Wednesday, April 15, 2015

ricotta and black pepper gnudi.

Several years ago, when Eleven Madison Park was managed by Danny Meyer, Tyler and I managed to snag a Friday night dinner reservation.  We were maybe 25 at the time and I couldn't quite believe that a restaurant as majestic, regal, and beautiful as Eleven Madison Park would allow some young girl and her boy to eat in their restaurant. It seemed like a place that only-sharp dressed, fancy-pants people could eat at.  If they thought less of us you would have never known. The service was incredible and the meal was memorable.  

The highlight of the evening and the thing I still dream about was a ricotta dish.  At first glance I thought I was given a plate of gnocchi but with one bite I realized this was an entirely different beast. This was a plate of cheese disguised as pasta; each bite resulted in an explosion of cheesiness.  To say I was smitten would have been an understatement.   

It wasn't until a couple of years later that I realized what I ate was gnudi. Gnudi are essentially balls of ricotta covered in the thinnest layer of semolina.  They are the fancy-pants (and far better) version of mozzarella sticks so you can see why I would be so obsessed.  It never occurred to me that I could make them myself and that making them could be so insanely easy (learning some things can be very dangerous) but thankfully Kenji over at Serious Eats helped me right my wrong.  

Ricotta and Black Pepper Gnudi
Recipe adapted from Serious Eats 

Kenji recommended a sage and brown butter sauce to serve with these.  I am sure that would be superb but I made a light cream sauce with peas and that paired beautifully (though I think a sorrel sauce could be pretty incredible as well).  The choice is yours! (Kenji's sauce recipe can be found in the link to the Serious Eats site.) I also wouldn't be opposed to eating these with just a drizzle of olive oil and lots of black pepper and Parmesan.     

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer or 2 to 3 as a main course. 

16 ounces best quality fresh sheep or cow's milk ricotta
2 ounces Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 cups semolina flour

For the gnudi: Line a large plate with three layers of paper towels or a clean dish towel. Transfer ricotta directly to paper towels and spread with a rubber spatula. Place another triple layer of paper towels or a clean dish towel on top and press down firmly with the palms of your hands to blot excess moisture. Peel off upper paper towels.

Place a large bowl on a scale and zero the scale. Scrape ricotta into bowl to weigh. Remove excess ricotta to leave exactly 12 ounces. Reserve excess ricotta for another use. Add Parmesan and season heavily with black pepper. Combine mixture with a rubber spatula. Season to taste with salt. Transfer to a large clean plate and spread into a thin, even layer. Transfer to freezer and let chill for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, transfer half of the semolina flour to a large bowl and the other half to a 9- by 13-inch baking dish. When ricotta is chilled, scrape it into a separate empty large bowl and fold it with a rubber spatula until no big chunks of frozen ricotta remain. Using a small cookie scoop or spoon form a ball of ricotta about 1 1/2-inches wide (about 2 tablespoons) and transfer to the bowl with the flour. Using your fingers, scoop dry flour over the top of the ricotta ball.

Once the ball is coated, gently lift it and roll it around in your hands to form a neat sphere. Transfer it to the baking dish. Repeat with remaining ricotta. You should have about 16 to 20 finished gnudi. Sprinkle any remaining semolina in the bowl over the formed gnudi. Cover baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 and up to 3 days, turning the gnudi once per day. Once gnudi have formed a skin, they can be frozen. Transfer to a large plate or a rimmed baking sheet and freeze until solid, about 1 hour. Transfer to a zipper-lock freezer bag and store in the freezer for up to 2 months. Allow to thaw on a plate covered with plastic wrap in the refrigerator overnight before cooking.

To Cook and Serve: Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add gnudi and cook, stirring very gently, for 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the gnudi to a platter. 

Transfer gnudi to a warm serving dish or to individual plates. Sprinkle with Parmesan and black pepper and sauce of your choice. Serve immediately.

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