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The Ricotta Gnocchi Project

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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.


Prosciutto-wrapped figs with balsamic reduction

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

Sage Butter

  • 8-12 TB butter
  • 8-10 sage leaves
  • Parmigiano-reggiano

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.

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

Frittata with leftover gnocchi

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!

Classic Pairing: Osso Buco & Risotto Milanese

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I’ve been back on the East Coast for the last week, visiting my family for Christmas and New Years. It’s been a whirlwind of delicious meals cooked by my mother, and paired with incredible wines from my father’s cellar – including dueling 2001 and 2002 Chappellet Signature Cabs, a pair of 2008 A.P.VIN Pinot Noirs, and 1994 and 1995 Chateau Montelena Estate Cabs. Thanks, Dad!

But he saved my favorite set of wine for last night: 2007 and 2010 Paloma Merlot Spring Mountain. And since this week has been so focused on pairs, I knew we would have to match the wines with a top-notch meal. My mother and I selected two great recipes that are classically paired together from Canal House Cooking Vol. 7, one of my favorite cookbooks (thanks to GGD). I took the reins on Osso Buco (first time making it) while my mother made Risotto Milanese. Both dishes were a little time consuming, but not very difficult and totally worth it – especially when paired with the Palomas!

Osso Buco (serves 4)

  • 4 veal shanks, 2 inches thick, tied with kitchen string
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 TB olive oil
  • 2 TB butterveal shanks
  • 2 medium carrots, diced
  • 2 celery ribs, diced
  • 1 medium Vidalia onion, diced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 14-oz can whole peeled plum tomatoes in juice
  • 2-3 cups beef stock
  • 2 bay leaves
  • small handful of fresh parsley leaves
  • grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 clove garlic

Risotto Milanese (serves 4)

  • 4-5 cups chicken broth
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 3 TB butter
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 TB finely chopped prosciutto
  • 1 cup arborio, carnaroli, or vialone nano rice
  • 1/2 cup grated parmigiano-reggiano
  • salt and pepper

The Osso Buco takes about 3 hours to prepare and cook, so be sure to give yourself enough time. Start by preheating the oven to 350 degrees. Generously season the shanks with salt and pepper on both sides. Heat the olive oil in a heavy, large, oven-safe pot with a fitted lid over medium-high heat. Once the oil is hot and with the lid off, brown the shanks for 8-10 minutes on each side. Transfer the shanks to a large plate, and remove the pot from the flame. As the oil cools, scrape the blackened bits out of the pan and wipe everything out of the pot.

browning the shanks

Return the pot to medium heat and melt the butter. Add the carrots, celery and onions and cook until softened – about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the wine and return the shanks to the pot, along with any accumulated juices. Add the tomatoes, crushing them with your hands as you drop them in the pot. (We didn’t have whole tomatoes so I used chopped tomatoes, which was fine). Pour in enough stock to nearly cover the shanks, adding a little water if necessary. Season with salt and pepper and tuck in bay leaves.

Cover the pot and braise the shanks in the oven for 2 hours, basting them halfway through, and adjusting the lid to partially covered for the second hour. The meat should be very tender and almost fall of the bone, but the string holds it in place.

Meanwhile, prepare the gremolata. In a small food processor fit with a steel blade, chop the garlic. Add the lemon zest and parsley and process to combine. Using a rubber spatula, transfer to a small dish and set aside.

Begin preparing the Risotto when there is about an hour left to the Osso Buco. Start by heating the chicken broth in a medium pot, bringing to a gentle simmer over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and keep the broth hot. Put the saffron in a small dish and add 1/2 cup of the simmering chicken broth. Set aside to infuse.


Melt the butter in a heavy, deep saute pan over a medium-high flame. Add the onions and garlic and cook, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, until soft and translucent – about 3 minutes. Stir in the prosciutto then add rice, stirring until everything is coated with butter.

Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth, stirring constantly to keep the rice from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Push any rice that crawls up the sides of the pan back down into the liquid. When the rice has absorbed all the broth, add another 1/2 cup of simmering broth. Continue this process until you have added half the broth, about 20 minutes, then add the saffron-infused broth.

I love the color that the saffron adds to this dish!

I love the color that the saffron adds to this dish!

Keep adding broth by the 1/2 cup and stirring. Taste the rice; it is done when it is tender with a frim center. The fully cooked risotto should be moist but not soupy. Once you have reached this desired texture, add the parmigiano and stir until it has melted into the rice. Taste, and season with salt and pepper, if needed.

Osso Buco can be served with a chunky sauce as is (with all the vegetables in tact), or the sauce can be passed through a sieve, pressing the vegetables through. I asked my family which they preferred, and they all agreed on chunky. To serve this way, add about half of the sauce to a deep serving dish. Carefully place the veal shanks into the dish, immersing them into the sauce. Add spoonfuls of the vegetables to each of the shanks, then top with a generous portion of the gremolata.

osso buco

osso buco

Serve the risotto in a separate dish and let your guests serve themselves, or plate the risotto on the bottom with the shanks and some sauce over it. Either way, it will taste delicious when the sauce hits the risotto.

osso buco and risotto milanese

I was pretty critical of this dish, it being the first time I made it. I think it could have used a little more salt, and I would have cooked it longer to reduce the sauce further and make it more thick. But my family loved it, and my brother said it was “one of the best meals he had all month” – which means A LOT since my talented mother cooks for him nearly every night!

The Paloma Merlots went very well with this dish, in particular the 2007 because it was more ready to drink. This dish would also pair well with Rioja Reserva or Chianti Classico Reserva. Either way, it should be a well-balanced wine with a good fruit-acid ratio – nothing too heavy since the veal and risotto are quite rich.

If you don’t have a volume of Canal House Cooking, I suggest getting at least one! Their recipes are easy to follow and use basic ingredients that you can find at your local butcher or grocery store, or that are already in your pantry.

Now, I must get ready for a New Years Eve party! Cheers to 2013, and best wishes for 2014!

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