Colu Henry, the author of Back Pocket Pasta, has a new book out: Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food. It’s a real beauty, and while I have made only one recipe, if it is any indication of the others in the book, I have lots of deliciousness to look forward to.
Let’s start from the stop: One Sunday last month, I spent the afternoon with Colu at her home in Hudson, where she made me a recipe from her book: ricotta and pecorino gnocchi. Having attempted ricotta gnudi in the past, a disastrous three-day experiment, and knowing what it takes to make potato gnocchi, a laborious process of roasting, ricing, and rolling, I was curious how Colu was going to pull this off: Was there really such a thing as easy gnocchi?
It turns out: yes!
I was astonished to see how quickly the gnocchi dough, a mix of ricotta, pre-grated pecorino, eggs, and flour came together. And the rolling and cutting step, which required no ridged paddle or fork tines, was similarly easy. While the shaped gnocchi hung out on a floured sheet pan, Colu made the sauce, a mix of sautéed mushrooms, shallots, and brown butter, and when the gnocchi finished boiling — a 30-second process — into the skillet they went along with a splash of the cooking water. She zested lemon and sprinkled fresh parsley over each bowl.
I would have been happy eating the just-boiled, unsauced gnocchi alone — truly, they melt in your mouth — but the whole ensemble — the nutty, earthy sauce in combination with the ricotta pillows — overwhelmed me. I found it nearly impossible to stop eating, but in addition to being so excited by its deliciousness, I was delighted by the process: it was truly easy! And fancy! Easy, fancy — who knew?
Colu offers three ways to serve the gnocchi: with a simple tomato sauce (pictured above), with the brown butter mushrooms (pictured below), and in a soup with shredded chicken and sautéed vegetables, a riff on chicken and dumplings. I have yet to make the chicken and dumplings, but I have made another simple variation inspired by an old favorite Sally Schneider recipe: brown butter + toasted pine nuts. Find the details below.
Friends, guess what? I contributed a recipe to the book’s dessert chapter, Please Bring Dessert, a compilation of recipes from friends — Colu, in her own words, is “not a dessert person.” The recipe I created is for an Orange, Olive Oil, and Almond Torte, a combination of everything I love about two longtime favorite recipes: this Chez Panisse almond torte and this orange and olive oil cake.
If you are looking for some inspiration in the kitchen or in need of a mother’s day gift for someone in your life, this book is just the ticket — I have my eye on skillet chicken with wilted radicchio, anchovy, and onion, a no-breadcrumb eggplant parm (for a crowd!), and blistered green beans and tomatoes with harissa butter. Yum. As always, I will keep you posted on any and all easy, fancy experiments 🎉
Colu’s brown butter mushroom gnocchi:
Brown butter + toasted pine nut gnocchi:
How to Make Ricotta Gnocchi, Step by Step
Gather your ingredients: eggs, ricotta, pre-grated pecorino, flour, salt and pepper.
The first step is to drain the ricotta — don’t skip this step… I tried! If you skip this step, the dough will be too wet, and you’ll have to compensate by using a lot more flour to get the dough to come together, and while the gnocchi will still be delicious, they won’t be quite as light.
To drain the ricotta: line a sheet pan with two layers of paper towels. Spread the ricotta over the top.
Top with two more layers of paper towels and press down to encourage moisture absorption.
Twenty minutes later, remove the top layer of paper towels.
Then scrape the ricotta from the bottom layers — it will release surprisingly easily.
Transfer the ricotta to a large bowl. Add the egg and egg yolk, pecorino, flour, and salt and pepper to taste.
Stir until you have a sticky dough ball.
Then transfer to a lightly floured work surface.
Use flour as needed to gently knead and shape the dough into a ball.
Use a bench scraper to divide the dough into 4 portions.
Then, working with one portion at a time, roll it into a log about 12 to 15 inches long.
Cut the long into small pieces:
I’ve made the recipe three times now, and with each successive time, I rolled the log a little longer and cut it into more pieces. I love the smaller-sized gnocchi, but you may prefer a larger size. Once you make the recipe once, you’ll get the hang of it.
Transfer the gnocchi to a lightly floured sheet pan…
… better to use two small sheet pans.
