Gnocchi is one of those Italian dishes that some people have a hesitation to try. Or they have tried it and decided they just don’t like it. While most restaurants do a decent job of preparing gnocchi, there are tastier versions you can make that may change your mind about this delightful pillowy pasta.
The most common recipes use potatoes, and even I’m not a fan of that type of gnocchi. But, made with fresh homemade ricotta cheese (or store-bought if you must), gnocchi is a true melt-in-your-mouth dish. Of course serving it in vodka sauce ups the flavor scale a bit.
I learned about this ricotta gnocchi recipe from an Italian named Robert Barone and his wife Marie. You may remember the TV series Everyone Loves Raymond? Raymond’s brother’s name was Robert Barone and his mother’s name was Marie. This couple doesn’t resemble the TV characters in any way, other than they are real Italians and love to cook. Robert and Marie are of an older generation that don’t use computers so their recipe is handwritten. I love the feeling I get when I read the ingredients from their handwritten notes.
There is no real science to making the individual gnocchi pillows. Some poke the dough, some drag it so there’s a hallow section to catch the sauce, and others use a fork and roll the dough over the tines. There are gnocchi tools that work well too. I have one that a good friend Donna gifted to me and I use it a lot.
- • 2 cups flour
- • 1 lb ricotta cheese
- • 1 egg
- Mix together until well blended.
- Roll out in strips as thick as your index finger.
- Cut into 1” pieces.
- Indent each piece with first two fingers and drag them ever so slightly on the counter.
- You can use cheese grater, gnocchi board for texture or fork if you like.
Now if you really want to permeate your home with delicious aromas, this vodka sauce will do it. I love it when dinner guests arrive and the first thing they say is “Something smells wonderful.” Well that is one of the best compliments a cook can receive.
- • 5 tablespoons unsalted butter (I've used regular salted butter too)
- • 1 small onion diced
- • ½ lb pancetta or Italian sausage (optional but I always use one of these)
- • 2/3 cup vodka (any brand)
- • 1 ½ cups red tomato sauce or crushed tomatoes (I often use San Marzano's from my garden or canned from last year's crop. Store bought tomatoes are great too.)
- • ½ tsp red pepper flakes or diced red/yellow/orange peppers (optional but I find it adds a very subtle zing to use peppers. I usually use some variety of pepper from my garden.)
- • ¾ cup heavy cream (when I didn't have cream hand, I substituted 1/2 & 1/2 and didn't notice a remarkable difference)
- • ½ tsp salt
- • ¾ cup parmesan grated cheese (use a good quality cheese. It will go farther if you freshly grate it yourself.)
- In large skillet, melt butter over medium heat.
- Add pancetta and diced onion.
- Cook until meat is crispy – then add vodka.
- Lower heat to simmer 3-4 minutes.
- Add tomato sauce (or crushed tomatoes), pepper flakes, salt, and cream.
- Optional: I tend to put garlic in everything I cook, so you can add 1 clove of grated garlic if you want - and if you do this, add it in the last steps of cooking the sauce so it doesn't overcook and burn.
- Mix well until sauce is pink.
- Simmer 10 minutes.
- Drain cooked gnocchi and add to skillet and toss with sauce.
- Reduce heat and add parmesan cheese.
- Garnish with parsley.
My gnocchi dinners have also been auctioned off for local charities and consistently received the highest bids. (I treat the party of 4 to a gnocchi dinner in my home complete with Italian music, 6 courses and all the trimmings including wine and homemade Limoncello martinis.)
One evening I hosted a sauce taste off with the gnocchi and used a pesto sauce, vodka sauce, and a tomato pasta type sauce. The gnocchi tasted good with all three variations, although the vodka sauce won the taste off competition.
If you weren’t a fan of gnocchi before, I hope after trying this recipe that you enjoy them as much as I do.