Last week I hosted my monthly Cookbook Club meeting, which focused on Canal House Cooking, Volume 7. I love the simplicity of The Canal House books, and I particularly love this volume because it focuses on my favorite cuisine: Italian. I was determined to make a pasta from this book, and settled on the Gnocchi Verdi because I thought it would be easier than making hand-rolled pasta (not so… but I’ll get to that). I sent the group a wide selection of recipes and declared I would be making the gnocchi; we quickly determined the rest of the menu would consist of minestrone soup, shrimp risotto, sausage and apple stuffing, prosciutto wrapped figs, and ricotta cheesecake.
I started preparing the gnocchi a couple days in advance, beginning with the homemade ricotta that goes into the dough mix. I was nervous to make my own ricotta, but it seemed pretty straightforward so I went for it. After securing a double boiler, candy thermometer, and a skimmer (How did I not have a skimmer before now? It’s my new favorite kitchen tool!), I turned on Game 4 of the World Series (yay Giants!) and got to work.
Whole Milk Ricotta (makes 1.5 cups)
- 1/2 gallon of whole milk
- 1/2 cup plain yogurt
- 2 TB fresh lemon juice
- 1 tsp salt
Make a double boiler out of two large pots, with enough water in the bottom pot to come at least halfway up the sides of the top pot. Pour the milk into the top pot and heat over a medium-high flame until the temperature reaches 190 on a thermometer*. Add salt, yogurt and lemon juice and stir with a wooden spoon for about 30 seconds to mix everything together. Reduce the heat to low and cook for 25 minutes, maintaining at 190 degrees. Do not stir, as it will disrupt the ricotta curds. Once done cooking, use a skimmer to carefully lift all the ricotta curds out of the whey and transfer them to a fine-mesh strainer set over a bowl. Let drain for about 1 hour, then transfer to a covered container and use within 4 days.
*The recipe said it would take about 15 minutes to reach this temperature, but it took me more like 45 and it was still not entirely 190 degrees. Eventually I just gave up and continued with the rest of the process, and it gradually reached 190 after I added the other ingredients.
Gnocchi Verdi (serves 6)
- 2 lbs fresh spinach, cooked, squeezed dry and finely minced
- 1/4 cup finally minced basil leaves
- 1 1/2 cups fresh whole milk ricotta
- 1 TB melted butter
- 3/4 cup grated Parmigiano-reggiano
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tsp nutmeg
- salt and pepper
- 6 TB flour, sifted
- 8-12 TB butter
- 8-10 sage leaves
Mix together the spinach, basil, ricotta, butter, Parmesan-reggiano and eggs with a rubber spatula in a large bowl. Season with nutmeg, salt and pepper, then sift the flour through a sieve or fine-mesh strainer into the spinach mixture. Mix it just enough to incorporate the flour. The dough will be soft, sticky and slightly moist. Refrigerate in a covered container overnight.
About 2 hours before you’re ready to cook the gnocchi, form into cone shapes by hand (make sure your hands are constantly wet to avoid the dough sticking to you) and lay onto a lightly floured baking sheet. Transfer the baking sheet to the freezer and freeze for 1.5 hours.
Make the sage butter about 20 minutes before serving. Melt the butter with the sage leaves in a sauce pan over medium heat. Once melted, turn off heat, cover and keep warm until serving.
When ready to cook, fill a deep, wide pan with water to a depth of about 3 inches. Season with salt, and bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Adjust the heat to keep the water barely simmering. Using a spoon, place the partially frozen gnoccho into the water, sliding it off the spoon. Cook 6-10 at a time. When they float to the surface, cook them for about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel covered plate to drain for a minute, then place onto serving platter. Once all gnocchi are done and on the platter, pour the sage butter over the pasta and season with salt, pepper and a shower of Parmigiano-reggiano.
The gnocchi were well-received, which I was very happy about because they were quite a labor of love! I DEFINITELY recommend test-cooking a few gnocchi before getting into the whole batch; that way you have an idea of how hot the water should be, and how long to cook them. The first few I made fell apart in the pan, ether because the water was boiling too hard or because they weren’t formed well enough – or both. I started to panic and thought I would have to give up all together, until Miriam suggested freezing them. Since the dough was so soft and moist, freezing the gnocchi firmed them up they stayed more in tact when cooking. Thank goodness!
I had quite a bit of leftover gnocchi, and wasn’t quite sure how to reheat them. During some alcohol-influenced late night cooking on Halloween night, I decided to pan fry the gnocchi on a dry nonstick pan. That tasted magical. Or maybe I was just buzzed? Nope, pretty sure it was magical.
But the best use of the leftovers was the morning after Halloween when I incorporated some gnocchi into the egg mixture for my frittata. Usually I add ricotta to my frittatas, but since I didn’t have any actual ricotta the spinach gnocchi was the PERFECT substitution to my bacon-mushroom-pepper concoction. So perfect that I would consider making Gnocchi Verdi again just to have a batch around for morning frittatas. Though, I suppose I could just continue to make my own ricotta for that purpose!