Gnocchi with Fresh and Smoked Ricotta
A few years back I spent three scorchingly hot July weeks filming a kind of travel-cum-cooking-fiction for a Venice TV company. It subsequently went bust so none of use ever got paid, which was the bad part.
The good parts were many. We had the greatest fun despite the killing heat; I especially enjoyed pretending to be an actress - don't laugh please - ; some of the friendships made in the course of shooting have lasted the test of time; and I got to see many parts of the Veneto from the side car of a vintage motor-bike. I also got to taste foods of the Veneto that i did not previously know about and had the opportunity to observe how often cinnamon crept into sauces of tomato and anchovy. I even got to sit on and use a "Bigolaro" the amazing instrument used to make Venice's only pasta, the fat wholewheat spaghetti called Bigoli.
One of the surprises for me was the Piana di Cansiglio in Belluno province. This high plain at 3000 metres above sea level was all lush green meadows and Alpine scenery all cows with clanking cow bells, a real Heidi or Sound of Music scene, and blessedly cool too. Here we visited a cheese maker and later, at a simple log cabin restaurant we had Ricotta Gnocchi Veneto style, topped not with Parmigiano-Reggiano type Grana cheese but with the fabulous smoked ricotta which is one of the prestigious local products. I got the recipe and later cooked the gnocchi as part of the show we were filming. I was very happy that the almost all Venetian crew declared that my ricotta gnocchi were even better than the restaurant ones.
I had not found smoked ricotta since but at a gourmet food fair I attended very recently I pounced upon a smoked goats' cheese ricotta as soon as I saw it, and smiled to think I would soon be making those very special and little known Ricotta Gnocchi of the Veneto, even if the smoked ricotta I bought is not actually from the Cansiglio. We made them on the recent class in Tredozio, where the smoked ricotta was pronounced a great "new" ingredient, and I made them again today just for the two of us.
Below I share the classic recipe, where the Ricotta Gnocchi are drizzled with barely melted butter and a little just shredded sage. The gnocchi can also be served in a chicken broth or with tomato sauce and are very good eaten cold.
When I made ours today, I served them on tomato sauce which I kept with a little texture to contrast with the silky smooth green puree. This last is not traditional but I had left over cooked Swiss Chard to use up. I whizzed it with an immersion blender along with some blanched sage leaves, olive oil and a little coarse sea salt till it had the taste and consistency i wanted. I used it to top the gnocchi, and then grated smoked ricotta over the lot. It was "yum, double yum and top delish" as a friend of mine likes to say.
Gnocchi di Ricotta in the Veneto style
80 g flour
60g Smoked ricotta for grating (or substitute Parmigiano-Reggiano) for the gnocchi plus 50g for the dressing
3 or 4 large sage leaves
nutmeg, salt and pepper
Place a pan of water on the heat and bring to a gentle boil. Grate the two amounts of cheese and keep them separate. Sieve the flour and weigh out the butter. Finely slice the sage leaves.
Mix the eggs in a bowl, sieve in the ricotta and mix gently.
Gradually add the sifted flour first and then the 60 g of grated cheese.
Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.
Prepare your serving dish for when you lift out the cooked gnocchi.
Prepare a small pan with the butter which you will just barely melt for the dressing.
When the water has come to the boil, drop spoonfuls of the mix (shaped into quenelles if you like) in the water to cook at a gentle boil for 5 minute. Use half the mixture first, then drain and start on the second batch.
Place the cooked ricotta gnocchi directly on to some of the butter in the serving dish as you scoop them out with a large slotted spoon so as to drain them of excess water.
Layer with melted butter, sprinkling on some grated Parmesan and some shredded sage on each layer, and finishing with a final grating of nutmeg and / or smoked ricotta if you wish.