Inspired by something I saw on (possibly) Food Network Star, I made Ricotta Gnocchi in Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce this evening. It’s one of the most complex dishes I’ve ever attempted on a school night. I made the gnocchi from scratch . That was a first. I smoked the tomatoes, onions and garlic and made the sauce this evening, too. It took a lot of multi-tasking and timing to get it to come out right, but I pulled it off.
And, it was awesome. The gnocchi were soft and pillowy. Very good for a first attempt, if I say so myself. The cream sauce had a subtle smoke flavor with nice onion and garlicky undertones.
I’d seen someone on Food Network make Smoked Tomato something. It looked really good. I scribbled down the ingredients (but not where I’d seen it, unfortunately) and tucked it in my virtual notebook of recipe ideas, AKA I e-mailed it to myself. On Sunday I started looking for a recipe and something to pair it with. I came up with this recipe from Emeril Lagasse and this gnocchi recipe (subscription required) from Cook’s Illustrated.
I tweaked both recipes a little and figured out how to make them simultaneously. That was the tricky part. Neither recipe was especially complicated, but there were a lot of steps in each. Plus, I had to run up and down the stairs to move between my kitchen and my Big Green Egg.
But that was a good thing. I was eating gnocchi tonight. I needed to pre-burn some calories.
Ricotta Gnocchi in Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce – Serves 4 for main course, probably 8 for an appetizer
16 oz. Whole Milk Ricotta Cheese
2 slices white bread, crusts removed
1 large egg
2 TBS fresh basil, minced
2 TBS fresh parsley, minced
1 tsp salt
1 tsp fresh ground black pepper
6 to 10 TBS AP Flour, plus more for rolling out the gnocchi
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese
Put the ricotta in a fine mesh strainer, lined with two layers of cheese cloth. Refrigerate for at least 1 hr. Longer is better. The drier you get the ricotta, the less flour you’ll have to add to the dough
Pre-heat oven to 300° F.
Run white bread through a food processor till finely ground and light. 8 to 10 seconds. Spread evenly across a baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, depending on your oven. You want them to be golden and crisp, but not fully toasted.
When the crumbs are golden, remove from oven and let cool.
Put ricotta in food processor and pulse till the ricotta is a smooth, even curd. 8 to 10 one second pulses.
Put ricotta in a medium sized mixing bowl and add egg, basil, parsley, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/2 tsp pepper. Mix.
Add 6 TBS of flour, Parmesan and toasted bread crumbs. Mix.
At this point, the dough should be slightly sticky and should hold its shape when you form it into a ball.
If your dough is too tacky or loose, slowly add more flour and mix till you get the right consistency.
Refrigerate for 15 minutes.
Dust your work surface with flour and, with lightly dusted hands, pull out 1/4 of the dough. Form into a lemon sized ball, then roll out to a 3/4″ thick rope.
Cut rope into 3/4″ pieces, being careful to maintain uniform size. Place each piece on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (Which has the advantage of hiding my horrible un-photogenic baking sheets).
Repeat with the rest of the dough.
In a large stock pot, bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 TBS salt.
Reduce heat to a slow simmer. A rolling boil will tear your gnocchi apart. You want a peacefully, easy feeling for this pasta.
Using your fingers, add half the gnocchi, one at a time, to the simmering water. Don’t just dump them all in at once. They’ll stick together and you’ll cool off the water. Bad news.
When all the gnocchi float to the surface, simmer for 2 more minutes to cook through.
Watching the gnocchi float to the top of the pan is very relaxing. Sort of like a Lava Lamp.
Remove gnocchi from water with a slotted spoon. I just flipped the parchment paper over and put them back on the baking sheet.
Repeat with the rest of the gnocchi dough.
Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce
1 lb tomatoes, quartered
2 TBS extra virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small yellow onion, quartered
2 to 4 medium sized garlic cloves
1 tsp tomato paste
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1/2 cup chicken stock
1/2 cup heavy cream
Get your smoker ready. I set my Egg to roughly 250° F and added a handful of apple wood. It was only going to take 30 – 40 minutes to smoke the vegetables, so I didn’t need much wood. I added the Plate Setter, legs up and put the grill on top of that.
Toss tomato, onion, garlic, salt and pepper to taste and olive oil in a small bowl. Using vegetable pan, place in smoker.
Emeril’s recipe says to smoke the tomatoes and cook the onions and garlic separately on your stove top. I say screw that. I’ve already got the smoker hot. I’m all about the smoke.
Smoking the onions and garlic with the tomatoes worked great. The smoke didn’t over power the sauce at all. It was fine.
After 30 minutes at 250° F, the garlic looked great but the tomatoes and onions weren’t ready. I removed the garlic and cranked the Egg to 450° F. After 10 minutes, the tomatoes and onions were good to go. The tomato skins were blistered and cracking. The onions were just starting to smell caramelized.
A shout out to the Big Green Egg. I won’t have even thought about making this sauce on a work night using my old Cheap Offset Smoker. It would have been way too much work and taken way too much time to get the smoker up to temperature to even consider for the amount of time I had tonight. The Egg, OTOH, was easy. It took little more time or effort than just cooking the tomatoes, onions and garlic under my broiler.
I put the tomatoes, onions and garlic into a medium pan, crushed the tomatoes a bit with a wooden spoon and brought them to a boil.
Then I reduced the heat to a simmer and added salt, pepper and cayenne. Simmer for 3 minutes, then add chicken stock. Bring back to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 25 minutes.
I put tomato mixture in the food processor and processed it until smooth. I knew I had a winner as soon as I hit the “On” button. The aroma coming out of the top of the processor was wonderful.
I then pressed the blended mixture through a fine mesh strainer. Using a serving spoon was a lot easier than the spatula. The curve of the spoon fit the curve of the strainer better.
Then I transfered the strained tomato mixture to a small pan. Don’t forget to scrape the back of the strainer. Half of your hard work will be stuck to the back of the strainer at this point.
Add cream and heat over medium-low until you get back to a simmer. Simmer 5 minutes or until sauce thickens slightly.
Adjust salt and pepper to taste.
One More Ingredient
It took about 2 hours, start to finish. I started draining the ricotta first. Then I started the Smoked Tomato Cream Sauce and worked on the Ricotta Gnocchi when I had time. During the last 45 minutes, while the sauce was simmering for its 25 minutes, I was able to roll out the gnocchi and get the water boiling. Then I just reduced the water to a simmer and finished the sauce while I cooked the gnocchi.
At some point I did have to start a bottle of my favorite work night Shiraz breathing.
After that it was just good food and wine.