Gnocchi and nice
I’ve called these ricotta dumplings, but they could be called ricotta gnocchi. There is no strict reason for this, but I thought I would go for a controversial opening. I’m not fussed. They’re delicious either way.
This recipe is somewhat unconventional in that there is no flour at all in the mixture. But the dumplings are rolled in – no, buried in – semolina flour overnight, and this gives the final dumpling a lovely crust.
There are different types of ricotta on the market. For this recipe to be successful, it is imperative that very fresh and wet ricotta is used. If the ricotta is too dry the dumplings won’t form and won’t have the same softness when cooked.
Most supermarket ricottas have been hung, and are quite dry and crumbly. The ricotta you want for this dish will probably be in a cheese shop. Ordinarily it will be formed straight into plastic colanders and then turned out. The fresh ricotta, when whisked, should resemble a thick curd.
These dumplings are quite rich and cheesy. They would be too much with a rich ragout. I like the simplicity of burnt butter and sage with this dish but, if you wanted to add to it, some blanched broccolini or grilled ribbons of zucchini could be turned through as well.
These dumplings are relatively simple to make compared with other gnocchi. But I do love to make potato gnocchi for the therapeutic nature of the process. I enjoy the repetitious, almost zen-like nature of kneeding and rolling and cutting a few hundred pieces of gnocchi.
I boil an amount of desiree potatoes, then mill them through a sieve. I’ll then weigh this cooked potato and add 30 per cent of the potato weight in flour. I add this quickly with a good pinch of salt, while the potato is still hot, so it incorporates. After forming the dough with my hand, I quickly take a piece, roll it and cook it, and test this before making the whole batch. It might need some seasoning or flour, depending on the moisture in the potatoes. Once I’m satisfied with the dough, I’ll roll out snakes the diameter of a 15-cent coin. I know such a coin does not exist in legal tender, but it’s a measurement we use in restaurants for something partway between the size of a 10-cent piece and a 20-cent piece. Given the disparity between chefs’ hands, it’s more reliable than saying “the width of a thumb”.
Some people like to add an egg to their gnocchi dough as a form of insurance, making sure it will stay together. I only ever add an egg if I plan to pan-fry the gnocchi after it’s been blanched: it gives it a bit of spring, and helps it to hold together after being sautéed.
Ricotta dumplings with burnt butter, pine nuts and sage
– 900g fresh ricotta
– zest of 1½ lemons
– ½ tsp salt
– 500g fine semolina
– 100g butter
– ¼ cup sage leaves
– 2 tbsp currants, soaked in warm water for 10 minutes then drained
– 2 tbsp pine nuts, toasted
– zest and juice of 1 lemon
– 80g parmesan
Place the ricotta, lemon zest and salt into a bowl and beat it until soft and well combined. Transfer the mixture into a large piping bag.
Pour the semolina into a large, deep tray and pipe the ricotta mixture directly onto the semolina in even, two-centimetre-thick logs. Cover the logs with the semolina in the tray and refrigerate overnight to dry out.
The next day, cut the logs into two-centimetre-square dumplings. Return the dumplings to the semolina tray and cover each dumpling with more semolina. Refrigerate the dumplings overnight.
When you are ready to cook the dumplings, bring a large pot of salted water to a simmer. Working in batches, carefully add the dumplings to the water and simmer for three minutes. If the water is too hot or not hot enough, the dumpling could disintegrate.
As the dumplings cook, remove them with a slotted spoon, drain well and place in a warmed serving dish.
While the dumplings are cooking, melt the butter in a saucepan and cook it over a medium heat until it starts to colour. Add the sage leaves and cook until they are crisp. Remove the sage leaves and set aside on paper towel. When the butter is dark gold and smells beautifully nutty, take it off the heat and stir in the currants, pine nuts and lemon juice.
Pour the butter sauce over the dumplings and finish the dish with finely grated parmesan, the crisp sage leaves and a sprinkling of lemon zest.
2013 Fatalone Spinomarino Greco, Puglia, Italy ($27) – Leanne Altmann, wine buyer for Supernormal and Meatsmith.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 30, 2016 as "Ricotta dumplings with burnt butter, pine nuts and sage". Subscribe here.