A little how-to and recipe on making ricotta gnocchi (gnocchi di ricotta) using our whole milk ricotta, as well as some perfection pondering.
The answer is eluding me. There is this concept of grace I can’t quite grasp. I can feel it, invading my chest cavity and taking up residence there, pulsing along with the beating of my heart. However, when I reach out towards it and try to hold it in my hand, it dissipates, falling through my fingers like mist on a cold, wet morning.
I tend to dwell on imperfections, but I don’t often like to admit it. I live in a house with imperfect walls battered by tossed toys and sticky fingers. I work within a space that is too cluttered, causing its carbon copy on thin film-like paper to cloud my brain. I can’t absorb all the knowledge I strive to acquire with one swipe of a key, a mere download into my head, any easier than I can transport myself to travel the globe, sending bits of matter and energy to be reformed on a distant coast.
Sometimes the only answer is to move forward: slowly and deliberately.
I pull out flour, a block of cheese to be grated, our homemade ricotta, eggs. I mix them with my hands, feeling as the soft flour clumps and plumps with moisture, turning sticky and glutinous before shifting into a new version of soft: smooth, silken, and supple.
My head is quietly thinking about the dough, the way it feels and gives between my fingers, while my face smiles and laughs at my daughter’s horror that I am making a mess. I extract my hand from the bowl, covered in a glove of wet dough, and wave it in her face. I pinch her nose, leaving bits of dough and still dry flour stuck to flawless new skin as she squeals and ducks to prevent me from doing it again.
The laughter gets the attention of the boys, who come to see what they can do, and soon there is a counter full of small hands rolling long ropes of pasta dough. Their ropes are bumpy and uneven. Their impatience to press their rope with a fork; to cut them into pillows; to dust the small pieces, the counter, their hair, and their siblings with flour overwhelms the room.
Life happens in the mess: in the imperfections, the arguments, the tears dried on a shirtsleeve. Life exists at the center, spreading its arms outwards and encompassing the whole.
To be honest, this is the third time I’ve made ricotta gnocchi with the kids and the second time I made mistakes (someone should tell my children cut first, then indent with the fork above). I once told my 10th grade history teacher after he accused me of being a perfectionist that true perfection was unattainable, the bar set out of reach for even the most flawless person. Perhaps true perfection is in removing the bar altogether.
Our gnocchi may not be perfect, the indents disappearing nearly as quickly as they were pressed, some pieces plumper than others, some cut incredibly thin. The water for boiling them may be cloudy with overuse, and the floor may be dusted with flour and marked by a single stepped-on gnocchi, yet it is more than that.
Imperfection works well for gnocchi, these small dumplings that find their name’s origins in a knot of wood or a knuckle. Small pillows of cheese and flour, our preferred way of consumption is to drown them in herbs and oil by tossing them with a pesto. Still, they are equally divine with just a bit of butter and sage (or many other herbs, truthfully), slid through a bright red tomato sauce, floated in a bowl of broth, or slathered in creamy cheese.
- We used our homemade whole milk ricotta in this after it had been in the refrigerator for a few days. When we made it with fresh, still warm ricotta we needed a bit more flour before the dough would come together and lose that last bit of stick. Adjust as necessary for the level of wetness your ricotta may hold.
- The spinach plate that is pictured here and there in this post is simply butter with garlic and spinach. I tossed the gnocchi in last and then put a few cheese shavings over the top. You can also sear the gnocchi in the butter first to obtain a nice, toasted exterior.
- I don’t have anything else, but I like things in odd numbers and felt compelled to put one more here. Oh, wait. This makes four smaller servings, not four full meal servings unless you’re serving with much more than a small bowl of pasta (which you of course would be doing anyway), so double and triple (to have extra to freeze!) the recipe as needed.
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta and eggs. Stir in the grated parmesan. Add the flour and nutmeg slowly, stirring to incorporate as it is being added, until the dough becomes smooth. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth.
Cut the dough into fourths, and then roll each ball of dough into a long rope, approximately 1″ in diameter if cut crosswise. Cut the ropes into 1″ pieces. Press a small indent into each piece using the tines of a fork. Place the gnocchi on a lightly floured surface.
If freezing, layer the gnocchi on a lightly floured, parchment-lined baking sheet and slide into the freezer. Once they are frozen, transfer to an airtight container and return to the freezer.
If cooking gnocchi immediately, bring a large pot of salted water to a rolling boil. Add in gnocchi in small batches. Cook the dumplings for approximately 3 minutes each, removing them from the water with a slotted spoon or wire strainer as they float to the surface. (Test one to make sure they are cooked through the center.)
Serve gnocchi sautéed in butter with herbs or vegetables, tossed in a light tomato sauce, with a bright pesto, or add them to soups.
Makes 3-4 servings.