David Kinch’s Ricotta Gnocchi with A Simple Tomato Sauce

Pillowy ricotta gnocchi in a fresh and lively tomato sauce.
Pillowy ricotta gnocchi in a fresh and lively tomato sauce.

If you’re someone who was mesmerized by the beauty, creativity, and precision of the “Manresa: An Edible Reflection” (Ten Speed Press, 2013) cookbook, you are not alone.

And if you are someone who sheepishly admits to never having actually cooked anything from it, I am right there with you.

Because let’s face it, few — if any — of us have the daring or dexterity to cook Michelin three-star food at home.

Chef-Owner David Kinch knows that.

That’s why his newest cookbook, “At Home in the Kitchen: Simple Recipes from a Chef’s Night Off” (Ten Speed Press) focuses not on what this renowned chef creates at his revered Los Gatos restaurant, Manresa, but what he cooks at his Santa Cruz home, particularly on Tuesdays, his day off, when he’s apt to invite friends over for impromptu, beachy eats .

The book was written with Devin Fuller, a former Manresa backserver and expeditor who is now a freelance writer.

Included are more than 120 recipes, including “Baked Miso Eggplant,” “Pasta with Pesto & Avocado,” “Trout with Fennel & Grapefruit,” and “Almond Granita.” Each recipe includes a fun addition: a song recommendation by Kinch, a vinyl fan, to play while indulging in the dish.

With tomatoes at their peak now, I couldn’t resist trying the “Ricotta Gnocchi with A Simple Tomato Sauce.” Plus, Kinch had me at his description: “…this version, which is made by simply rolling ricotta in flour is as simple as the sauce…”

Indeed, the gnocchi dough comes together into a ball exactly that easily. Then, it’s divided into logs, which are cut into small pieces that get rolled with fork tines to create ridges that will hug the sauce. Your kids might even have fun helping you do this.

What’s not to like?

OK, far be it from humble me to tweak a recipe by a chef who’s garnered every award and accolade around. But I feel I need to in a couple places in this recipe. Sorry, David. And the next time I dine at Manresa,, I will be slinking in with head bowed.

First, the recipe states that is serves 6 to 8. I think that may be true if this is a first course. However, if like me, you intend to enjoy it as an entree, this recipe will serve more like 3, perhaps 4.

The ricotta gets dumped out onto the cutting board with a pile of flour, then gently incorporated.
The ricotta gets dumped out onto the cutting board with a pile of flour, then gently incorporated.
It may take one or two before you get the hang of rolling the gnocchi with the fork tines. But once you get the rhythm, it's a cinch.
It may take one or two before you get the hang of rolling the gnocchi with the fork tines. But once you get the rhythm, it’s a cinch.

Second, the easy tomato sauce — made with pureed fresh tomatoes, shallots, basil and bay leaf — calls for 1/2 cup of extra-virgin olive oil. Half a cup. When I was measuring it, I couldn’t help but think this seemed like an awful lot.

In the end, it was, with the excess oil floating in a pool atop the sauce. I think I know why he may recommend such a large amount of oil: It’s used to saute the diced shallots in. As Kinch notes, shallots burn easily. So, my guess is that he wants you to cover them with a copious amount of oil so they cook more gently. However, I think you can still cut back on that amount of oil without scorching the shallots, and still be left with a vibrantly fresh-tasting tomato sauce that doesn’t have that unnecessary film on top. So, I noted that in the recipe below.

Also, Kinch has you squeeze the seeds out of the tomatoes and discarding them as you begin to make the sauce. However, if you like, you can save this pulpy seed mixture (it’s delicious!), and whisk with olive oil and seasonings to make a lovely salad dressing like I did.

You’ll end up with about 50 gnocchi. Although the recipe states to cook them for 1 minute in boiling water, I ended up cooking them for 3 minutes, the time it took for them to float to the top and swell a little in size, the usual key to determining their doneness.

They cook up supple in texture with a mild, milky taste. Spoon the sauce overtop for a bright, concentrated sweet-acidic taste of summer, like tomatoes on the vine baked by the sun.

A simple recipe from a Michelin three-starred chef? Believe it.
A simple recipe from a Michelin three-starred chef? Believe it.