Boil the gnocchi in salted water until they float to the top, about 30 seconds.
Transfer to a towel-lined sheet pan to drain.
For serving, Colu offers several ideas, including a simple tomato sauce:
I love this one with fresh basil, lots of pepper, and shaved parmesan over the top:
A second variation is with mushrooms, shallots, and brown butter:
She finishes it with parsley and lemon zest — it’s heavenly!
This third variation comes from a favorite Sally Schneider recipe: brown butter and pine nuts. It’s simple: brown butter and toast pine nuts on the stovetop…
… then combine the butter and nuts with the cooked gnocchi.
Serve with shaved parmesan and lots of pepper.
From Colu Henry’s Colu Cooks Easy Fancy Food
- The recipe calls for good-quality ricotta such as Calabro, which I used and loved. I’ve also used Maplebrook Farm’s “hand-dipped” ricotta, which I also loved. Most tubs are 16 ounces — just use the whole tub. Also, you’ll need to drain it, which takes 20 – 30 minutes. There are instructions in the recipe below.
For the gnocchi:
- 15 oz (430 g) whole milk ricotta, see notes above
- 4 oz (115 g), about 1 cup, finely grated pecorino, such as the pre-grated Locatelli brand
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1/4 cup (30 g) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
- kosher salt and pepper to taste
For serving, Option 1, Tomato Sauce:
For Serving, Option 2: Mushrooms
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 lb. mixed mushrooms
- 1 stick butter
- 1 small shallot, diced
- lemon zest
For Serving, Option 3: Brown Butter & Pine Nuts
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1/4 cup pine nuts
- Parmigiano Reggiano
- Black pepper, to taste
- Drain the ricotta: Line a sheet pan with two layers of paper towels. Spread the ricotta across the towels in a thin layer. Top with two more layers of paper towels and press down to encourage moisture absorption. Let stand 20-30 minutes; then remove the top layer.
- Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
- Scrape the ricotta into a large bowl. Add the pecorino, egg and egg yolk, and the flour. Season with salt and pepper to taste and gently stir to combine.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and, using flour as needed, gently form into a ball.
- With a bench scraper, cut the dough into quarters. Working with one quarter at a time, roll each piece into a log about 12 to 15 inches long. Cut each log into 12 to 15 gnocchi. Transfer to a lightly floured sheet pan and gently toss with a bit more flour to prevent the gnocchi from sticking.
- Working with half the gnocchi at a time, transfer them to the boiling water and cook until they rise to the surface, roughly 30 seconds. Use a spider to remove the gnocchi and transfer to tea towel- or parchment-lined sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining gnocchi. Save the gnocchi cooking water — you made need it to thin whatever sauce you are using to dress the gnocchi.
For the Tomato Sauce Gnocchi:
- Heat 1 to 2 cups (depending on how much of the gnocchi you are cooking) of the tomato sauce in a large skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add the gnocchi, and, using a large spoon, toss gently to coat. Once heated through, remove from the heat, add fresh basil, if using, and toss again to coat. Serve, shaving parmesan over the top and cracking pepper over the top to taste.
For the Mushroom Gnocchi:
- Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add 1 pound of mixed mushrooms, which have been torn into bite-sized pieces, and season with salt and pepper. Cook until they begin browning and getting crisp at the edges, 12 to 14 minutes. Add in a stick (1/2 cup | 115 g) of butter and a finely chopped shallot. Cook until the butter melts and starts to become nutty. Ladle in some of the pasta cooking water and simmer until the sauce begins to thicken. Add the gnocchi and gently toss to coat in the sauce. Serve with finely chopped parsley and lemon zest.
For the Brown Butter & Pine Nut Gnocchi:
- Melt the butter in a large skillet over medium heat until it begins to turn light brown and smell nutty. In a separate small skillet, toast the pine nuts over medium heat until golden.
- When the butter has turned brown, add the gnocchi and toss gently to coat. Add the pine nuts and toss again.
- Serve, shaving parmesan over the top and cracking pepper over the top to taste.
- Prep Time: 30 minutes
- Cook Time: 10 minutes
- Category: Pasta
- Method: Stovetop
- Cuisine: Italian, American
Keywords: ricotta, gnocchi, pillowy, pecorino, easy