Ricotta gnocchi with brown butter tomato sauce
These are a forgiving ricotta dumpling; they use a little flour and sit in a cherry tomato sauce spiked with the toastiness of brown butter. I use cherry tomatoes as I find they make the sauce perfectly sweet but you can use larger ones; you may just need to cook the sauce for a little longer.
The ricotta you use here is important: the watery ricotta that you can buy in most supermarkets is a lot wetter than the strained ricotta which I prefer to use for these dumplings, as well as for dishes such as baked ricotta and desserts. You can buy it in good Italian delis, or you can strain supermarket ricotta yourself. Simply wrap it in muslin and hang it over a mixing bowl for 4 hours or overnight (500g fresh ricotta yields about 400g strained).
150g pasta flour (tipo ‘00’)
500g strained ricotta
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt 1⁄4 of a whole nutmeg
1 organic egg, beaten
FOR THE TOMATO SAUCE
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
750g cherry tomatoes
a generous pinch of flaky sea salt
a small bunch of basil, leaves picked
Parmesan (I use a vegetarian one)
a few basil leaves
To make the gnocchi, spread half the flour out on a work surface in a rough circle and crumble the ricotta on top. Sprinkle over the salt and grate the nutmeg on top. Use your fingers to delicately gather the ricotta into a mound, picking up the flour as you do. Make a well in the middle of the mound big enough to house the beaten egg. Pour the egg in and use a fork to work it carefully into the flour and ricotta until it has become a rough dough. Gently knead the dough, adding a little more flour if needed, until you have a smooth dough (you may not need to use all the flour). Try to be delicate here, as being rough will develop the gluten in the flour and make your gnocchi tough. Once smooth, wrap the dough in cling film and put it into the fridge for 1 hour.
While the dough is resting, you can get on with the sauce. Put the oil into a large frying pan with the garlic and place on a medium heat for a couple of minutes. Add the cherry tomatoes and salt and cook for 30 minutes, pushing down on the tomatoes occasionally with the back of a wooden spoon until they have all burst and you have a bright red sauce. Add the basil leaves and put to one side.
When you are ready to roll your gnocchi, lightly flour your work surface and have a lightly floured large tray nearby. Unwrap the dough and shape it into a 2.5cm-thick circle, then divide this into quarters. Take one quarter, and roll it into a log about 1.5cm thick, rolling it back and forth with both hands until it is even. Be delicate, touching the dough lightly; the lighter the hand the lighter the dumplings. Cut this log into 2.5cm pieces and transfer them to the flour-dusted tray. Repeat with the remaining three quarters of dough. You can keep the gnocchi in the fridge until you are ready to cook them.
When you are ready to serve, put a large pan of salted water on to boil, and warm the tomato sauce gently. In a small frying pan, cook the butter over a medium heat until it turns a couple of shades darker and smells nutty, then take off the heat and stir it into the tomato sauce.
Drop the gnocchi into the boiling water and cook until they rise to the surface – this should take about 2 minutes. You may need to cook the gnocchi in batches or have two pans going if they are small. Toss the drained gnocchi in the tomato sauce. Add a grating of Parmesan and more basil leaves before serving.
IMAGE: Ana Cuba