Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Sauce and Luganega Sausage

This is a recipe I learned in a cooking class at Philadelphia’s famous DiBruno Brothers. It’s surprisingly easy, much easier than regular gnocchi. It will take about 30 to 45 minutes to make a whole batch of gnocchi, and about 10 minutes more to have a finished dinner on the table (provided you made your sauce in advance). Each batch should be about 5 servings.

Ricotta Gnocchi:

1 lb. fresh ricotta
1 large egg
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons salt
4 oz. (scant cup) flour, plus extra for work surfaces

First and foremost: let’s talk ricotta. If you happen to live near a fancy-pants Italian cheese shop, see if they have ricotta del pastaio – it has a lower water content than the regular stuff from the grocery store, which makes it better for things like pasta and gnocchi. If all you have access to is the stuff in the grocery store that comes in the plastic tubs, place a strainer over a bowl and line with cheese cloth/paper towels. Place the ricotta on the cloth, cover, and let it sit in the fridge overnight. Now, I’ve used regular ricotta in the past and skipped this step with fine results, so if you’re crunched for time you can get away with not draining the excess moisture – just try not to add too much extra flour when making the gnocchi.

Ok, now that our ricotta situation is under control, let’s get to the recipe. Beat the egg with a whisk and add to a bowl along with the ricotta, olive oil and salt. Mix to integrate. Form a well in the center and add the flour, slowly integrating with the cheese mixture until a dough forms. You may need to add a little extra flour – the dough should be a little tacky, but not sticky.

Cut the dough into six equal sized pieces, covering the parts you’re not using with plastic wrap. On a lightly floured surface, work each piece into a cigar shape, rolling from the center outwards. Each rope shaped piece should be about ½ - ¾” thick. Cut each rope into 1” long pieces.

Once cut, pinch off the ends of each gnocchi, and place on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and lightly floured. If you’re not planning to cook the gnocchi the same day, place the baking sheet in the freezer. Once frozen, place the gnocchi into a large Ziploc bag.

To cook the gnocchi, bring a pot of salted water up to a light boil. Add in the gnocchi, give the water a stir (so they don’t stick to the bottom) and cook for 1 minute (if fresh) to 3 minutes (if frozen) until they float to the top of the pot. Remove from the pot.

Tomato sauce:

This is more a general guide to how I do it than a real recipe per se. Open up a 6 lb. can of whole peeled tomatoes (I use Cento Italian Peeled tomatoes. San Marzanos are a really good choice, but I think they’re just too expensive, personally.), and add half to a blender. Puree to a liquid, and add into a large pot. Add the other half to the blender, and pulse a few times until broken down, but not so much that they don’t have any texture. I don’t like my tomato sauce chunky, but if you do you can just add the tomatoes to the pot whole, and break them up with a wooden spoon/potato masher to desired consistency while they cook down.

Add a large onion, peeled and chopped in half into the tomatoes. Yes, two giant halves and not diced onions. This trick comes from Marcella Hazan, and allows you to have that great onion flavor in your sauce without having to pick out onion bits from your teeth. Add to that some crushed cloves of garlic (4 or 5), a tablespoon of sugar, some salt, some dried oregano, and a little dried basil (not too much, as we’ll be adding fresh basil when serving), and crushed red pepper (not too much, as it will intensify as the sauce cooks down.

The sauce will taste under-seasoned, and very tomato-like. This is fine, as all those flavors will be picked up once the sauce cooks. Bring the sauce up to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and allow to simmer, uncovered, for an hour. Taste, and add seasonings as you see fit. The sauce should start to taste a little more like the finished product, but we still have some reducing to do. Simmer for another hour, or until the consistency looks good to you. Remove the onion and adjust seasonings as needed.

Putting it all together (for 1 serving):

1/3 lb. luganega, or other Italian sausage
½  tablespoon olive oil
½ cup prepared tomato sauce
1 tablespoon reserved pasta water
Parmesan cheese
Fresh basil
Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (the good stuff!)

Cut your sausage into ¾” thick pieces. Pre-heat a 10” frying pan over medium heat. Add in about ½ tablespoon of olive oil and the sausages, cooking on each side. If there is too much excess grease in the pan once the sausages are cooked, remove the sausages and drain the grease. Add the sausages back into the pan along with the ½ cup of prepared tomato sauce. Make sure the heat isn’t too high, as the sauce will heat quickly and possibly splatter.

Add the cooked gnocchi to the sauce along with 1 tablespoon of the water they were cooked in. Toss, and transfer to a bowl, topping with parmesan, fresh basil, and a little extra virgin olive oil.


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