or slotted spoon to scoop them out of the water and place in the warm tomato sauce. Gently toss the gnocchi through and mix in the torn basil leaves. Serve with grated parmesan.