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Italian Easy focuses on casual, home-style Italian cooking. Superb Italian food needn't be time consuming or overly complex. The essence of Italian cooking is simplicity. Use the freshest seasonal ingredients possible, then use basic cooking techniques only to enhance the natural flavor of the food. Come join Deborah Mele of Italian Food Forever every other week for a new recipe.

Italian Easy: Herb Ricotta Gnocchi With Quick Tomato Sauce

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[Photographs: Deborah Mele]

I call ricotta gnocchi "fast food" Italian, as with just a little practice you can make ricotta gnocchi in as little time as it takes you to boil the water to cook them in. This really is a dish, sauce included, that can be prepared and cooked in under 30 minutes which makes it a fabulous choice for busy mid-week meals.

Gnocchi are basically dumplings, and can be made of almost any ingredient that can be formed into a dough. Gnocchi (pronounced NYOK-ee) are made in most regions in Italy, although they are generally made with different ingredients in each. Some gnocchi are round while others are oval and grooved to hold the sauce. Well-made gnocchi should be delicate enough to be described as tender and pillowy, yet sturdy enough to hold their own when combined with sauce.

If you are a beginner to gnocchi making, I would suggest starting with ricotta gnocchi rather than potato. Potato gnocchi take a little more practice to get the texture right, and tend to be heavier, as they are often overworked. Add an egg to the dough, which helps hold it together. With experience you can eliminate the egg if you choose, and create an even lighter dough.

I recently had family visiting and decided to make an herb version using up some of the fresh herbs growing in my garden. As with any simple dish, choosing the best ingredients is important. When buying ricotta cheese, choose fresh if at all possible, but if not, choose whole milk ricotta, not reduced fat. I have tried multiple flours, including tipo '00' (cake flour) and semolina, but I find all-purpose flour works just as well.

Since this is such an easy and quick sauce that is barely cooked, use excellent tomatoes. Open a can of diced tomatoes and taste them right from the can with a spoon; if they are not delicious in this natural state, do not use them. Good canned tomatoes should have a fresh, naturally sweet, rich flavor right from the can. I prefer imported chopped tomatoes, and choose San Marzano if they are available. You do need to use fresh herbs for this recipe as well as the sauce for the best results. Luckily, fresh basil, parsley, and mint are now readily available in most grocery stores.

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Quick Tips For Preparation And Cooking Ricotta Gnocchi:

  • The amount of flour needed for the recipe depends on the moisture content of the other ingredients. I always let my ricotta drain in a sieve before I add it.
  • Only add three-quarters of the amount of flour the recipe calls for initially. The less flour you use, the lighter the gnocchi you can achieve.
  • Knead only as long as it takes for the ingredients to hold together into a soft, workable dough. The longer you knead, the more flour you will use, which will result in heavier gnocchi. Remember, a light hand yields light, delicate gnocchi!
  • It is a good idea if you are brand new to gnocchi making to test your gnocchi before you prepare the whole batch. Drop a couple of gnocchi into boiling water and remove as soon as they come to the surface. If they fall apart, knead in a little more flour. If they hold up well, continue cutting the rest of your gnocchi.
  • To cook ricotta gnocchi, always use a large pot of boiling, salted water. Try to drop them into the water gently, and remove them as soon as they float to the surface. If you overcook any type of gnocchi, they will turn to mush.
  • I generally do not bother to create grooves in my gnocchi, but you can do this easily by gently pushing each piece of gnocchi against the tines of a fork and letting them roll off.


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Herb Ricotta Gnocchi With Quick Tomato Sauce »

About the Author: Deborah Mele is the owner of Italian Food Forever, an Italian recipe blog, as well as Recipe Rebuild, a healthy recipe blog she shares with her daughter Christy, an RD. Deborah lives 6 months a year in Umbria, Italy where she oversees her guest house Il Casale di Mele.

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