We first learned to make ricotta gnocchi at A16–by observation. We were still living in Chicago at the time and in town for a long weekend, and decided to stop at A16 for lunch on our way to Napa. We sat at the chef’s counter and watched the dinner prep, part of which was rolling out tray after tray of fresh ricotta gnocchi. We were mesmerized by the process, and it wasn’t long before it became a staple in our house. It’s a great meatless option, easy to make in large quantities and freeze, and the process of rolling it out is really relaxing.
The only essential tool you’ll need for ricotta gnocchi is a pastry scraper. We use this food mill for ours to break up the ricotta, but you can also use a silicone spatula and fine mesh strainer to push the ricotta through, although this will take longer. One of the best things about ricotta gnocchi is the light, pillowy texture, so it’s best to use a really high quality ricotta with less moisture. If your ricotta is watery, let it drain overnight in a strainer in the refrigerator.
We make our gnocchi by pressing the ricotta through a food mill on the finest die, then mixing in egg, olive oil. and salt. Taste the ricotta first, if it’s already salty you won’t need to add as much salt. We used Italian 00 flour, which is slightly finer and denser than all-purpose flour.
The less you work the dough, the better. Minimal handling is what makes the gnocchi so light and airy, and the more you work the dough, the more you’ll activate the gluten in the flour. The best way to combine the ricotta mixture and the flour is to divide the flour in half and sprinkle an even layer on your counter or pastry slab, spread the ricotta mixture over it, then sprinkle the remaining flour over that. Using your pastry scraper, cut into and turn over the dough until it forms a ball. Use your pastry scraper to divide it in four equal pieces.
To shape the gnocchi, roll each ball of dough into a long cylinder, about 1″ wide, being careful not to push or stretch too hard. Line up all four long cylinders of dough next to each other and sprinkle generously with coarse semolina flour (this will help prevent sticking). Using your pastry scraper, cut across the dough into 1″ pieces.
We keep our gnocchi on quarter-sheet pans lined with a silpat until ready to cook, or freeze them on sheet pans until they are just firm enough to put into a large ziplock in the freezer. If using immediately, the silpat allows you to gently and easily lift all the gnocchi off the sheet pan and slide it into boiling water.
Boil just until it floats (you can also cook from frozen, it will just take longer). We serve ours with our favorite tomato sauce and top with Grana Padano (c/o) and a sprig of basil. A16 is one of our favorite restaurants in San Francisco, and A16 Food + Wine is one of our most-used and most-loved cookbooks, written by our friend Kate. If you don’t have a copy, you should!
- Press ricotta through the finest die of a food mill or through a wire mesh strainer with a rubber spatula to break it into very small pieces. Add salt and stir. Taste for salt--it should be moderately salty, keeping in mind you'll be adding more wet ingredients and flour.
- Whisk the olive oil and eggs into the ricotta until it's very smooth.
- Spread half of the 00 flour in a thin layer on a clean countertop or pastry board. Spread the ricotta mixture over the flour, then sprinkle the remaining flour on top of the ricotta mixture, reserving about 2 tablespoons.
- Using a pastry scraper, cut the flour into the ricotta mixture, turning the mixture over frequently, until it forms a ball. If the dough is too sticky, add the remaining flour. Don't add more flour than you need to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers when you touch it.
- To shape the gnocchi, divide the dough into four equal parts. Roll each part into a long cylinder about 1" thick. Place the cylinders of dough next to each other and sprinkle with semolina flour, then cut them crosswise into 1" sections with a pastry scraper.
- Carefully transfer the gnocchi to a sheet pan and use immediately or freeze for later use.
- Serve in tomato sauce and top with Grana Padano cheese and basil.