Kids in the Kitchen: Ricotta Gnocchi with Tomato Cream Sauce

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

I was first introduced to gnocchi (those beautifully tender potato dumplings) when my sister returned from studying abroad in Rome for a semester.  But there was no way I'd ever try to make these myself - cooking potatoes, ricing them, trying to find just the right texture with the eggs and flour...  Forget it!

Fast forward several years and Trader Joe's potato gnocchi became a staple in our house, and for good reason - they're relatively inexpensive, cook up super-fast, and are so yummy and filling!  Andrew and I had just started observing meatless Fridays after we got married, and gnocchi was an easy way to vary the pizza/pasta pattern we tended to follow.  But I was still terrified to try making them from scratch!

So of course it was when John Paul was a little over a year old, and I was just into the second trimester pregnant with Cecilia - my cooking mojo was back!  I wanted to eat all the food and I wanted to MAKE all the food!  Like gnocchi!!!

You can imagine how surprised I was that ricotta gnocchi was a thing.  So you mean I don't have to peel all those potatoes?  I can just...  Open a container of ricotta?

There I stood, mixing and rolling and cutting while feeding John Paul cherry tomatoes in his high chair (and eventually just giving him some dough - yup, I fed raw eggs to my one-year-old...) and it was so worth it.

This was the first recipe I ever used, and still is the one I mostly follow - today we quadrupled it (and I made John Paul do the math!) because I like to freeze half and we kind of love gnocchi in our family...

To quadruple:

Two 15 oz. containers whole milk ricotta
8 eggs
2 cups grated parmesan 
4 tsp salt
4 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp pepper
4 cups all purpose flour

If that parmesan isn't freshly grated, run it through the food processor to break it up a bit.  And I'm using more garlic powder next time - I wanted it a little more garlicky.  If you happen to discover you're almost out of all purpose flour, substituting whole wheat flour & bread flour will work fine (I used a 1:3 ratio).

1. Mix together all ingredients but flour until well-blended.  
2. Gradually mix in flour until incorporated, adding more if dough is too sticky.
3.  Divide dough into sections and roll into one-inch ropes on a floured surface (don't overwork it or it'll get too sticky - the kids learned this the hard way!).
4.  Cut into 1/2-inch pieces with a dough cutter (this is where the kids were actually helpful) and place on floured baking sheet.

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So tedious making sure they don't stick together...  Tedious if you're a grown-up, but it's a perfect task for a 4-year-old!

Here's where I froze half and stuck the rest in the fridge until I was ready, which makes this a nap-friendly "craft" that's actually useful for you, too!

5. When you're ready to cook, boil a pot of water and drop gnocchi in - when they float, drain and sauce!

And that tomato cream sauce?  You can go the homemade route (which I do every month or so - so easy to whip up a batch and can it all!) or just use your favorite jar of store-bought sauce and add cream until it tastes delicious to you!  Top with parmesan and serve hot.

Every single child I've ever had absolutely adores gnocchi.  This is one meal they will all gobble down with no problem!

Total time?  1.5 hours, from set-up to clean-up.  Meaning the kitchen was spotless by the time that 1.5 hours was over, PERFECT for when the babies were napping!

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