Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi

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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

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  • 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.

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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

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Showing 4 of 30 Comments

  • 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.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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.

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