Sunday, January 11, 2009

Christmas Dinner: Ricotta Gnocchi with Butter & Olives

Ahh...pillowy soft ricotta gnocchi. Elizabeth has always done a great potato gnocchi and got a grip on the techniques you need to keep them light, fluffy bites of pasta instead of small, gummy bullets of dough, but when she tried the ricotta gnocchi at Mercado last month, she knew that potatoes are second fiddle to the wonder that is cheese.

We were visiting my family in D.C. and wanted to share with them our new-found primo pasta. I waited in line nearly 40 minutes the day before Christams at Claudio's just to make sure we'd have the freshest ricotta to use for this dish...after all, it's all about the cheese.

Since we were going to do Ricotta Gnocchi with Olives & Browned Butter, I splurged and bought some Italian butter as well. It ended up making a slight positive difference...more on that later

The recipe itself is simple and fun to make. But getting the right dough consistency was crucial and you cant' do a straight potato-to-ricotta swap. After perusing the internet for consensus on how to get a light dough that won't break apart we came to the conclusion that:
  • ratios vary because of the moisture content of the ricotta...start with a firm ricotta (Claudio's FRESH ricotta from the case does it for me) or drain the store-bought stuff over a strainer for at least several hours
  • alot of people load up the dough with extras to overcome runny cheese or to avoid excessive flour...a favorite is to use finely grated Parmesan, some potato or eggs.
We decided to keep it simple and only use ricotta & matter what, you season the ricotta (salt, pepper...some people use nutmeg).

Elizabeth dumped out 1 cup of flour then slowly added it, 1/4 cup at a time, to 2 lbs of Ricotta...I don't think she used all the flour, but I could be wrong. The main thing to remember here is that you get the dough firm enough to be rolled out like a 'snake' or a pretzel...Elizabeth & Taylor played with the dough until it got to that stage, then got to work.

It was great watching Elizabeth and our niece Taylor mixing the ricotta & flour together, then rolling the dough out and cutting it.

Drop your little pillows in a pot of GENTLY boiling water, then pull them after they've floated to the top and bobbed about for a minute. I offered to be the lifeguard and taste them to make sure they were ready to get out of the pool.

So I bought some 'Parmesan Reggiano' butter from Claudio's and sauteed the gnocchi in it as they came out of the boil. The butter added a little more flavor than your average Land O' didn't seem as cloying...more subtle. Plus, it didn't foam nearly half as much, so I guess it has less solid fats in it, which was nice because I didn't have to worry about scorching it.

I apologize for the blurry photo here, but we were plating for a party of 9 and I rushed it...still you can make out the snowfall of Parmesan, the glistening butter-coating and meaty slivers of Cerignola olives all resting on fluffy pasta pillows.

After the pasta course, we served a side of Broccolini & Plucked Brussel's Sprouts, roasted in garlicky olive-oil.

Along with the roasted greens went a heavy dose of veal sausages I picked up from Martin's Meats in Reading Terminal Market.

We had started the meal with a Seared Scallop, Arugula & Clementine Salad...the scallops were bought from Johnny Yi's in RTM as well...and ended it with a Strawberry Panna Cotta.

That's the basic run-down of our "All-Philly Ingredients" dinner that we cooked for the family in D.C....all of which was good...but the gnocchi were my hands-down favorite.


  1. Looks fantastic.

    I've never had veal sausage - but now I want it. Did you prepare them fully in the frypan, or did you brown them and finish them in the oven?

    I only ask because I've been experimenting with homemade meatballs lately - and I always brown'em and then bake them for 20 minutes.

  2. As one of the party on nine i can verify all of the above. My favorite was the sausage. Wish we could get that in Washington!


  3. As one of the nine, i can vouch and verify for the facts as stated above. I especially enjoyed the sausage- wish that was available in Washington!

    Thanks Chris & Elizabeth,


  4. Looks like I missed out once again on an incredible meal by C&E. One of these days...