This recipe really needs fresh ricotta, but drained, if your ricotta is too wet, then it absolutely ruins the dish, but for the faint hearted it is worth the effort. The only other thing that you need to know is that gnocchi gets really sticky when they hang around so make them, chill them and cook them in one step. Homemade ricotta tastes of fresh milk, so if you can find it get fresh organic milk it will be worth it in the final recipe.
Recipe for Homemade Ricotta.
4 pints good quality whole milk
4 pints good-quality buttermilk
Line a wide colander with a large piece of cheesecake and then fold the material back on itself until there are at least six layers. Put both the milks into a heavy based stainless steel saucepan. Stir the milk as you heat it, but stop once the milk is hot, at this point you should be able to see the curds rising to the surface. When the mixture reaches 175F degrees, the curds and whey actually separate. The curds are white strand of clumpy bits, once these have formed ladle them into the colander which has been placed into the bottom of the sink. Raise the sides of the cheesecloth to facilitate the draining off, of the milk, but do not press down on the newly clotting ricotta. Tie the cloth and leave to drain overnight in the refrigerator over a bowl.
Fresh Ricotta Gnocchi
For the gnocchi
1 pound fresh ricotta
2 large organic eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 fresh sage leaves,
or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg,
or a 1/2 teaspoon of lemon zest
½ ounce freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano,
flour to shape the gnocchi
For the gnocchi sauce
8 tablespoons butter, sliced
4- 5 fresh sage leaves chopped
2 teaspoons water
To make perfect gnocchi, the ricotta has to be smooth, generally it is best to work it with a plastic spatula in a bowl, the flexibility of the plastic breaks down the lumps in the ricotta.Whilst you are working the ricotta if the curds or clumps are still visible then push it all into a blender and whizz around for a minute.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta. Melt the tablespoon of butter in a pan and add the chopped sage leaves, and then add to the ricotta. Or flavour with your alternative choices. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt and beat all very well together. The success of the final gnocchi recipe depends on everything being light and smooth.
Forming the gnocchi
Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. Put a half inch of flour onto your work surface and place 2 teaspoons of the ricotta onto the flour.
Roll it around the flour to coat using your fingertips, all Italians are very hands on with food! Gently pick up the gnocchi making sure that you do not break it and drop one piece very carefully into the simmering water. This is a test to make sure that the gnocchi are going to hold their shape. It should drop to the bottom of the pan and over the next three minutes or so it rises as it cooks.
If it falls apart then the mixture is still too wet, try adding a teaspoon of whipped egg white into the batter to make it hold its shape. If it is heavy add a teaspoon of beaten egg to lighten it, gnocchi should be light fluffy and airy, there should be no stodge just gentle pillows. Test a second gnocchi and then you are ready to roll.
From now on you can put a few gnocchi at a time into the flour but do not over crowd them because there is a danger that you will overwork them and make them dense and unappealing. Put them on a tray with waxed paper on and chill for an hour which will firm them up and make them cook better.
To cook them use a very large wide saucepan and boil rapidly at least four pints of water, what you do not is to have the gnocchi too crowded, add salt to the water. Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one and cook for three to five minutes. once they are all in the pan start to prepare the sauce.
Melt the butter by swirling around a pan on gentle heat and add sage leaves and fry for a minute, add the water, drop the drained cooked gnocchi into the butter sauce. Coat in the sauce and serve immediately.