Friday, April 18, 2008
PAN-FRIED LEMON-RICOTTA GNOCCHI
I’ve been wanting to try making my own pasta for a while now, but am basically too lazy/scared, so I use my lack of hardware as an excuse (I’m still waiting for Santa to bring me that KitchenAid pasta roller attachment). Gnocchi seems slightly more manageable, but it’s still a lot of work to boil and mash all those potatoes, and my few early attempts, back when I was just beginning to cook for myself on a regular basis, were less than inspiring (granted, I think I could do a lot better now, armed with slightly improved kitchen skillz and a perfect recipe). But when I saw this recipe for ricotta gnocchi at Steamy Kitchen and realized I’m out of excuses. The fact that the gnocchi were pan-fried all crispy and brown, instead of the pale soggy lumpen things gnocchi can sometimes be, was the final nail in the coffin. I had some extra ricotta in the fridge anyway, so I chalked it up to destiny.
I suppose that coffin metaphor might become all too apt if I start eating too much ricotta gnocchi. It occurred to me as I was cooking that it’s just basically lemon-flavored cheese fried in butter. Then I took my first bite and I didn’t care. This is fantastic stuff, crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. Eat a small bowl every now and then, with a gigantic salad (or in our case, a big pile of roasted aspararagus) on the side and you will live a happy life. What’s more, the recipe takes hardly any time and requires zero special skills. (Can you mix things in a bowl? Mush them around with your fingers? Cut dough into pieces? Bring home the bacon and fry it up in a pan? Oops, sorry, I started singing for a minute there.) Rolling the dough into ropes was about as hard as it got, and certainly that didn’t even require much precision; it was mostly cosmetic anyway. I’m sure you could cook this in ugly dollops and it would taste just as good. You’ll notice my gnocchi got somewhat big and square, and I still loved them. I don’t judge a book by its cover, or a lemony cheese ball by its shape or lack thereof.
I’d be interested in trying to actually serve the gnocchi mixed up with some vegetables, as seen on the Smitten Kitchen with pan-fried potato gnocchi (drool...it’s that photo of the gnocchi with the tomatoes and green beans and white beans in a warm pasta-saladlike treatment that made me want to make my own gnocchi in the first place). Not only would it taste great, but it would diminish the classy-version-of-State-Fair-cheese-curds guilty undertone I kept feeling while I ate this. But seriously, it's truly a magical recipe, the kind you (yes, you!) should try right away. Because mostly, I was too busy thinking (even though I can’t take credit for the recipe) “This is awesome! I’m a genius!” as I ate to really worry about anything except getting the next forkful to my mouth. And that is always a nice feeling.
Also, did you notice that my lemon obsession is continuing unabated?
P.S. June 2008: I cemented my genius reputation by making this again, this time tossing the gnocchi and its buttery sauce with blanched asparagus between steps 3 and 4 of the recipe. Bingo! The asparagus adds a new dimension of flavor (greenness!), while acting as a natural complement to the cheese and lemon. If possible, it was even more delicious than last time, and erased the I'm-eating-a-big-bowl-of-fried-cheese feeling. And it was really pretty. See, look!
1 cup whole-milk ricotta (if you use skim-milk ricotta, you may have to use more flour because the ricotta will be more watery)
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (plus extra for garnishing)
1 large egg yolk
1 teaspoon lemon zest (plus extra for garnishing)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt (or ½ teaspoon regular salt)
1 tablespoon minced parsley (plus extra for garnishing)
¾ cup all-purpose flour (spooned in and leveled)
¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
Black pepper to taste
1. Combine ricotta, ½ cup Parmesan, egg yolk, 1 teaspoon lemon zest, salt, and 1 tablespoon parsley in a large bowl. Mix well. Sprinkle half of the flour over the mixture and gently turn a few times with a spatula to incorporate it. Dump the mixture on a clean, lightly floured work surface. Sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the mixture and gently knead with your fingertips, just bringing the dough together until the flour is incorporated. (This should only take a minute or two; any longer and you will be overkneading.)
2. Divide the dough into four equal parts. Take each part and roll it into a long log, 1 inch in diameter. Cut each log into 1-inch-long pieces.
3. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat. Add the butter and olive oil. When butter is just lightly browned, add gnocchi in a single layer. Fry for 2 minutes, then flip them over. Sprinkle with red pepper flakes and fry for another 2 minutes. Taste one to see if it’s done—if you taste the flour, it needs to cook longer.
4. Serve with a sprinkling of lemon zest, Parmesan, parsley, and black pepper.
Time: 30 minutes