Ricotta Gnocchi with A Simple Tomato Sauce

(Serves 3 to 4)

1 3/4 pounds tomatoes (Early Girl or Roma preferred), peeled (see Note)

1/4 to 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, or as needed

2 medium shallots, finely diced

1 bay leaf

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sugar

2 springs basil

About 1 cup all-purpose flour

12 ounces whole-milk ricotta

Shaved Pecorino Romano for garnish

Cut the tomatoes in half and squeeze their seeds over the sink to discard. (Or squeeze over a bowl, so you can save the pulpy seeds to incorporate into olive oil for a salad dressing later.) Put the remaining flesh into your blender, and blend on low speed until a smooth puree forms.

In a medium or large saucepan on low heat, add olive oil and shallots. You want enough olive oil to coat the shallots completely, so they won’t scorch. Stir together until the shallots have softened without browning, about 4 minutes. Shallots burn easily — be sure to keep the heat low and stir frequently.

Add the tomato puree, the bay leaf, and a healthy pinch each of salt and pepper. Turn the heat to medium and bring the sauce to a simmer. Add a small pinch of sugar and stir to combine. Once the sauce begins to simmer, turn the heat to low and cook, stirring occasionally, for 12 minutes.

Remove the pot from the heat, stir in the basil, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Once cool, remove the basil and discard.

Meanwhile, prepare the gnocchi. On a large cutting board, pile the flour next to the ricotta. Top the ricotta with 1 teaspoon black pepper and gently roll it into the flour, pushing the ricotta forward and flipping it until the ricotta and flour combine to form a consistency similar to wet dough. The amount of flour you use will depend on your ricotta, but it should be around 1 cup.

Sprinkle a handful of flour across a clean cutting board to prevent the cheese from sticking. With plenty of flour on your hands, form the dough into a ball and use your palm to flatten out the top so the dough is about 1 inch thick.

Cut the flattened dough into 1-inch wide slices that resemble breadsticks. Roll out each slice into a log about 3/4 inch in diameter, then cut each log into a 3/4-inch “pillow.”

Dip the prongs of a fork into the flour and then onto the top of each gnocchi pillow. Applying gentle pressure, pull the fork toward you until the ball spirals to resemble a seashell, about one half turn. Do this one at a time, setting aside the finished gnocchi on a paper towel, spaced without touching to prevent them from sticking to each other. You may have to use your fingers to scrape off any residual dough from the fork tines, and re-dip the prongs in flour as you roll each gnocchi pillow.

Just before serving, bring a large pot of water to a boil on high heat. Once boiling, add salt to taste.

Reheat the tomato sauce over low heat. Taste and adjust the salt level to your liking.

Cook the gnocchi for 1 to 3 minutes in the boiling water, until they float to the top and swell in size a bit. Remove carefully using a slotted spoon and place on your serving dish. Top with the tomato sauce and Pecorino Romano and serve immediately.

Pairs Well With: “Ali Baba” by John Halt

Note: To peel tomatoes, bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat, and place a bowl of cold water next to your stove.

Use a small knife to cut a shallow circle around the top of each tomato, removing its stem. Flip the tomato upside down and slice a very shallow “X” on its bottom, just piercing the skin. Though this step isn’t totally necessary, it will make peeling slightly easier.

Use a spoon to lower each tomato into the pot of boiling water for 15 seconds, then immediately plunge it into the cold water to stop it from cooking further.

Remove the tomato from the cold water. Use your thumb and the small knife against the four small triangles you created with the “X” cut, and peel the skin downward to remove.

Adapted from “At Home In the Kitchen” by David Kinch with Devin Fuller

Plus A Recipe From Manresa Bread: Tahini Cookies

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4 comments

  • NIce, accessible recipe. I can never decide whether I prefer potato or ricotta gnocchi (I’ll happily eat either!), but I think ricotta may be better. And a little easier (for me) to make. Terrific recipe! And it sounds like a book I’d happily cook from. Thanks.

  • Hi John: For sure, ricotta is much easier to work with than potatoes for gnocchi. But you’re right — they are both equally delicious and equally irresistible. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • Your dish looks terrific, well done with your gnocchi. One thing I would do different is I’d chop my basil and leave in the sauce…just because I love basil.

  • Hi Karen: I’m with you! If left to my own devices — rather than following a recipe strictly — I would absolutely do the same with the basil. I mean, why waste it, right? ๐Ÿ˜‰

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