Have you ever made gnocchi from scratch? Chances are, if you have, your first attempt was less than stellar: dense, miniature hockey pucks of gummy dough rather than light, airy pillows of flavor, beautifully grooved and dimpled to catch your favorite sauce. Gnocchi are not difficult, any more than homemade bread or scones are difficult, but it does take a bit of practice, as well as a bit of confidence in the kitchen, to get it right. Maybe that’s why gnocchi, and dumplings in general, seem to be the provenance of grandmothers: years of putting dinner on the table night after night for your kids, and every now and again for their kids, has got to give you confidence in your kitchen skills. If nothing else, you’ve likely learned that should the gnocchi turn out poorly, this too shall pass.
These gnocchi came out quite well, I must say: airy little pillows, gorgeous flecks of green spinach, with a great texture and enough substance to be considered al dente. Homemade ricotta cheese, local whole wheat pastry flour, Parmigiano Reggiano and farmer’s market baby spinach all combined to make a flavorful and memorable gnocchi. I served mine with a simple garlic-butter-herb sauce, but these gnocchi are versatile enough to work well with any sauce. Try some tonight: you’ll make your grandmother proud.
- 12 oz whole milk ricotta (I used homemade; if using store-bought, drain away excess liquid first)
- 1 large egg
- 1 tsp sea salt
- a few good grinds of freshly ground black pepper
- 4 oz spinach (fresh or frozen)
- olive oil
- ½ cup (about 2 oz) of hard grating cheese, such as Parmesan or Sprout Creek Ouray, plus extra for serving
- 1 – 1 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
- Prepare spinach. If using fresh spinach, trim any tough stems, then, in a large skillet, heat a tiny bit of olive oil and sauté spinach over medium-high heat, stirring, until quite wilted. Allow to cool. If using frozen spinach, cook according to the package directions, or simply thaw, then press out as much water as possible.
- Make dough. Add ricotta, egg, salt, pepper and grated cheese to a large bowl. Whisk vigorously until the mixture looks quite smooth. Chop spinach very finely and add to the bowl; whisk again until spinach is well incorporated into the ricotta mixture. Alternatively, combine ingredients in a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Add about half of the flour, turning and folding it in, and continue to add flour, lightly mixing, until a sticky dough forms.
- Knead dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead gently until dough is uniform and smooth, adding extra flour only as necessary. See Options below for testing readiness of the dough. Divide the finished dough into four equal sections and refrigerate, tightly covered, for at least 30 minutes prior to rolling.
- Shape gnocchi. Remove one dough ball from the fridge at a time. Roll out, with both hands, on a lightly floured work surface, to a long rope of dough. Use a light touch, with a back & forth motion, and try to “encourage” the dough sideways as you roll; the trick is not to compact the dough in the rope too much in order to achieve a light, airy gnocchi pillow. Roll out until the rope is about finger width, then cut into 1-inch sections. Take each section and press quickly up against a gnocchi board or the back of a fork. The impression of lines and the dimple your finger makes help gnocchi to catch the sauce.
- Cook gnocchi. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the gnocchi in a single layer: they will sink to the bottom of the pot. Gnocchi are done when they float to the top, about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove to a large bowl with a slotted spoon: toss with sauce and serve hot, garnished with extra grated cheese.
Yields approximately 80 gnocchi.
- Other leafy greens, such as kale, arugula or chard would work well as a substitute for spinach.
- Gnocchi can be pan-fried instead of boiled: see Pan-Fried Gnocchi for details.
- If you are unsure whether or not you’ve added enough flour to your dough, you can test it as follows: cut a small dollop of dough and drop it into a small pan of boiling water. If it falls apart, you need to add more flour to the dough. If it holds together and floats to the surface after 1-2 minutes, the dough is ready.
Gnocchi will keep for about a day in the refrigerator and for up to 6 months in the freezer. There is no need to thaw frozen gnocchi prior to cooking; just pop frozen gnocchi into boiling water and wait for them to rise to the top.
Year-round, but nice in early Spring with the first tender baby spinach.