Thursday, November 12, 2009

Ricotta Gnocchi

Having recently attended a cheese-making workshop with Ricki Carroll a.k.a. the Cheese Queen (whom Barbara Kingsolver mentions in the most elogious terms in Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book about her and her family's experience of growing and/or making most of their food themselves for one year I read with passionate interest ), I now have a fridge which seems to bloom everyday with a new luscious dairy product. The first one I tried my hand at is ricotta. It is not hard to make: you heat up milk to a specific temperature, cool it down a bit, mix some citric acid into it (some use lemon juice but I haven't tried that yet) and let it set for a while. A few minutes later, you are spooning warm ricotta into a very fine cheesecloth which you then hang over a large bowl (to catch the whey). Whey the ricotta is dry enough for your taste, you refrigerate it. I made it rather dry because I intended to use it to reproduce the gnocchi I knew growing up and had never tasted since. We lived in Paris, close to Avenue Victor Hugo and on the avenue, there was an Italian grocery store (I forgot the name and it no longer exists anyway). It was not inexpensive and my parents only shopped there on special occasions. What I remember most is their gnocchi. Round-shaped and covered with grated Parmesan cheese with a tiny pat of butter on top, they melted in the mouth like fluffy clouds. They were just delicious. Imagine my dismay when I tried gnocchi in this country and found them gummy and mealy. Not the stuff of childhood memories by any stretch of the imagination. So for years and years we lived in a gnocchi-free household, which was fine really. I mean, compared to what goes on everyday in the world, what's thirty gnocchi-less years? But I had an epiphany the other day when I stumbled upon this recipe. The gnocchi I had tried and not liked were most certainly potato-gnocchi and I hadn't known there was another kind. Apparently in Florence (don't you love that city?), they make gnocchi with ricotta. That explains the divine featheriness of my childhood gnocchi. The grocer must have hailed from the city of the Medici or at least from the Tuscan hills which surround it! So I made gnocchi with my homemade ricotta (I pretty much followed the recipe, except that I use half white whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour) and they were very good. Quickly put together too. The longest part was actually making the ricotta (or rather waiting for the scalded milk to cool down so that I could stir in the citric acid). With store-bought ricotta, it'd be done in a flash. I didn't serve any sauce with it, just freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, a petal of butter and some black pepper. Next time I'll try the Food Network recipe which doesn't include flour. The gnocchi will probably come out even closer to what I remember and I am looking forward to that. Unlike Proust to whom the madeleine came unbidden giving breath and life to a forgotten world, I seem to have to work for my memories. But, hey, they are worth it!

5 comments:

  1. I love ricotta gnocchi and I am sad to hear that you had a bad experience eating potato gnocchi. The potato version should be also pillowy and light, melting in your mouth. The problem lies in the potatoes found in the USA, the flavorful potatoes don't make good gnocchi, the super starchy ones don't have much flavor. In Italy we have one potato variety just for gnocchi and it works really well. I remember seeing a recipe for potato gnocchi somewhere, and it look really good. If I try it I will let you know.

    Happy cooking!

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  2. Thanks, Silvia! I am glad to hear that potato gnocchi can be marvelous too (although I am not really surprised as I can't imagine anything less than delicious coming out of Italy). I'd love to see a good recipe if you find one. Do they make potato gnocchi in Venice?

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  3. We do have potato gnocchi in Venice, but best of all we make squash gnocchi and they are delicious. Time for posting the recipe now!

    If I find the recipe I will let you know.

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  4. ummmmm.....i will have to follow this post for the updated recipe...
    "melted in the mouth like fluffy pillows"
    What a great image....
    Judd

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  5. You got to attend a workshop with Ricki Carroll? I am so jealous!

    I love Ricotta Gnocchi too, I bet they were fabulous with that freshly made cheese!

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