Today’s recipe is a modern twist on an Italian classic.
I first tried something similar to this as a starter at The Crown in Chertsey, Surrey. If you’re ever in the area (maybe visiting Thorpe Park) it’s definitely worth stopping off here for food. It was so good that I couldn’t wait to try it when I got home. I tried it with some packet potato gnocchi (as the original recipe was also potato) and was very pleased with the results, but didn’t feel that was worthy of being included in my shiny new blog. I did some research into basic potato gnocchi recipes, but me being me decided I wanted to tweak it a bit.
My first attempt at this recipe wasn’t perfect, only alright, but it’s worth sticking with as my second attempt was nothing short of amazing, if I do say so myself! I’ll try to point out some potential pit-falls along the way, and highlight what worked better the second time around.
100g Plain Flour
2tsp Garlic Puree
1tsp Chilli flakes
I had this on its own as a main meal for one first time around, and although it was tasty it lacked variety in texture and taste to make it a really satisfying main meal. Second time I served it as a side with pizza, which worked much better. It’s also a really tasty starter.
1. Use a sieve to drain the ricotta. I usually just rest it in there while I prep the other ingredients.
2. Create a flour volcano. Everybody knows this is far more exciting than a well.
3. Add the Ricotta, breadcrumbs, a pinch of salt, and top it all off with the nutmeg.
4. Fold it all in, and gently knead it together. If it seems particularly sticky, you can add more flour but try not to over-work it or make it too heavy. The experts tell me (personally, of course) that the less flour the better, and this certainly seems to have been my greatest error on my first go round. I’m not yet sure how to quantify what the perfect balance is, so experiment! (I did). Leave it to rest for 20 mins or so.
5. Divide the dough into 3 or 4, and hand-roll each section into sausage shapes about 1.5cm in diameter. Then cut each sausage into several sections 1.5cm long. I tried 2cm the first time round, and felt they were too large, so you may even want to go as small as 1cm diameter cut into 1cm sections.
6. Roll the gnocchi gently along the tines of a fork, and press into the back a little, so that you have grooves on one side, and a slight indentation on the other. This is alleged to make any sauce stick to the gnocchi more effectively, if you decide not to fry it.
7. Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, and add the gnocchi. After a few minutes, they should rise to the surface. After another 10 seconds or so, remove them with a slotted spoon, and there you have a basic ricotta gnocchi. It should be of the texture and consistency that the Italians favour… from what I’ve read, they’re not keen on chewing.
I have a confession to make – I’m not Italian, and I don’t like the gnocchi this way, so rather than adding it to a sauce of choice (as you certainly could at this point) I carry on a little further…
8. Gently drain the gnocchi and allow it to both cool and dry. Let it cool to room temperature, and then transfer to a lightly-floured plate. Pop it in the fridge for at least 20-30 mins. An accidental 2 hours worked much better for me, second time around! This should help it stay together when you fry it.
9. Remove from the fridge, and give them another (very light) dusting of flour, to dry up any last remaining moisture, and also to help form a crust at the frying stage.
10. Heat some olive oil in a large frying pan. Add the garlic, chilli, and gnocchi. This part is quite tricky. You want the oil to be hot enough that the gnocchi seals and forms a slight crust, rather than melting, but not so hot that the garlic and any excess moisture from the gnocchi sparks. The voice of experience can vouch that when the oil is too hot, garlic puree is fairly explosive, burny, and stingy (although your charred flesh will smell fantastic).
11. Fry the gnocchi until it’s crispy on the outside. There’s no science to this, I just base it on when it looks like I’d want to eat it. As you may have gathered from the Chicken, Chorizo & Black Pudding Paella recipe, I’m a big fan of socarrat and burnt bits in general, so “looking ready” for me generally involves some very crispy, slightly burnt bits!
And there you have it! I personally found that taste and texture are at their best after they’ve cooled a little.
The costings for this recipe are the closest ever, with everything except the Ricotta becoming a cupboard staple. The overall winner was Asda, coming in at £5.24. Tesco lost out, coming last with only a 45p difference at £5.69. It was the Ricotta that made all the difference, costing £1.50 whereas Asda & Morrisons were both £1.00 and Sainsburys £1.15. Sainsburys came in 2nd overall at £5.50, with Morrisons third at £5.57.
It’s probably not worth shopping around just for this recipe – for the sake of 45p at most, I’d recommend buying it wherever you’re doing your weekly shop!
There are a number of tweaks you could make to this recipe – the first is the fairly obvious one of not completing the recipe, and just stopping and dunking it in some sauce after point 7. It’s a valid strategy, and I may try it again if I can find a way to firm up the gnocchi a bit more.
The nutmeg could be taken out, but personally I think there’s not much taste to plain gnocchi without it. Ricotta isn’t the strongest-tasting cheese in the world, after all. You could possibly use a different cheese (within reason) or split half and half. You could also use hot potato or polenta instead of ricotta, but I have a feeling that those may warrant separate recipes in their own right!
I’ve also toyed with the idea of including the garlic and chilli in the dough mix, so that the flavours permeate the gnocchi (I’d probably ditch the nutmeg if doing this). This may also reduce the amount of sparking from the frying pan. I think part of the charm of this dish, though, is that the chilli flakes form part of the crust in the original version. If you wanted to increase on this, then perhaps finely chopped garlic in the pan (rather than the mixture itself) may work better than the puree.
A final, diet-busting tweak, would be to use finely chopped red jalapeños instead of chilli flakes in the dough. Instead of frying with garlic, fry alone and serve immediately in a bowl with a large knob of garlic butter on top, melting slowly and deliciously over the whole lot.
I can’t thank The Crown enough for first introducing me to this dish. Also Jay for being guinnea-pig at both packet-bought and from-scratch stages. He also made the jalapeño suggestion, and a garlic dip one… I’m claiming the garlic-butter idea as my own genius, though 😉