Oftentimes, people see homemade pasta as being this intimidating, messy process. Well I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t need to be! Okay, well maybe it is a little messy, but my No Fail segment on Pasta will walk you through some simple instructions so you can impress your family and friends with a beautiful, restaurant quality meal. Extruded or rolled pasta is more time consuming and requires some equipment…so instead, here’s my easy take on homemade ricotta gnocchi!
Ricotta Gnocchi: As mentioned in No Fear, ricotta gnocchi are much lighter tasting than the potato version of this dish (I personally prefer ricotta over potato gnocchi after comparing them). The dough is incredibly simple. In a large mixing bowl combine 1 pound of all purpose flour (about 3¾ cups), 1 pound of ricotta cheese, and 1 egg. That’s it. The best way to mix all of this together is to use your hands, so make sure they’re clean (this is great fun for kids by the way). Continue mixing the dough until all of the ingredients are combined and the dough is just a little sticky.
Note that there is no salt in the recipe. This is because, for some reason, salt added to pasta dough tends to make the pasta have sort of a gray color (weird, I know). The No Fail way to go is to leave it out of the dough (but we will add it to the water when we cook). If you’re feeling adventurous and want to get creative, simply add about three or four tablespoons of your favorite fresh chopped herb. I usually use chives, but any herb you like will do (basil, parsley, finely chopped sundried tomatoes).
Flour a clean, large cutting board. Break off a handful of your dough and begin rolling the dough forward and backward to form a long rope. If the dough is too sticky to roll, put more flour on the board. You want the diameter of the rope to be about ½” to ¾” in diameter…it doesn’t matter how long, just don’t make it longer than the cutting board. Cut little ½” to ¾” chunks off with a sharp knife. At this point, they should look like little pillows. Dust a little flour on a large plate them and place the gnocchi on the plate so that they’re not touching one another. Repeat this process until you go through all of your dough, then set the plates aside. In a large pot add 4 quarts of water and 2 tablespoons of salt and place on high heat and start your sauce (or, if using store bought sauce, skip ahead to the cooking instructions). Note: if you made two batches of dough, you’ll want to boil two pots rather than try to crowd everything in.
Once the water is at a rapid boil, carefully and quickly place the gnocchi into the water. Try to add them in small batches, but be careful that they’re not clumping together. Gently stir the water to keep them separated. They cook very fast so pay close attention here. As the water begins to return to a boil, they will begin to float…when they float, they’re done. Depending on how many you’re cooked, you can either remove the floating ones from the water with a small hand strainer and placed them into a bowl or, once they all float, very carefully strain the pasta with a colander.
Tomato Basil Sauce: Sauce in a jar is fine. There are lots of brands out there, Barilla has a few types I like, but my new favorite is from a small company out of Brooklyn called Victoria. Just heat it in a small pot or the microwave and you should be set. That said, the foodie way to go is to make your own sauce. This can be complicated, but I have a No Fail recipe for a light tomato basil sauce that is quick, easy, and filled with homemade flavor.
In a large sauce pan, add two tablespoons of olive oil and heat until it starts to ripple. To the oil, add a small chopped onion and sauté it until the onions begin to become translucent. Add a tablespoon of chopped garlic (the stuff in the jar is fine, but if you want the real deal, peel and chop some fresh cloves). Sautee that for a couple of minutes and add a handful of chopped fresh basil. Once the basil is wilted, add two 28oz cans of crushed tomatoes. To really kick it up here, go with some imported Italian tomatoes (normally these aren’t crushed, they’re whole…so you may need to chop them up a bit before using to keep the recipe easy). Add a large pinch of salt, a large pinch of pepper and ½ Tbs. of dry oregano. Simmer it all for about 20 minutes and you have a nice, light, homemade tomato and basil sauce.
Now that the pasta is drained and your sauce is hot, you’re ready to marry the two and plate it up. One note on this particular step…the idea here should be to “dress” the pasta, not drown it. Obviously, do whatever suits your taste, but my recommendation is to just gently toss the pasta with sauce until it is just lightly coated. This allows you to taste the love that you put into the pasta with your own two hands.
Once tossed, it is ready to plate. I recommend serving it with some crusty Italian bread from your local bakery. If cheese is your thing, go for the gusto. To do it foodie-style, skip the store bought pre-grated parmesan and buy a nice chunk of Parmesan Reggiano, then grate it tableside. Serve it all with a nice Chianti, put some Frank Sinatra on the iPod, and close your eyes when you take that first bite…you’ll be transported to Little Italy. An authentic, easy, homemade Italian meal at home.