Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi

Have you ever made potato gnocchi? If you have, then you know that the process can be tricky at best. What you want are light, fluffy dumpling pillows. What we often get is dense, chewy dough balls. Gnocchi with ricotta cheese is much more forgiving than the potato version. The dough holds together better, and the result is likely to be more pillow-like than chewy. I was taught this approach by a wonderful local Italian chef, Biba Caggiano, who showed me that the trick to a light gnocchi was in how you rolled them out. You want a light touch, gently stretching the dough outwards as you roll it into shape. A heavy touch will compress the dough. The sauce is a simple one, just tomatoes and goat cheese with a hint of garlic. But you can use any favorite sauce with the gnocchi.

Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi Recipe

  • Yield: Serves 4-6.

Ingredients

Gnocchi

  • 3 ounces fresh or frozen spinach
  • 1 egg
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/2 pounds whole milk ricotta cheese, drained of excess moisture
  • 1/3 cup finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of nutmeg


Sauce

  • 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes (or whole tomatoes that you shred as you add to the pan)
  • 4 Tbsp olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled
  • Salt
  • 2 ounces goat cheese

Method

Gnocchi

1 Fill a medium saucepan halfway with water and heat until simmering. Add spinach and cook until tender, about 1 minute. Drain. Let spinach cool enough to touch, then squeeze as much moisture as you can out of it. You can also use a potato ricer if you have one to squeeze the excess moisture out of the spinach.

2 Add the spinach, egg, salt, and half of the ricotta to a food processor. Pulse until completely blended. Transfer mixture to a large bowl, mix in the remaining ricotta and the Parmesan cheese. Stir a pinch of nutmeg into the flour. Add the flour in by hand, starting with a half of the flour. Mix everything with your hands until the mixture holds together as a dough.

3 Put the dough out on a lightly floured smooth, clean surface. Knead lightly for about a minute, adding additional flour if needed, if the dough sticks too easily to the board or your hands. (At this point, if you wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate for an hour, it will be easier to roll out.) When the dough is smooth and pliable, and still just a little bit sticky, divide it into 4 portions, each the size of an orange.

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4 Flour your hands lightly. Using both hands, and a light touch, roll the dough out with a back and forth motion, starting at the center and stretching the dough out, to form a roll. This is the tricky part. You don't want to put so much pressure so that you compress the dough, but you do need enough pressure to create a rope of dough. The trick is to stretch the dough sideways as you are rolling. Once the segment you are working on gets to be about a foot long, you may find it easier to cut it in half, and then start working on that smaller segment.

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Roll the dough out until the roll is about the size of a middle finger. (Note that if your hands or the board is a little too floured, you may not have enough traction between your skin and the dough to easily stretch it sideways.) Cut each roll into 1-inch pieces.

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5 Hold a fork at a 45% angle with its tines facing down on the work board, the curved part of the fork facing away from you. Starting with the curved outside bottom of the fork, press each piece of dough up along the length of the tines. Let the gnocchi fall back down. This is a pretty quick motion, the result is an indentation of the fork tines on one side of the gnocchi, and an indentation of your fingertip on the other side.

Place the gnocchi on a lightly floured cookie sheet. At this point they can be cooked, or kept in the refrigerator several hours or overnight.

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6 To cook the gnocchi, fill a large wide pot half-way with water. Bring to a boil, add 1 teaspoon of salt for every quart of water. Once the salt has dissolved, gently drop the gnocchi in the water, one by one. Try to do this in a way that the gnocchi are not falling in on top of each other, but rest on the bottom of the pan in a single layer. As the gnocchi cooks, they will rise to the surface of the water after a couple minutes. Use a slotted spoon to remove the risen gnocchi from the pot, place in a serving bowl. Sometimes the gnocchi can stick a little at the bottom. If you suspect this, nudge them a little to unstick them. As you remove some gnocchi, you can add a few more to the pan.

The Sauce

1 Heat oil in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and cook until lightly browned on all sides. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the tomatoes (include any juices from the can) all at once (careful, they may cause the oil to splatter as the tomatoes hit the pan). As soon as the mixture boils, reduce the heat to low and let simmer, uncovered for 10 to 15 minutes. Season with salt. Stir occasionally. Use a potato masher to break up any solid pieces of tomato, you want a rough purée.

2 Once the sauce reduces to a medium thick consistency, add the goat cheese, stirring until it is well blended. Add more salt to taste.

Serve gnocchi with the sauce and extra grated Parmesan.

Recipe adapted from one by Sacramento chef Biba Caggiano.

Links:
Zuni Cafe ricotta gnocchi - a different take on ricotta gnocchi, with frying the gnocchi in a sage butter

30 Comments

  1. Nathan

    The gnocchi I see in the title photo appear browned. Did I miss a step?

