One of the great thing about my work as a food stylist, besides being around food all day, is that I get to meet people that are as excited and passionate about food as I am: kindred spirits. I get to translate into images the recipes of talented chefs and food writers and in the process expand my knowledge of food, cooking, and new recipes.
Two summers ago I had the opportunity to style Mary Ann Esposito’s cookbook “Ciao Italia, Family Classics” . We were on an Italian diet for about two weeks; it was delicious! I always come out of a project adding a recipe to my collection – on this one it was the ricotta zucchini gnocchi. Mary Ann introduces the recipe by saying that “if ever there was a homemade pasta that put the fear of God in cooks, it has to be gnocchi”… fear of God in stylists too! They can so easily turn out wrong: chewy, tasting heavy, or worse – disintegrate once dropped in water. Following the recipe carefully turned out to be a success. I have been making them for two years now and never tire of them. The recipe is so simple I even make them while on vacation. Thank you Mary Ann!
RICOTTA CHEESE AND ZUCCHINI GNOCCHI
- 1 medium zucchini, ends trimmed and cut in half
- 1.5 cup unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3 tablespoons grated Pecorino cheese
- one 16 once container whole milk ricotta cheese, well drained
- 1 egg slightly beaten
- 2 cups prepared tomato sauce
Grate the zucchini using a cheese grater. Wrap the zucchini in a towel and squeeze the excess water out. The zucchini needs to be VERY dry otherwise too much flour will be used and your gnocchi will have you tearing out your hair. Aim for 1 cup well squeezed zucchini. Set aside
Heap the flour on a work surface, add the salt and cheese and blend well with your hands. Make a hole in center of the flour mixture and plop the ricotta cheese in it. Flatten the cheese a bit with a spoon to make a slight depression in the center of the cheese and add the egg and zucchini. It will look like a mess.
Roll up your sleeves and use your hands to blend everything into a ball of dough. It will be a bit sticky , but only add more flour if the dough is so soft it will not roll into a slightly tacky ball. Otherwise leave it alone and allow it to sit covered for 5 minutes while you wash the excess flour dough bits off your hands.
You will find that after the dough rests, it will be easier to handle. Use a dough scraper to help you move and turn the dough to knead it. It does not have to be smooth, but just holding together. To test if you have enough flour in the dough for the gnocchi to hold together in cooking, drop one or two in a small pan of boiling water. If they rise to the top and hold together and do not disintegrate, Congratulations! you are good to go! If they fall apart, you need to add more flour.
Divide the ball into quarters and roll each quarter out on a lightly floured surface into and 18 inch long rope the thickness of your middle finger. With a small knife cut one inch pieces from each rope.
Place the gnocchi on a towel lined baking sheet in single layers as your form them.
When ready to cook and sauce, decide how many are being served. Gnocchi are a first course so four dozen will serve 8. Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and add one tablespoon of salt; drop the gnocchi by hand a few at a time into the pot and cook them just until they bob to the surface.
Use a sieve or a pasta scoop with a handle to fish them out of the water. Be sure to shake off the excess water and transfer them to a skillet with the waiting tomato sauce.
Heat the gnocchi in the sauce and toss them gently to coat well. Serve them as a first course with cheese on the side to sprinkle on top.
You can also serve them with pesto or butter and cheese.
MARY ANN’S NOTE: Want to make gnocchi ahead? Cooked gnocchi freeze beautifully. Flash-freeze cooked gnocchi on baking sheets in a single layer. When frozen, transfer in plastic ziplock bags. They will keep for 3 months. When ready to cook, take out as many as you wish and allow them to defrost then reheat them in the sauce of your choice.
MY NOTE: For a really tasty and fluffy gnocchi use handcraft ricotta. My favorite is Maplebrook made in Bennington Vermont and available at Whole Foods Supermarket.
From my kitchen to yours!
CK, la fille du boucher