Friday, July 15, 2011

Spinach-Ricotta Gnocchi and a Simple Tomato Sauce

There have been only a handful of times in my life when I've had really good gnocchi.

Thomas's apartment in Brooklyn where I had my first ricotta gnocchi. They were light, fluffy and tender, things I didn't know gnocchi could be. Each one had the little indentations added by hand.

A little Italian restaurant in Brooklyn where I had butternut squash gnocchi this fall. Each one was like a little pillow, and my fork just sliced right through them.

A roadside restaurant we stopped at while journeying to a villa in Italy several summers ago. These were potato gnocchi. Perhaps they were really as amazing as I remember, or perhaps I was overtaken by the scenery  The restaurant overlooked the Amalfi coast, and our charming host ended our meal with espresso with lemon peel and shots of limoncello.

And now, thanks to Marcella Hazan, I can add these spinach-ricotta gnocchi to the list (and I can cross it off my summer cooking plans list).

Marcella Hazan is the sixth woman on Gourmet Magazine's list of 50 Women Game Changers in food history. Gourmet Magazine wrote: "Marcella made Italian cucina make sense. She broke it down for us, explained the regions, and her meticulous recipes are so reliable. She banished the red-sauce image forever."

Hazan is considered to be one of the foremost authorities on Italian cooking. She discovered her passion after she married an American man who was enamored with food and struggled to create the dishes from her Italian childhood out of the American supermarkets. She initially turned down a cookbook deal, saying she didn't write in English. Her husband Victor ended up recording all of her recipes in English and has continued that for all of her cookbooks.

Some of her most popular cookbooks include Essentials of Classic Italian CookingMarcella's Italian Kitchen and Marcella Cucina.

Not only were her gnocchi tender and full of flavor, her simple tomato sauce was one of the best I can remember and couldn't have been simpler. A can of whole tomatoes, an onion peeled and cut in half and some butter simmered for 45 minutes and savored for much longer.

Be sure to check out the other bloggers who all tried recipes by Marcella Hazan this week:
      Val - More Than Burnt Toast
      Joanne - Eats Well With Others
      Taryn - Have Kitchen Will Feed
      Susan - The Spice Garden
      Claudia - A Seasonal Cook in Turkey
      Heather - girlichef
      Miranda - Mangoes and Chutney
      Mary - One Perfect Bite

      Kathleen - Bake Away with Me
      Viola - The Life is Good Kitchen      

Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi
recipe taken from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking 

I made one batch of these gnocchi and felt like it would have served four easily for dinner.

10 ounces frozen chopped spinach, thawed in the refrigerator overnight (if possible)
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup very finely chopped onion
2 egg yolks
3/4 cup ricotta (part-skim worked fine)
2/3 cup flour, fluffed to aerate before measuring
2 ounces fresh Parmesan, grated (about 1 cup coarsely grated)
Freshly grated nutmeg, about 1/8 teaspoon 
Salt to taste

Cook the spinach mixture: Bring the water to a boil. Add the spinach, and let the water return to a boil. Cook the spinach for five minutes or until the raw taste of the spinach is gone. Transfer to a colander, and let drain. Press the spinach with the back of a spoon, removing all the excess liquid.

In a large skillet, melt the butter, then add the onion and cook gently until the onion is cooked but not brown. Add the spinach and stir to coat with butter. Let the spinach cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is hot throughout and all the liquid is gone. My spinach cooked for about 4 minutes. Let cool.

Prepare the gnocchi dough: Meanwhile, in a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks, then whisk in the ricotta, flour, Parmesan, nutmeg and salt. Stir in the cooled spinach. Cover and refrigerate for a couple of hours to firm up slightly.