    They’re not browned. They are a slight pale green color, which combined with a little tomato sauce might make them look a little browned. ~Elise

  2. Sudu Roy

    Very helpful post and a definite cooking adventure! This is a demanding job- I would like to try it in small batches. If I scale the ingredients down by 1/3rd and leave out the egg how do you think it will turn out? Should I add some baking powder to act as leavening instead of the egg? Thanks.

    I would use just the egg yolk or the egg white if I were to cut the recipe down. You can try it without the egg all together, but I think you will find it difficult to work with the dough without the help of the egg as a binder. I would not add baking powder or another leavener. ~Elise

  3. Laine

    I’ve had gnocchi that have been lightly pan-fried after cooking and before saucing – do you think it would work with these? Thanks

    Don’t know. The make up of these gnocchi is half cheese, I would shy away from pan frying them myself. But if you try it, please let us know how it turns out. ~Elise

    update: Jaden just pointed out to me her pan-fried ricotta gnocchi, so there you have it, yes, you can pan fry. ~Elise

  4. Jarvis

    This looks great.
    Does taking the garlic out of the oil add sufficient garlic flavor? Would it be overkill to crush the garlic and leave it in?

    Leave in as much as you want. The idea for this particular sauce is to have just a hint of garlic, but feel free to leave it in if you want more garlic flavor. ~Elise

  5. Ellen

    I would love to try this recipe. If I do not want to cook and/or serve all of the gnocchi at once, what is a recommendation for keeping the leftovers? Cook and freeze or freeze uncooked? Thanks!!

    When I asked Biba about freezing the gnocchi, she almost yelled at me (it’s an Italian thing, she doesn’t hold back on her opinions.) I have no idea how this particular gnocchi would freeze. It is have ricotta and sometimes cheese doesn’t freeze well. Potato gnocchi, no problem. Just let it dry overnight first, before freezing. This one, your guess is as good as mine. If you were to freeze it, you would do so before cooking it, not after. ~Elise

  6. Michele

    Do you think using part skim ricotta instead of whole milk ricotta would ruin the texture of the dough? I’m just looking to save a few calories where I can.

    I used 1 pound whole and 1/2 pound skim ricotta for this batch as that is what we had in the fridge. Worked fine. ~Elise

  7. Anonymous

    I was expecting Potato in this recipe, Can I substitute potato instead of flour it will then make it gluten free.

    You could try it and see. I have no idea how it would turn out. ~Elise

  8. shauna

    These look lovely, Elise. Gluten-free gnocchi can be difficult — they require a delicate touch — but they are possible. My husband and I have been working on them (we thought about putting them in our book) and we’ll have a recipe up next Thursday. Come on by.

  9. A.J

    Hi Elise,

    Just to make certain –
    Should I remove each gnocchi as soon as it floats to the top or should they boil on top for a while?

    Remove it as soon as it floats to the top. ~Elise

  10. EdFromToronto

    Hi Elise,

    I’ve never made dough before so this might be a silly question…
    Can I keep the dough overnight in the fridge (wrapped in plastic) or does it need to be tossed into the pot soon after rolling?

    You can keep it in the fridge overnight, in fact, I recall Biba recommending that chilling the dough will make it easier to roll out. ~Elise

  11. Bonnie Barrett

    Can a different kind of cheese be substituted for the goat cheese in the sauce? If so, what would you recommend.

    The sauce as written with the goat cheese is a traditional Italian tomato sauce. I do not have a recommendation for a substitution. You can of course, just make a sauce without the cheese. ~Elise

  12. caroline

    I made these last night and they were indeed pillowy and delicious– thanks for such a good recipe and clear instructions!

    Do you know if the fork indentations serve any purpose other than decorative? It was a bit tedious doing them (at least for a weeknight dinner) and they barely showed up because the dough was so soft. So I’m wondering if that step could be omitted.

    The fork indentations help the gnocchi catch and hold the sauce. You can skip the fork, but you still need to make an indentation. The fork method can actually be quite quick; it’s just a quick flick, you can do it pretty fast. ~Elise

  13. Sheri Wetherell

    Che delicioso! Gnocchi has to be one of my favorite foods of all time. Another variation of gnocchi is “malfatti”, meaning “bad made” – a rustic, more provincial dumpling. It’s also based on ricotta, like your recipe here, and is easy to make! You should try it some time – absolutely wonderful (and fool-proof)!

    Thanks, as always, for your fabulous dishes :)

    Sheri

  14. Lara

    Has anyone tried making this recipe? I am having a horrible time with it. I’ve added the 1 3/4c. flour and it doesn’t even seem close to enough to actually make the dough manageable but I am afraid to add too much more.
    I’ve put the dough on the board and have begun kneading and in the process have added at least another 1/2 c. It’s still extremely sticky.
    I would really appreciate any advice one could give for this recipe!

