Sunday Dinner: Baked Ricotta Gnocchi & Meatballs

Ok, it was technically not a Sunday dinner, but we had a booking for Bistro Thierry Sunday night (yay!) so I made some effort in cooking dinner on the Saturday night instead of our usual routine of eating out.

This guy is fast becoming one of my favourite online sources for good recipes, and he is releasing a food-science book later this year, so my Christmas gift list has already started 🙂

Last night’s concoction has come from two of The Food Lab’s recipes, plus a little extra indulgence by baking it all together at the end with some delicious buffalo mozzarella.

The ricotta gnocchi recipe came from here – I have made potato gnocchi before and we ended up eating at 10pm, so I was quite happy to see an alternative that took no time at all to assemble.  The verdict?  Comparing to potato gnocchi is difficult as I did swap out the white flour for whole-wheat and this may have slightly reduced the light pillowy texture that you get from a white flour version – but either way it was still miles ahead of the store-bought version, and incredibly easy to make.

The meatball sauce recipe was from here – I made a few small changes, like halving the amount of mince as I was only cooking for two (regardless, we still had loads leftover).  Also, I don’t have a slow cooker but cooking on the stove top the lowest heat possible was fine.  This is an amazing recipe and exactly the reason why I keep going back to The Food Lab site for recipe inspiration.  The meatballs were soft, juicy, and bursting with flavour; the tomato sauce was thick and rich… definitely one I will use over and over again.

So, putting it altogether with a baked twist at the end, here is the recipe (with Australian measurements) –

Baked Ricotta Gnocchi & Meatballs

Adapted from The Food Lab Ricotta Gnocchi and Meatball Sauce.  Makes 4 generous serves.

Ingredients

Tomato Sauce

  • 1/2 medium brown onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 120 grams pork & beef mince (I bought this already mixed from a good butcher)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 3 tins of whole peeled tomatoes, crushed
  • 1 sprig of fresh basil

Meatballs

  • 380 grams pork & beef mince
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  • 1/4 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 medium brown onion
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 30 grams parmesan
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
  • Salt & pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano

Ricotta Gnocchi

  • 350 grams ricotta
  • 30 grams parmesan
  • 1 cup flour (I used whole-wheat – I will probably try white flour next time)
  • 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk
  • Salt & pepper
  • Semolina (fine) for dusting – optional

To serve

  • Fresh basil leaves and a ball of buffalo mozzarella for the bake

Directions

I started with the tomato sauce as it was going to take the longest –

  • Heat oil in a large casserole pot over medium-high heat until it shimmers.
  • Add pork & beef mince and fry until starting to brown all over.
  • Add onion and garlic and cook for about 5 minutes until the onion is soft.
  • Add oregano and pepper flakes and stir through for about 30 seconds.
  • Add the tomatoes, season with salt & pepper, and bring to a simmer.
  • I also added about 100ml extra water to this, I poured it into the tomato tins to get every last bit of tomato out.
  • Add the basil sprig and turn down on the lowest setting available on your stove top.
  • Cover, and let it do its thing – Overall, I cooked mine for about 6 hours, checking every hour or so and giving it a stir.

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (1 of 7)

About 2 hours before I wanted to serve, I started on the rest. I prepared the gnocchi first and set it aside for cooking later –

  • Line a large plate with a clean tea towel (the recipe suggests paper towel but I’d be worried about the paper disintegrating!)
  • Transfer ricotta to towel and spread out with a spatula.
  • Cover with another tea towel and press down firmly to soak up as much moisture as possible.
  • The next step requires kitchen scales – Scrape the ricotta into a bowl and measure out exactly 350 grams.
  • Then add the parmesan, flour, whole egg, egg yolk, salt and pepper.
  • Combine the mixture with a rubber spatula – it took me about a minute or so to combine well.
  • I didn’t need any more flour but if you do, the recipe suggests to add 1 tbsp at a time until a good consistency for rolling out.
  • Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface, flatten out and separate into 4 pieces
  • Dust with a little more flour and then roll out each piece until about 1-1.5cm thick, then cut into small rectangular shaped pieces using a knife.
  • Set pieces aside on a tray lined with baking paper.
  • When you have cut all the dough, give them a light dusting with some semolina.
  • That’s it, the gnocchi are ready for cooking – so simple!

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (2 of 7)

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (3 of 7)

Once I prepared the gnocchi I then moved onto the meatballs –

  • Combine breadcrumbs and buttermilk in a bowl – if you find they’re a little dry still add a bit more buttermilk. I was aiming for a “mushy” consistency.
  • Add the onion, garlic, parmesan, parsley, salt, pepper, egg and oregano to the breadcrumb mix
  • For the next step, the original recipe calls for a stand mixer but I just used a fork and vigorously beat the mix by hand.
  • Then add 1/3 of the mince and mix together thoroughly
  • Add remaining mince and combine this gently by hand
  • Heat a frypan with a very small amount of oil
  • With wet hands, gently roll the meatballs by hand and place into the frypan
  • Cook on one side until nicely browned, then flip over and cook the other side.
  • Don’t worry if the sides aren’t cooked – you just want to get a little browning on them for flavour, the rest will cook in the sauce.
  • Once the meatballs are browned, add to the sauce mix and shake the pan about a little to make sure the meatballs are just covered with sauce
  • Get the sauce back to a gentle simmer, then continue to cook, covered, for another 30 minutes or so.
  • At this point I also preheated the oven to approx 190 degrees c.

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (4 of 7)

In the last 5 minutes, I boiled some salted water and cooked my gnocchi –

  • Bring water to a boil and cook in 2 batches to make sure none of the dumplings stick together.
  • When put into boiling water, these should only take about 30 seconds or so – they will float to the top when done.
  • Remove gnocchi with a slotted spoon and place into a large baking dish

Time to assemble and bake –

  • Pour the meatball sauce over the gnocchi to your own taste – I like mine saucy, but you can reserve some of the sauce and freeze for a future pasta meal if you like more gnocchi than sauce.
  • Lay some basil leaves over the gnocchi bake
  • Slice buffalo mozzarella and place over gnocchi
  • Put the gnocchi into the oven and bake until the mozzarella is melted and slightly browned, about 15-20 mins.

Serve with a good bottle of red wine!

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (5 of 7)

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (6 of 7)

Ricotta Gnocchi Bake (7 of 7)

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