I first had ricotta gnudi on my 29th birthday at the The Spotted Pig. It was a freezing cold NYC winter night, and the sidewalks were covered in mounds of dirty, icy snow that was flecked with little garbage bits. Cos was also fighting the virus de jour and had taken copious amounts of DayQuil in an effort to soldier through for my birthday dinner. We started the night around the corner from the restaurant at an iconic West Village spot, the White Horse Tavern, whose former patrons include the likes of Bob Dylan, Jim Morrison, and Hunter S. Thompson. Thanks, NYC, for coming through with the exact amount of glamour I need to forget about the bitterness of winter for an evening. I probably could’ve even gotten drunk on the sweet, nostalgic vibes that casually sitting at the bar of a place like the White Horse Tavern gives an admittedly sentimental girl like me. But I didn’t get the chance to test that theory because I got plenty drunk on the wine they sold there first. What? Everyone knows that Birthday Drunk is the best kind of drunk.
Cos, on the other hand, was fading hard from the cough syrup, and I was wondering if he would make it through dinner. Spoiler alert: he didn’t. The memories I have from dinner go as follows: (1) we started with a salad, then a fish course, followed by ricotta gnudi; (2) the ricotta gnudi was, far and away, my favorite thing I had all night; (3) somewhere between the fish and the gnudi courses, Cos’s head slooooowly started tilting down until his chin was finally resting on his chest and he was snoring softly; (4) once the server brought the gnudi out, I didn't try very hard (cough at all) to wake him up because his droopy head and light snore only guaranteed more ricotta gnudi for me. Girlfriend. of. the. YEAR. To be fair, I did make sure to wake him for dessert and even recreated it at home for him.
Much to our disappointment, however, it turned out a big flop, which surprised me because recipe came from one of my favorite and most trusted cookbooks, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Womp womp, I didn’t hold it against Suzanne Goin, undeniable genius that she is. Instead we returned to The Spotted Pig to celebrate my 30th birthday, only to find that they had taken the gnudi off the menu. At this point I swore it off for a while because geez I can take a hint.
I knew something would bring it back to me, though - that’s how it goes with recipe flops. That moment came earlier this month when my home-cooking guru, Emmie, texted me that she was making ricotta gnocchi for supper.* Jealousy works wonders for my motivation, and it wasn't long before I was digging into my own bowl of this rich and delicate gnudi. The version you see here comes from Bon Appétempt, though over there it's called gnocchi like it is at Emmie’s. I found a couple of different explanations, but overall the distinction seems to hinge on the use of ricotta vs potato. Call them what you like, they are fluffy pillows of creamy goodness just the same.
The prep is fairly straightforward, with the one caveat that you shouldn't skimp on chilling the dough. Give it a couple of hours if not overnight. The chill time will keep it nice and firm, which you’ll want when you're shaping it into quenelles. The shaping bit isn’t entirely intuitive at first if you’ve never done it before, but I would say I had it down by at least the fourth or fifth quenelle. The photos above are intended to provide some context for the process. I served them with these strange and delicious things (not the pizza, scroll down!), because, as you probably can tell by now, I don’t let dinner happen without a vegetable.
*Though, can I really say “best girl” here considering that there was no invitation to accompany this dinner brag?? No matter that she's 2,500 miles away, it's the principal of the damn thing! I kid. Thanks for playing along from day one, Em, and uh...teaching me how to cook all those years ago. Smooch!
Ricotta Gnudi, adapted mainly in directions from Bon Appetempt via Canal House Cooking
Serves 4 as a main
14-16 oz (2 cups) fresh whole milk ricotta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for serving
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
Freshly grated pepper to taste (optional)
1 cup all-purpose flour
Quick Marinara Sauce, adapted from 101 Cookbooks
28 oz crushed tomatoes
Scant 1/4 cup of olive oil
2 cloves of garlic
Red pepper flakes to taste
heaping 1/2 teaspoon of Kosher salt
Prepare the dough. If there is any extra liquid in your ricotta container, be sure to drain it off first. If your ricotta is on the looser side, you might consider straining it. You’l want a firm ricotta for this dough. Mix together the ricotta, eggs, Parmesan, and salt with a rubber spatula in a large bowl. Grate a little pepper in, if using. Add the flour and mix until just incorporated. Refrigerate mixture in a covered container for at least couple of hours, and up to overnight.
Once you’re ready to make the gnocchi, set a pot of water on the stove to boil and salt it well. A medium boil, rather than aggressively rolling one, works best here. (I started out with the boil too high and it battered the quenelles.)
As the water comes to a gentle boil, make the sauce. Combine the olive oil, red pepper flakes, sea salt, and garlic in a cold saucepan. Sauté for 2 minutes or so until everything is fragrant and the garlic is beginning to turn golden. Stir in the tomatoes and bring to a bubble. Turn down the heat and let it simmer lightly. Taste and add more salt if needed. Otherwise, keep it at a low simmer as you drop in the finished gnocchi.
Make the gnocchi. Dust a rimmed baking sheet generously with flour. [Note: The photos above show the pan sans flour because I’m a ding dong and I ran out of flour the night that I had planned to shoot the process photos. By the time I got to making this it was almost 10pm, so I made do. And everything worked just fine! Hooray!] Using 2 large soup spoons, shape heaping tablespoonfuls of dough into football shapes, called quenelles. Do this by passing the dough back and forth from one spoon to the other in a scraping sort of motion that smoothes out the sides of the quenelle. Once the quenelle is shaped and mostly smooth, place it on baking sheet and dust with more flour [uh, or not]; you should have between 26-30.
Drop the quenelles into the gently boiling water, about 5 or 6 at a time. Once they float, let them cook for 3 more minutes before transferring them to the tomato sauce to stay warm.