    You can add another 1/2 cup flour. It’s tricky because eggs vary in size, ricotta has moisture in it, the spinach has moisture in it, and people measure flour differently (even measuring cups vary in size). Just keep adding flour until you can make a dough out of it. ~Elise

  15. Lara

    Thanks Elise,
    They turned out really yummy, especially the sauce. I actually added about a half cup of basil.
    Instead of adding more flour to reduce the stickiness I chilled the dough, as it had mentioned as an option. It helped immensely! I would highly recommend doing this.

  16. Kat

    I’m going to make these this week, but because of the intense process and my hectic life, I want to make the gnocchi in advance. How long do you think they would keep in the fridge? If I made them and let them in a sealed container for two or three days… Would that be simply awful?

    Should be fine, though I haven’t tried it. Let us know how it turns out if you do! ~Elise

  17. Danabee

    A fabulous recipe! My toddler loves gnocchi so I saw this as an opportunity to get some spinach into him! I usually make him a version with butternut puree. I subbed white whole wheat flour in this recipe and, thanks to the very clear shaping directions, we ate some very fluffy, tender, pillowy gnocchi for lunch! I resisted adding any more flour than the 1-3/4 cups then about another 1/4 cup total for shaping. It’s a sticky one but I think it contributed to how tender they turned out. I froze a lot so we can have easy meals later. We’ll see how well they survive the freezer.

  18. Kat

    Just an update — I made the dough, froze it for 2 days and then made my gnocchi — it turned out GREAT! I also tried making some right away so I could compare, and I honestly think the stuff that I froze and then de-thawed tasted better. I also let a batch sit for a day cut up in the fridge and those pretty much melted… But as far as storage goes, it keeps well in the freezer!

  19. Stacey

    Yum. These were so fun to make and they were delicious. I shared a link via Facebook and a friend made them too. Super good recipe.

  20. Jessica

    I’m not sure how I would like the sauce with goat cheese in it. Does it make it too tangy? Has anyone used and different sauce that still compliments the dish? What is the recipe?

  21. Karin Jung

    Another successful recipe! I actually thought these were surprisingly easy to make and a HUGE hit with my 2 1/2 year old. I used your basic tomato sauce because I wanted more veggies and had no goat cheese. The sauce was fantastic. I’ll will make these again and use pesto next time.

  22. Hope

    Elise…I have a question…can you freeze gnocchi? The problem I have with recipes is it seems like too much work to cut the recipe in half, but if I make the entire thing we either eat too much (me!) or it goes to waste since my husband is not a huge fan of leftovers.

    If it can be frozen, how long can I store in freezer?

    Hi Hope. Great question. When I asked Biba the same question she looked aghast. But of course she would, gnocchi are better fresh. That said, most of the people I know who make gnocchi make lots and freeze the extra. What they do is arrange them on wax paper on a baking tray and let them sit out over night to dry out first. Then they put them in the freezer to freeze. Once frozen, they remove them from the baking tray, put them in a freezer bag and put them back in the freezer for more convenient longer term storage. When ready to make the gnocchi, they just place the frozen gnocchi in the simmering water, one by one. They do not defrost first. ~Elise

  23. Karin Jung

    Hi Elise, I have made these before, (wow, huge hit) and I was wondering if you think this might work with chopped sautéed mushrooms? I have seen recipes substituting mushrooms for spinach in ravioli recipes that had ricotta/parmesan filling and thought it might work here. What do you think? If I sautéed first then let the mushrooms drain a bit?

    Sounds interesting. I would dry sauté the mushrooms first, until they stop releasing moisture. ~Elise

  24. Amanda K

    I’m in the process of making these right now and have the dough sitting in the fridge for an hour. I looked back over the recipe once more and realised that I didn’t add in the nutmeg, but then the recipe doesn’t say what step to add it in at. I’m assuming it gets added after using the food processor and when the other half of the ricotta and the parmesean are mixed in with the processed portion. I bet they’ll still turn out good for me without the nutmeg.

    Good catch! It’s been so long I don’t remember, but I’m guessing a good place to add the nutmeg is to stir it into the flour first, before adding the flour to the spinach mixture. So I’ve adjusted the recipe instructions to include that step. Either way, with or without the nutmeg, the gnocchi should turn out fine. ~Elise

  25. Alison

    I made these and they were great but they were MUCH too salty! I’m wondering if there may have been a typo? I thought 2 tsp was a lot of salt when I was measuring it out to put in the dough but I figured I would trust the recipe and go with it. Now I’m thinking it can’t possibly need more than 1/2 tsp.

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.