Cook the gnocchi: To cook the gnocchi, bring the water to a boil. With your hands, form long ropes out of the gnocchi dough. Place on a cutting board and slice into 1-inch pieces. Transfer each piece to a cookie sheet (My cookie sheet was coated with flour to keep the gnocchi from sticking, but the gnocchi really absorbed the flour. Next time, I'll try parchment paper or waxed paper instead). Drop in several gnocchi at once. They'll drop to the bottom of the bowl and then, after two or three minutes, float up to the top when they are ready. When they float up, transfer them a dish to keep warm. Continue until all the gnocchi are cooked.

To serve, place several gnocchi on a plate, top with simple tomato sauce, and add a dash of grated parmesan cheese.

Simple Tomato Sauce
recipe taken from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan

1 28-ounce can whole tomatoes (the best kind you can get)
5 tablespoons butter
1 yellow onion (peeled and halved)

Put the can of tomatoes and juice, onion and butter in a heavy saucepan over medium heat. Bring the sauce to a simmer. Then, lower the heat to keep the sauce at a steady, slow simmer. Cook for about 45 minutes, or until drops of fat float free from the tomatoes. Stir occasionally, crushing the whole tomatoes against the side of the pan to break them apart.

Remove the sauce from the heat, and remove the onions (try one! My onions were so, so tasty). Add salt to taste. Keep the sauce warm while you prepare your pasta.


  1. The sauce was amazing wasn't it, and I love this gnocchi with spinach entwined. I have now added it to my list of things to make.

  2. I've always wanted to make a ricotta gnocchi, too...these are so stunning with all of the green laced throughout. Delicious choice and since I've already vowed to make this tomato sauce, I may as well make the gnocchi to go with it. =)

  3. i wanted to try her tomato sauce for a while and those gnocci really look fantastic (maybe i should start a summer to cook list :-)?).

  4. I love ricotta gnocchi, and I need to add it to my list of things to make. I debated whether or not to make it this week, but I shied away! With such raves about the tomato sauce, I will add that to the list too!

  5. You have inspired me to try making my own gnocchi. I have always thought it would be impossible to make them as light as I've had them in Italian restaurants. Yours look fabulous! Great job!

  6. I make that tomato sauce often (usually in the winter though) its a favorite. I haven't tried that gnocchi though and now I really really want to

  7. Katie, this looks so delicious! I love, love simple tomato sauces. I have never made gnocchi. You make it look so easy.

  8. You picked a perfect recipe to feature her work. I've made her tomato sauce but never the gnocchi. It's time for that to change. I'm so glad you are making this journey with us. You are great company. Have a wonderful weekend. Blessings...Mary

  9. I have never tried making gnocchi. Was always afraid it would taste water-logged, but you have inspired me! Love spinach, love ricotta, love that tomato sauce that goes with! next chilly day, this is on my agenda! hurray for marcella hazan and making it sound so easy!

  10. Susan--I was definitely surprised and delighted that these gnocchi didn't absorb a lot of water while they were cooking or a lot of water from the sauce. They stayed together nicely and were really tasty in the end!

  11. Love, love, love Marcella's books/recipes. A friend of mine was a participant in a group that cooked every single one of Marcella's recipes from her Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking cookbook...they each rotated and they blogged it, so there is a photo of every recipe on this blog for the recipes in the book, which is nice as there are no photos in that book. Here's the link if you want to check it out Your gnocchi look wonderfully delicious and pretty!

  12. Kayte--I'm a brand new discoverer of Marcella's cooking, but I'm definitely hooked. I can't wait to check out that blog. I am definitely a sucker for cookbooks with pictures, so this will encourage me to try some of her recipes! Thanks!

  13. Katie, on that blog for Marcella's book, they did it in order of the book, first page through the last, so they are all in order, more or less on that blog I sent you the connect to. Enjoy. If you want to cook something from there, let me know. I have made the ones on my blog under the sidebar connect Cooking Blog-Alongs: Cooking Italy.

  14. Love gnocchi. This looks so easy and so good. Have to try this one. YAY!!! for good food. Especially Marcella's.