Ricotta gnocchi is not as velvety as potato gnocchi but it has its own merits. Picture: BARBAMAURO123RF
Ricotta gnocchi is not as velvety as potato gnocchi but it has its own merits. Picture: BARBAMAURO123RF

There’s something about the smooth dense softness of really well made potato gnocchi that puts it in a special bracket, combining comfort with finesse, like a great custard or perfect roast chicken.

But that well-made bowl of gnocchi is mostly not what you get. Many things can go wrong, and usually do. These things have mostly to do with the potato.

For gnocchi to be really good, the right potatoes must be used (obvious you’d think, but often doesn’t happen), they should be cooked until perfectly soft but without becoming waterlogged (baking and then immediately peeling, though it be death to the fingers, is a fail-safe way), and they must be mashed until smooth as silk, but not worked until the potato starch releases. Get any of this wrong, and you’ll have a meal of little lead weights on your hands.

Also, this all takes a damn long time. Which is why gnocchi hardly ever gets made. Who can get organised enough to finish all the requisite steps by dinnertime? If you can, please don’t tell me about it.

This is where glorious ricotta gnocchi — all spud replaced by cheese — steps into the breach. Of course they don’t have that smooth velvetiness of potato, but so what.

Apart from being faster and easier, they’re fantastically light. And I strongly suspect they may count as low-carb (though you’ll need to do the maths). Another bonus — yes there’s more! — is that they’re less bland than the potato type, so you can get away with the most basic of sauces.

In fact, they can stand proud without an actual sauce: you could toss them with olive oil plus steamed spinach, sautéed, garlicky pumpkin pieces or chopped walnuts, brown butter and parsley.

Fast-track ricotta gnocchi for four

Ingredients:

  • 250g fresh ricotta, mashed
  • 1 egg yolk
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon good salt (that means without free-flowing agent in it)
  • 30g Parmesan style cheese, finely grated
  • 35g to 40g cake flour 
  • ½ cup additional cake flour for tossing the gnocchi in once formed.

I know, dear reader, that you will hunt down cheese from a good dairy where the animals live on pasture, and eggs that are properly free-range. I am so glad about that.              

Method:

Mix everything lightly together except for the tossing flour. Shape into small teaspoon-sized spheres. Handle as little as possible to keep them light. Spread the “tossing” flour onto a plate or small tray. Roll and coat one ball first, then cook it on its own in a tiny pot of boiling water. If it holds together until it floats to the top, you’re good to go. If it breaks up, you may need to add a little more flour.

Now roll-coat and cook the remaining gnocchi. They don’t need quite as vast a pot of water as wheat pasta, but they must have plenty of space around them. Once each dude has bobbed to the surface and stays there, remove with slotted spoon and keep warm by covering. Have your sauce or other friend to the gnocchi at the ready; join the two and serve post-haste with some extra hard cheese for the table.