Bad recipe, I hiss. Bad, bad recipe.
I growl and draw a markedly unhappy face, complete with the flushed cheeks of anger, next to the recipe of an Italian cookbook I have considered a trusted friend. Until now.
How can this be? How can you have taken me HERE, oh recipe? I wonder, looking down at the mounds of spinach-flecked, watery glops masquerading as savory spinach and ricotta gnocchi.
I re-read the recipe to see if I have taken a wrong turn somewhere, but no – I followed it to the ‘t’. It’s ironic actually, since I generally use recipes merely as a source of ideas and inspiration. But today…today I was exacting. Today, I used the recipe’s exact proportions to ensure that the little suckers would actually stay together in a ball once thrown in a pot of boiling water.
So I painstakingly measured everything – everything! – and mixed it all just so. As instructed, I created cute little round balls and then boiled them until they rose to the surface, after which I promptly drained them. I was such a good girl that if the recipe had instructed me to jump, I would have asked how high. And yet, despite this almost pathological attention to detail, the meal was a bust. Even the tasty sage-brown butter sauce couldn’t save it.
I was aiming for Mount Everest but, like a bad map, the recipe led me to the Dead Sea instead.
It certainly brings the point home that badly-written, incomplete or just plain defective recipes never take you where you want to go. They will take you somewhere, sure, but it will probably be a destination you had no interest visiting in the first place.
Which brings me to a follow-up point: try to stick to trusted, tried-and-true recipe sites and cookbooks whenever you can. When that is not possible, read the recipe over a couple of times with the scrutiny of a judge in a ‘Best in Show’ dog competition. Do this by asking yourself two questions before investing even a second of your precious time over pots and pans.
Is it detailed enough about the ingredients it requires? I recently read a column by London-based restaurateur and food writer Yotam Ottolenghi who, in the nicest possible way, ranted a bit himself about the clarity of recipes. “Being told that a dish needs ‘a pinch of dried chili flakes’ or ‘one red chili, chopped’ is all a bit vague. Should the chili be large or small? Deseeded and chopped, or left whole? Should the dried flakes come from a fiery jalapeño or habanero, or from a more mellow ancho or urfa?”
Also, are the explanations complete? If a recipe doesn’t divulge something as basic as whether to cook something covered or uncovered, for instance, run the other way.
Sometimes, of course, we get duped. Everything may read properly and we embark on the journey only to be led to the land of dud. It happens. We must dust ourselves off and either try again or give up the ghost.
As for me, I’ve made ricotta and spinach gnocchi seven times since the aforementioned ‘maddening gnocchi incident.’ I know. I’m crazy. All I’m missing are the 27 cats living with me.
All the experimentation yielded great results, though.
After trying out various recipes, I created hybrid gnocchi that are baked instead of boiled. Baking makes all the difference because it dries out any unwanted moisture still remaining in its two main (and moist) ingredients, ricotta and blanched spinach. It also allows the flavor of the spinach and cheeses to shine through and the texture to be nice and firm instead of mushy. Savory and filling, these gnocchi go a long way towards filling your tummy. Six to eight is all you’ll need.
I can almost, almost, guarantee that these gnocchi will take your palate to the warmest and fuzziest of places. Just like a good map.
making baked spinach & ricotta gnocchi
To prepare them, blanch 2 10-oz. containers of baby spinach leaves by rinsing them with water (I do it right in their plastic container) and then draining them in a colander for 5 minutes. (Click here for pictorial how-to on blanching spinach.)
Also, drain 2 ½ cups whole milk ricotta by placing it in a colander,
And allowing it to drain. Then set aside.
Bring a small pot of water to a boil and add 5-6 medium-sized garlic cloves. You can of course use fewer garlic cloves, if you want to tame the garlicky flavor.
Cook for 4 minutes and then drain.
Allow to cool and remove the skin. Remove the root end of the garlic and slice it in half so that you can also remove the little sprout inside the garlic. Add link.
Place a 10-inch skillet on stove and turn the heat to medium-high. Add the spinach by the handful. Mix well with kitchen tongs until the leaves have softened but are still bright green. Drain in a colander. Once sufficiently cooled, squeeze any remaining water out of the spinach with your hands.
and then chop finely.
Preheat the oven to 400°F and place parchment paper on a baking tray.
Wash and gently tear a ½ oz. (a good handful) of fresh basil leaves and place them, along with the cooked garlic, into a small food processor.
Now pulse. You can also do this by hand, of course, using a sharp knife and a little patience. Continue to pulse until the mixture resembles pesto without the oil.
Occasionally, using a spatula, scrape off basil and garlic pieces from the sides of the processor so that they can continue to be chopped more finely.
In a large bowl, add the drained ricotta, chopped spinach, chopped basil/garlic mix, ½ cup flour, 1/2 teaspoon of grated nutmeg, 4 egg yolks, ¾ cup freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, and salt and pepper. Mix very well.
Start rolling the ricotta/spinach mixture between both your hands to create balls that are slightly smaller than a golf ball.
Arrange them on the baking tray so that they are about 1 ½ inch apart from each other. Place 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter in a small microwave-friendly dish and heat for 30 seconds until melted. Brush all gnocchi with the melted butter.
Place tray in the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F. Bake for 15-20 minutes. They will look like this once baked:
As the gnocchi bake, melt the remaining 4 tablespoons of unsalted butter in heavy large skillet over medium-low heat. Add 4-5 fresh sage leaves.
Cook until edges curl and butter turns dark amber, about 6 minutes.
Place gnocchi on a serving tray and cover with butter sauce and additional Parmigiano-Reggiano. Makes 4 servings.