The season is winding down for my little community garden plot, yet it still continues to surprise me. I still get a nice handful of tomatoes every week and the basil, giant and bushy all summer, is still showing a little life. The massive kale, surprisingly productive peppers and chilies and other hearty herbs will go strong for a few more weeks at least. To my delight, the beans I quickly planted in late August are doing quite well with a few nice bunches of green, yellow and purple beans just in time for the close of the garden. Typical. Over the weekend I looked at the bowl of tomatoes I’ve been collecting, bright orange cherries and slightly larger golf ball size red ones, and thought pasta. I probably let them sit a little too long so this had to happen fast. It was time for an end of the season sauce.
I turned those tomatoes into a lovely sauce, a simple but great recipe I pinched from Jenn Louis’ fantastic book Pasta by Hand. While I make a simple cherry tomato sauce frequently, I picked up a new trick from this book – slowly sauté the tomatoes in a combination of olive oil and a knob of cold butter until they collapse, releasing their juices to create the most delicious sauce. My cherry tomatoes were different sizes so I started with the large ones to give them a head start and added the smaller ones after a bit. All summer I’ve brought home big bags of basil from my plot and made batch after batch of pesto I’ve stashed in the freezer. In a moment of inspiration and a burst of empty the freezer motivation, I grabbed one of those baggies and stirred the pesto into the sauce. Delightful!
So now I had a great sauce but nothing to serve it on. Plain old pasta wasn’t doing it for me so I took a look at the recipe that accompanies this sauce in the book. Ricotta gnudi, round little dumplings, poached until tender. Yes yes yes. I had a container of ricotta leftover from something I never got around to making so this was perfect. Of all the handmade pastas, this one is the easiest. The dough comes together very simply and quickly – cheese, a little more cheese, egg, flour. The slightly sticky dough is formed into a rope, cut into sections and rolled into nice little balls. Then they are poached, ever so gently, in salted water to cook through and nestled in the warm sauce. I poured a glass of wine, settled in to watch the Cubs win the pennant and everything was right with the world.
Here’s the annoying thing with ricotta. The recipe calls for 1 pound/16 ounces. For some reason standard grocery store ricotta, which I had purchased, comes in 15 ounce containers. What’s up with that? Why don’t they give you the full pound? Who decided that the ricotta standard is 15 ounces? Who the hell decided to short the average grocery store shopper 1 ounce? I need to have a serious sit down with that person. So even though the recipe calls for 16 ounces, I obviously made it with 15 ounces. And it was fine. I’m positive Chef Louis buys supreme quality hand made ricotta, probably from some hipster milkmaid, and would of course scale out a nice even 16 ounces. I don’t and I lived to see another day, however, should you be so motivated here’s a recipe to make your own ricotta.
STRESS THERAPY BAKING FACTOR: HANDMADE GREATNESS. Making homemade pasta is a fantastic project, but sometimes it can become a little too project-y, if you know what I mean. These dumplings have the cache of a homemade pasta but with very little of the work. It’s a simple dough, rolled into ropes, cut into sections, shaped into balls and cooked in water. Easy. Even better, it doesn’t requite any fancy equipment. No heavy mixers. No roller machine. No fluted cutters. No fancy rolling pins. Just a bowl, a spoon, a pot and your hands.
Seven years ago: Squash & Onion Tart
Six years ago: Roasted Beets w/Whipped Goat Cheese, Sauteed Beet Greens
Five years ago: Concord Grape Pie & Purple Cow Pie Shakes
Four years ago: Kale & Squash Salad
Three years ago: Muhammara – the best sauce you’ve never heard of
Two years ago: Seeded Crackers
Last year: Simple Pear Tart
RICOTTA GNUDI WITH CHERRY TOMATO PESTO SAUCE – slightly adapted from a recipe in “Pasta by Hand: A Collection of Italy’s Regional Hand-Shaped Pasta” by Chef Jenn Louis
for the gnudi:
1 pound whole milk ricotta cheese
¼ cup finely grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish
1 large egg
2 teaspoons unsalted butter, melted
¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
for the sauce:
4 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 Tablespoons chilled unsalted butter
1 large shallot, peeled and minced
Generous pinch dried chili flakes
3 garlic cloves, peeled and sliced thin
2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
3 Tablespoons pesto, homemade or store bought
kosher salt and ground black pepper
- For the gnudi: Bring a pot of salted water to a boil.
- In a large bowl, mix together the ricotta, parmesan, egg, melted butter, pepper, salt and nutmeg.
- Stir in flour until just combined. Cover and let rest 30 minutes at room temperature.
- For the sauce: set a large sauté pan over medium heat.
- Sauté shallot, chili flakes and garlic in oil and cold butter until onion is translucent but not colored, about 3 minutes.
- Raise heat to medium-high and add the tomatoes, smashing a few along the way. (If your tomatoes are different sizes, start with the larger ones for a few minutes then add the smaller ones)
- Simmer until tomatoes begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
- Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Cover and keep warm.
- Roll out the gnudi: on a lightly-floured surface, roll dough into 1” thick ropes. Dust with extra flour as needed to prevent sticking.
- From the ropes, cut into 1”-1½” chunks and gently roll into balls.
- Arrange gnudi on flour-dusted tray. If making in advance, refrigerate until you poach. (refrigerated gnudi will keep, covered, for up to 24 hours.)
- To poach the gnudi: drop gently, without crowding, in salted simmering water until they begin to float. Let them float for another minute to cook through (cut one open to check), transfer with a slotted spoon to the warm tomato sauce.
- Add about 1/3 – 2/3 cup hot pasta water to saucepan.
- Turn heat to medium-high. Saute until sauce is shiny and clings to dumplings, 2-3 minutes, then remove from heat and stir in the pesto.
- Divide the gnudi among four plates, spooning additional sauce on top. Garnish with parmesan, to taste.