To most Americans, “gnocchi” is synonymous with potato gnocchi, a shape that is canon in both Italian-American cuisine and regional Italian cooking. But gnocchi are far from one thing. They can be made from bread, from ricotta, from a mixture of semolina, milk, butter, eggs, and cheese (gnocchi alla Romana), and even from a simple mixture of water and flour. They come in myriad shapes and sizes and are finished with as many sauces.
I’ve made them every which way, but when I crave gnocchi, I crave ricotta gnocchi. At their best, they have just enough structure to differentiate themselves from gnudi (basically spinach ravioli cooked “nude,” or without their pasta cloak), and a pillowy richness that is addictive and shockingly easy to eat in quantity. They are also forgiving; they offer a visual cue when they are finished cooking in water (they float), and they require only gentle marriage in the pan (30 seconds to 1 minute). Even if you can’t quite nail the shaping, they’ll be delicious whether they’re pretty or ugly.
Finally, they’re versatile: they go with pesto, with a simple brown butter sauce with sage, with ragu if you’re feeling indulgent. But if I am eating them at home, nothing quite beats a simple red sauce.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the ricotta and Parmigiano, and mix until incorporated. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition until thoroughly combined.
- Mix the semolina and the Tipo 00 flour together in a separate bowl.
- Gradually add the flour mixture to the ricotta mixture. Use broad strokes to smear and fold mixture with a spatula, paying careful attention to the bottom and sides of the bowl. Keep folding until the mixture is integrated, but be careful not to overwork the dough. It should not appear entirely smooth and uniform, like a traditional pasta dough might.
- Refrigerate for at least an hour. This allows for easier rolling of the gnocchi.
- Lightly dust a wooden work surface with 00 flour. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper, and lightly dust with semolina.
- Take a small handful of dough, place it on your work surface, and gently roll it into a rope that is roughly half an inch in diameter. If the dough is sticky and difficult to roll out, lightly dust your hands with 00 flour, taking care not to use too much.
- Cut the rope into 1-inch pieces with a sharp knife or a bench scraper. (If you have trouble forming your gnocchi in the next step, you can simply skip ahead to step 9. Looks aren’t everything; they will taste just as good.)
- Lightly dust a wooden gnocchi board with 00 flour. Shape your gnocchi by pressing your thumb into the board or the back of a fork, dragging it down the surface while turning your thumb out and away from your body. Your gnocchi should curl into a shell-like shape, with the board or fork giving it a finely ribbed exterior that will cling well to sauce.
- Place the gnocchi, ribbed side up, on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat steps 1 through 8 with the remaining dough.
- Cover the sheet pan with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes before cooking, or up to 24 hours.
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat. Generously salt the water.
- Add the gnocchi to the water and cook for 3 to 5 minutes, until they float to the top of the pot.
- While the gnocchi are cooking, add the sauce to a sauté pan with approximately 55–115g / 1/4–1/2 cup pasta cooking water. Heat gently over low heat.
- Using a spider or a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the pot and add to the sauté pan.
- Toss gently until the gnocchi and the sauce are married, approximately 30 seconds to 1 minute.
- Remove the gnocchi from the pan and divide among 6 bowls. Garnish with Parmigiano-Reggiano and basil leaves.