Lighter than potato-based gnocchi, this kind of pasta is perfect for lunch or a light dinner. Sure, there's a school of thought that may otherwise disagree with classifying carbs as a light dinner, but in my book, it's a lighter kind of pasta because it floats. Lol!
This ricotta gnocchi and pesto recipe is practical because each component can be made in advance, and frozen or chilled, to be used for another day...even the ricotta. To make the cheese, all you need are 2 litres of whole milk, a cup of heavy cream, half a teaspoon of salt and a half-slice of lemon. Bring the first 3 ingredients to a rolling boil in a sauce pan, then reduce heat to a simmer, add the lemon juice, and stir constantly until the mixture curdles. Drain the ricotta for an hour over a mesh sieve or cheese cloth, cover it then chill in a refrigerator for two to three days. Of course, if you just can't be bothered to attempt cheese-making, then scrap the above and just purchase a can of ricotta from the grocery or deli.
I don't recommend store-bought pesto though, because it's more fulfilling to make pesto from scratch. While it's easier to process the ingredients in a food processor, there is something meditative about pounding the basil leaves in a mortar, inhaling its sweet peppery scent, mixing them with nuts, cheese and oil, and seeing these varying textures come together and become a chunky paste. If you are growing a basil plant at home, then all the better, make use of those leaves before they dry up or are nibbled by your pet.
16 oz. whole milk fresh ricotta
1 large egg, plus 2 egg yolks
1 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons cracked black pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano or parmesan, or combination of both
1 cup semolina flour, plus more for coating and dusting
1 bunch or 2 cups fresh basil
1/2 cup pine nuts or chopped walnuts
2 cloves garlic
1/2 cup freshly grated pecorino Romano or parmesan
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1. Draw out remaining liquid or moisture from ricotta with a cheese cloth, fine mesh sieve or two paper towels. Transfer ricotta to a medium bowl. Add egg, egg yolks, salt and black pepper; combine everything together using a rubber spatula.
Mix in grated cheese and flour. If dough feels too sticky, sprinkle more flour until the dough feels pillowy. If dry, add a few spoonfuls of room temperature water.
2. Transfer dough to a clean, well-floured surface and knead two to three times. Shape and flatten into a rectangle. Cut into 6 equal pieces using a dough scraper or a paring knife. Roll out each piece to make a strand, similar to a thick grissini stick. Dust with more flour if dough is still too sticky. Transfer gnocchi stick to wax paper sheets.
Cut the rectangle into 6 equal parts
If you’re not ready to cook all of the gnocchi yet, roll each gnocchi stick on individual wax paper sheets to seal the moisture, and freeze them.
The gnocchi sticks should resemble uncooked bread sticks
3. Once you are ready to cook the gnocchi, cut each stick into small pieces, about 3/4-inch, using the dough scraper or paring knife— use your thumb line to measure. Each stick should produce about 13-14 gnocchi, good for one bowl.
4. Boil salted water over medium-high heat. Once it gets into a rolling boil, gently add gnocchi pieces into the water using a wooden spoon or stainless steel slotted spoon to steady it. Cook gnocchi for a minute or so, until gnocchi rises to the surface, then cook for another minute. Using the spoon, scoop out gnocchi and place on a shallow salad or pasta bowl. You can add a few spoonfuls of pasta water into the pasta. Add pesto sauce.
To make the pesto sauce:
1. Toss basil leaves, garlic, pine nuts or walnuts, and cheese in a mortar, and beat with pestle to let out the natural juices and aroma. Pour oil in small doses until it becomes a chunky paste. Finish off in food processor for about 20 seconds until all are finely minced. While machine is running, pour remaining olive oil carefully into the spout. Pulse and blend until mixture becomes a smooth paste.
You can skip the food processor altogether, to get the natural way of extracting pesto from a mortar & pestle. Good exercise for the hands too.
2. Pour paste into a small bowl; the rest into resealable jars. Aside from pasta dressing, you can also use pesto for toasted bread, crackers and chips.