How To Make Ricotta Gnocchi

Say hello to a homemade pasta that comes together in the time it takes to boil water.

You've likely tried potato gnocchi before, and that's what most people think of when they hear "gnocchi." But let's be real — traditional potato gnocchi require a long and laborious process, with a considerable margin for error. The end result is obviously delicious, but what if there was an equally delightful variety of gnocchi that took only a fraction of the effort and time to make? As I'm sure you can assume, there is: This would be ricotta gnocchi.

Ricotta Gnocchi vs. Potato Gnocchi

Where traditional potato gnocchi consist of small dumplings of potato loosely bound together with flour and egg, ricotta gnocchi are similar dumplings consisting mostly of ricotta. The texture is comparatively lighter because of the omission of the dense potato, and due to the ricotta having a springy texture. And frankly, it's a great dish to make on one of those nights when you're needing an excuse to eat a giant bowl of cheese for dinner.

Gnocchi with spinach, pesto and dried tomatoes
Bartosz Luczak/Getty Images

Ricotta Gnocchi vs. Gnudi

Coming from the Italian word nocca, meaning "knuckle," all types of gnocchi are small, solid dumplings, usually about the size of a grape. And like many other Italian food names, gnocchi is actually the plural form, while gnoccho is the singular. It's unclear exactly where and when ricotta gnocchi originate, but most food historians agree that they likely hail from somewhere in the northern portion of Italy. In Tuscany, you'll find ricotta dumplings — usually with Parmesan or Pecorino cheese and the inclusion of spinach — called gnudi, which means "naked," referring to gnudi's resemblance to a ravioli filling that's naked without its pasta casing.

The main difference between ricotta gnocchi and gnudi (beyond the spinach) is in the way they're shaped. Like other types of gnocchi, ricotta gnocchi are made by rolling portions of dough into a long log and cutting the logs into small nuggets. On the other hand, gnudi are made by pinching pieces of dough off the ball and rolling them into balls or ovals in your hands. In other northern Italian regions like Lombard, you'll hear gnudi and ricotta gnocchi referred to as malfatti, meaning "badly made," describing their rustic shape and lack of equipment needed to shape them.

Ricotta gnocchi are luxurious and flavorful, so simpler sauces are usually best here. A plain tomato sauce or an herby pesto are always great, but ricotta gnocchi can even shine when dressed simply in butter! Brown butter with a squeeze of lemon, and a few leaves of frizzled sage or some chives, will give you a restaurant-quality dish at home in just a few minutes.

How to Make Ricotta Gnocchi

The Ricotta

So let's talk about the most essential ingredient at play here: the ricotta. These gnocchi are mostly ricotta, so paying attention to the shining star is important. When shopping for ricotta, make sure to take a look at the packaging labels and pick one without things like thickeners, emulsifiers, gums, and preservatives. Seek out labels that only list ingredients like milk, salt, and acids or enzymes. The other additives can seriously mess up the texture of your gnocchi, so now's the time to spring for the slightly more expensive stuff if you can.

The most crucial part in this entire process is draining the ricotta. It may seem cumbersome, but it's not a step that can be skipped. Some recipes for ricotta gnocchi suggest wrapping the ricotta and setting it in a sieve for hours to drain. I once worked at a restaurant that served ricotta ice cream and they drained the ricotta this way… I wish you could have seen the pastry chef's face when I showed her my nonna's much faster and more efficient method. All you need is a few clean tea towels or dish towels and a big, flat surface, like a sheet tray or even the counter.

Lay a few clean towels down on your sheet tray and spread the ricotta evenly across the entire surface using a rubber spatula to scrape everything out. Lay another towel or two on top and gently press to absorb the water. Let this sit for five or so minutes, and you have ricotta that looks/feels like it's been drained overnight in the amount of time it takes to wash your hands and clean out the plastic ricotta container.

The Recipe

Here are a few pro-tips before we get started. This dough is mostly ricotta; the cheese is the star of the show, and we're just using flour and egg to lightly bind it together in order to form dumplings that can be boiled. This can make the dough a little sticky, so make sure you have a well floured work surface and a few extra spoonfuls of flour off to the side to re-flour your hands and the surface as you go.

Part of the ease of ricotta gnocchi is that they require no kneading and very little mixing. The dough can be overmixed, so make sure to stir just until incorporated. As long as there are no pockets of dry flour, it's ok if there are a few lumps of cheese still in the dough.

Easy Ricotta Gnocchi

Ingredients (serves 2 hungry people):

  • Salt
  • 12 ounces ricotta cheese (about 8-9 ounces after draining)
  • 1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 5 ounces all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1. Drain ricotta by laying a few clean kitchen towels or a few layers of paper towels down on a sheet tray and spread the ricotta evenly across the entire surface using a rubber spatula to scrape everything out. Lay another towel or two on top and gently press to absorb the water. Let sit for about 5 minutes. Remove the top towel and scrape the ricotta into a large bowl; the ricotta should easily fall off the towel with little help. Meanwhile, set a large pot of heavily salted water on the stove to boil.

2. Add the Parmesan, whole egg, egg yolk, and a pinch of salt into the bowl with the ricotta; mix well to combine. Fold the flour into the cheese mixture just until incorporated; loosely form into a ball.

3. Turn out the ball onto a generously floured work surface (such as a clean counter or wooden cutting board) and divide the dough into four pieces, making sure to keep the exterior of the dough lightly floured.

4. Working one piece at a time, roll each wedge into a long log, about the width of your thumb. Using a sharp knife or a bench scraper, cut the first log into little nuggets about the size of a large grape. Toss with flour and set aside. Repeat with the other three dough pieces.

5. Gently add the dumplings to boiling water and boil for 3-5 minutes (start tasting after 3 minutes!).

6. Toss the cooked gnocchi directly into sauce or cool on a sheet tray with a drizzle of olive oil until ready to use.


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