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8 & $20 Recipe: Ricotta Gnocchi With Brown Butter and Sage

A Chardonnay from Italy is a refreshing foil to this easy, hearty homemade pasta dish

Esther Mobley
Posted: November 11, 2014

Eight ingredients. That's all it takes to make an entire meal from scratch. Add in a good bottle of wine for less than $20, and you've got a weeknight feast for family or friends. That's the philosophy behind our "8 & $20" feature. We hope it adds pleasure to your table.

Fresh pasta scares off many home cooks, especially when they want to whip up something quickly. I’ll admit that the prospect of creating pasta from scratch can intimidate me too: Kneading the tough dough requires patience and finesse (which I rarely possess), and I always seem to break the dough whenever I roll it through the machine. Recently, however, I discovered ricotta gnocchi, and cooking fresh pasta at home became a cinch.

I’ve made potato gnocchi at home before, and while it’s not that difficult, it is time-consuming, largely because it takes a long time to boil potatoes to the right consistency. Ricotta gnocchi, the potato dumpling’s lesser-known sibling, is not only speedier and easier, but it’s also got a fluffy, delicate quality that dense potato gnocchi lacks.

For this recipe, I strained some whole-milk ricotta cheese the night before (do not bother with part-skim). When I returned to it the next day, all I had to do was combine it with an egg, flour and a little bit of Parmesan, and after a quick 15-minute rest in the fridge, the dough was ready to be shaped.

The shape of the pasta is up to you: It’s easiest to roll small batches of dough into a log and cut off pieces from that, creating a dumpling that resembles a little pillow. However, if you’re interested in the rounder, ridged dumpling that you’ve likely seen in restaurants, only one extra step is required. Once you’ve cut the pillows from the roll, take a fork and hold it at a 45-degree angle, with the end of the tongs against a surface. One by one, roll the pillows down the side of the fork. The fork will create ridges, and the place where your thumb was on the pasta will leave a cupped indentation. Some people prefer this shape, since the ridges and indentation can hold sauce.

As for the sauce, there are few things I love to cook more than a homemade tomato sauce, with San Marzano tomatoes, fresh vegetables, some ground meat and a generous splash of red wine. But without the time to spare, I opted instead for an ultrasimple brown butter sauce, which was ready in under 10 minutes; I made it while the gnocchi was boiling.

A tomato-based meat sauce would have clearly called for red wine, but brown butter suggested white wine as a possibility. I decided to try both a red and a white from Italy. The red Chianti that I chose was rich and dense. On its own, it showed delicate floral notes, with some hefty earth and tobacco. With the buttery sauce and the sage on the gnocchi, however, it turned a little bitter, and the alcohol seemed more prominent. Some new baking spices emerged on the finish for interest, but it wasn’t a completely harmonious pairing.

As a white wine option, I grabbed an Italian Chardonnay, imagining that its creaminess might be a good match for the brown butter and the fluffy, tangy ricotta. The $16 bottle of white, from the producer Sobrero, in the Langhe, had a pleasant plumpness, but was neither buttery nor oaky. Floral and fruity, it showed some juicy flavors of apple and lychee. With the ricotta gnocchi, it shone. The pasta brought out a new spice component, while the Chardonnay highlighted the creaminess of the ricotta without overamplifying it. Rather than add to the richness of the dish, the wine tasted clean and refreshing, with a persistent finish. It made it easy to eat an entire plate of the pasta.

Ricotta Gnocchi With Brown Butter and Sage

Pair it with a Chardonnay from Italy, such as Sobrero Langhe White VII 2012 (88 points, $16)

Total time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes

Approximate food cost: $25 for 4 portions

  • 15 ounces whole-milk ricotta cheese
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 cup Parmesan cheese, finely grated, divided
  • 1 cup flour, plus more for shaping dough
  • Salt, for boiling pasta
  • 6 tablespoons salted butter
  • 4 sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon red pepper flakes

1. Over a bowl, set a strainer lined with 2 coffee filters or paper towels. Let the ricotta drain for 1 hour. This can be done in advance.

2. Combine strained ricotta, egg, cheese and 1 cup flour. Refrigerate for about 15 minutes.

3. Check to make sure that the dough is tacky; if it is too soft and clings to your fingers, add more flour and refrigerate for another 10 minutes or so. Once you have the dough at a workable consistency, sprinkle a workspace with flour, and coat your fingers in flour. Take a small amount of the dough and work it into a ball. Roll it into a log, about 1/2 inch thick.

4. Use a knife to cut the log into small pieces, about 1/2 inch wide. You can leave these as is, or use a fork to create the traditional ridged gnocchi dumplings.

5. Set a pot of water to boil. Add a few teaspoons of salt. Boil the gnocchi in small batches. They will be done when they float to the surface. Remove them with a slotted spoon and set them over a colander. Repeat with the rest of the dumplings.

6. While the gnocchi are draining, melt butter over high heat in a skillet. Stir it until brown flecks begin to form. It should emit a nutty aroma. Add drained gnocchi, a couple tablespoons of gnocchi cooking water, red pepper flakes and sage leaves; toss until all components are coated in the butter. Place the gnocchi on plates, then add remaining Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately. Serves four.

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