Is the secret to featherlight gnocchi to make gnudi instead? My obsession with gnocchi dates back to childhood, when my brother and I would stand at our nonna’s hip, learning how to roll the soft gobs of dough over the back of a fork to give them ridges. Ever since, it’s been at the top of my comfort food list, the sort of thing I never pass by when it’s on the menu and love to make at home, too.
While I still love the potato gnocchi and tomato sauce of my childhood, I’m not entirely beholden to tradition. I love swapping in butternut squash or root vegetables in place of potatoes, so when I found a recipe for beet and ricotta gnocchi in Michele Scicolone’s The Italian Vegetable Cookbook (out this month from Rux Martin books at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), I knew I had to make it, even though it’s not exactly the most vegetable-centric recipe in a book filled with tempting soups, pastas, baked dishes, and desserts.
Beets and gorgonzola are a classic pairing, and their funky, musty basement flavors work great here. Scicolone’s cream sauce couldn’t be easier, and it’s delicious. I have no idea how many calories or grams of fat are lurking in it, nor do I want to.
The gnocchi themselves had a pronounced beet flavor and an intensely pink color, which brings me to the main issue I had with the recipe: I’m not sure these are really gnocchi at all, at least not in the way most folks think of them. Both the proportion of flour to beet/ricotta and the method Scicolone suggests—using a pair of spoons to create football-shaped mounds that are lightly rolled in flour before boiling—are more suggestive of gnudi, which are essentially dumplings made out of a ravioli-like filling with just enough flour to keep them from falling apart (at least when all goes well).
The two-spoon method was easy to get the hang of (it’s a lot like making quenelles of ice cream), and the resulting dumplings were soft, delicate, and light, albeit with a soft texture that was, again, more suggestive of a filling for a stuffed pasta. The gnocchi did get a bit raggedy during the boiling process, and the other aesthetic downside is that that same vivid pinkness that’s so great about these gnocchi quickly starts bleeding into the cream sauce when it’s time to eat. (I could see myself trying a butter and sage sauce for the leftover gnocchi I have in the freezer—I got about 50 generously sized gnocchi from this recipe.) While this wasn’t necessarily the prettiest dinner I’ve ever put together, the flavors were great and every single gnocchi disappeared—and that’s what matters, right?
Beet and Ricotta Gnocchi with Gorgonzola Sauce
(Serves 6 to 8)
1 (15-ounce) container whole or part-skim-milk ricotta
2 medium red beets (about 3 ounces each), roasted and peeled
1 large egg
1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more for serving
Salt and freshly ground pepper
About 2/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dredging
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 recipe Gorgonzola Cream Sauce [see below]
Place the ricotta in a strainer lined with cheesecloth set over a bowl. Drain for at least several hours, or overnight, in the refrigerator.
Cut the beets into chunks. Place them in a food processor and puree. Add the ricotta, egg, the 1 cup Parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Pulse until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl. Add 2/3 cup flour and stir to blend, adding more only if needed. Don’t handle the dough any more than necessary, or it will become tough.
Line a large baking sheet with foil and dust it with flour. Lightly dust a dish with flour. Scoop up a tablespoonful of the dough and with a second spoon, push it off into the dish. Roll the dough lightly in the flour and place on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining dough, leaving space between the gnocchi on the sheet. (The gnocchi can be refrigerated overnight or frozen for up to 1 month. To freeze, place the baking sheet in the freezer and freeze until firm, then transfer to a freezer bag, seal, and freeze.)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Have a large heated bowl ready. Place the butter in the bowl and let it melt, swirling to coat the bowl. Keep warm.
Drop half of the gnocchi a few at a time into the boiling water, so they don’t stick together, and stir gently. Lower the heat so the water is just simmering. When the gnocchi rise to the surface, cook for 30 seconds more. Remove the gnocchi with a slotted spoon and transfer them to the bowl. Cover and keep warm. Cook and drain the remaining gnocchi and add to the bowl.
Spoon a little of the hot sauce onto each plate. Top with the gnocchi. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/2 cup Parmesan and serve immediately.
Gorgonzola Cream Sauce
(Makes about 2 cups)
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
8 ounces Gorgonzole dolce
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a medium saucepan, bring the cream and milk to a simmer and cook for 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced. Reduce the heat to low and stir in the Gorgonzola until melted. Season with the nutmeg and salt and pepper to taste and serve.