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Ricotta Gnocchi with Sherried Mushroom Sauce

Beth Ribblett


I've always liked gnocchi, but never loved gnocchi until I had it at La Grotta, just off of the main piazza in Cortona, Italy.  The reason for my change of heart I'm sure has something to do with the fact that I was in a great little trattoria in one of my favorite hill towns with a very special group of people, but it also had to do with the style of gnocchi served at the table.

Tuscan Gnudi Gnocchi (photo from DaVinci Cookbook
People are most familiar with the more dense, chewy gnocchi made with russet potatoes.  But the term gnocchi comes from the word gnocco (pronounced neeocco) which means dumpling, and they can be made many ways. Because just like most of Italian cooking, these delicious lumps do not just vary from region to region, but from household to household as well, depending upon what is available. Besides the popular potato gnocchi there is the “semolina gnocchi” from Rome, topped with cheese and baked, gnocchi di panne from Friuli that is made with bread crumbs, and the gnoochi gnudi from Tuscany made from ricotta cheese and spinach.

Semolina Gnocchi (photo from lindaraxa)
 It is this Tuscan style gnudi that made me fall in love with gnoochi.  Soft, fluffy and light as air these creamy pillows are usually served in Tuscany with simple tomato sauce and are just heaven on a fork.  I've been inspired to have a go at making them, but decided to start with an even simpler version of gnudi that is made with just ricotta, flour, eggs and cheese.


The key to making these gnoochi successfully to me is good ricotta cheese.  We are fortunate that our friends over at St. James Cheese carry handmade ricotta from Caseficio Gioia in California by Vito Girardi, a third generation cheese maker from Puglia whose grandfather was one of the first makers of burrata. Ricotta is a simple fresh cheese, but flavorful and adaptable to many savory and sweet recipes. I just love the richness of this, it's the real deal! Pure white, a little nutty, slightly sweet with a fluffy, dry texture. Trust me, you will never go back to the store brands.  But call St. James before you go over, they don't always have it on hand.

The first step in this recipe starts the day before because even with this dry style of ricotta, you need to drain any excess water out of it over night.  This is especially important if you are using the more common store bought brand.  It is simple, just line a strainer with a coffee filter, put the cheese in the filter, set the strainer over a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.


Ok, so you've drained your ricotta overnight and are ready to make some Gnudi Gnoochi!  The best is to make these just before you are going to eat them

The gnocchi (from Lidia Bastianich):
*1 1/2 pounds fresh ricotta cheese or 3 cups packed whole-milk ricotta cheese drained overnight
*1 3/4 teaspoons salt, plus more for the pasta water
*2 large eggs
*1/2 cup freshly grated  Piave cheese
(the recipe calls for Parmigiano-Reggiano, but we always have piave at the shop...)
*1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
*1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg, preferably freshly grated
*1-2 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed, plus more for forming the gnocchi (I know this sounds a little vague, but the amount of flour will depend greatly on dryness of the ricotta)

1. Bring 6 quarts of salted water to a boil in an 8-quart pot over high heat.

2. Turn the drained ricotta into mixing bowl. Beat the eggs and 1 teaspoon salt
in a separate bowl until foamy. Stir the eggs, 1/2 cup grated cheese, pepper, and nutmeg into the ricotta with a wooden spoon or spatula until thoroughly blended. 

3. Add 1/2 cup of flour to the bowl and stir. Continue to add flour (a little at a time) until the dough comes together (will be fairly sticky).  Using a spoon, scoop a small bit of dough (about 1 teaspoon) and drop it into the boiling water.  If the gnocchi holds it’s shape, then you have added just the right amount of flour.  If you see bits shedding off of the gnocchi, then you need to add more flour to the dough.  Stir in a bit more flour and repeat the testing process above till your gnocchi holds together.
 
4. Flour your hands, the work surface, and the dough lightly, as necessary, to prevent the dough from sticking. Divide the dough into six approximately equal pieces. Roll one of the dough pieces out with a back-and-forth movement of your palms and fingers to a rope about 1/2 inch wide.  

5. Cut the roll crosswise into 1/2-inch lengths. Repeat with the remaining dough. Dust the cut gnocchi lightly with flour and toss them gently to separate. Let them stand while preparing the sauce.

*At this point you can freeze some of the gnocchi.  I used half for the recipe and froze the rest for later!  When you are ready to use the frozen gnocchi, you don't need to thaw them, just put them right in the boiling water.

The mushroom sauce: 
*2 tablespoons butter
*2 tablespoons olive oil
*12 oz. shiitake mushrooms, cleaned, stemmed and sliced
*1/2 cup sliced shallots
*1 1/2 cup chicken stock
*1/4 cup good quality sherry
*1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
*2 tablespoons heavy cream
*Kosher salt
*Freshly ground black pepper
*3 cups coarsely chopped arugula
*Grated Piave cheese

1. Warm butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium high heat.  Cook just until the butter begins to brown (about 2 minutes).  

2. Add sliced shiitakes and shallots and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown (about 10 minutes).  Add stock, sherry and sage, stirring to combine.  Simmer until liquid is slightly reduced (about 6 – 8 minutes).  Stir in heavy cream, then season to taste with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Reduce heat to low to keep sauce warm while gnocchi are cooking.

3. Working in small batches (about 10 gnocchi at a time depending on size), drop gnocchi into the boiling, salted water.  When the gnocchi rise to the surface, scoop out with a slotted spoon and add to the skillet with the mushroom sauce.  Repeat until all gnocchi are cooked.

4. Return heat to medium, add chopped arugula and toss.  Cook until arugula is wilted and everything is nicely heated through (about 1 minute).  Finish with a healthy dusting of freshly grated Piave cheese.