Sunday, March 11, 2012

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with Fontina Fonduta

Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi with Fontina Fonduta

This is the type of project I imagined when I conceptualized this website, as it's the most ambitious plate of food I've prepared to date.

Last fall, Food Network aired the fourth season of The Next Iron Chef. The season's twist was that all contestants were celebrity chefs in their own right before entering the competition. Two of the contestants were Chef Anne Burrell and Chef Michael Chiarello. Although the two never worked together in a challenge as a team on the show, I would like to think that, if they had, their dish would look something like this.

Keep in mind that this is not something that can be put together at the last minute on a Wednesday evening. This is a weekend project.

The Challenge

Making an ingredient that is often taken for granted and can easily be bought at any local supermarket at home, then taking that ingredient and using it in another recipe.

The Sources

In his book Michael Chiarello's Casual Cooking by Michael Chiarello with Janet Fletcher, I found a recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on page 39 which will be used in Chef Burrell's recipe.


1 gallon whole milk
1 quart buttermilk


1. Select a sieve or colander with a wide surface area so the curds will cool quickly. Rinse a large piece of cheesecloth or muslin with cold water, then fold it so that it is 6 or more layers, and arrange it in the sieve or colander placed in the sink.

2. Pour the milk and buttermilk into a large nonreactive saucepan. Place over high heat and heat, stirring the mixture frequently with a rubber spatula and making sure to scrape the whole pan bottom to prevent scorching. Once the mixture is warm, stop stirring. As the milk heats, curds will begin to rise and clump on the surface. As the curds begin to form, gently scrape the bottom of the pan with the spatula to release any stuck curds.

3. When the mixture reaches 175⁰ to 180⁰ Fahrenheit, the curds and whey will separate. The whey looks like cloudy water underneath a mass of thick white curds on the surface. Immediately remove the pan from the heat. Working from the side of the pan, gently ladle the whey into the prepared sieve. Go slowly so as not to break up the curds. Finally, ladle the curds into the sieve.

Lift the sides of the cloth to help the liquid drain. Don't press on the curds. When the draining slows, gather the edges of the cloth, tie into a bag, and hang from the faucet. Drain until the dripping stops, about 15 minutes.

4. Untie the bag and pack the ricotta not used in the gnocchi recipe into airtight containers. Refrigerate and use within one week.

Makes about 4 cups.

Chef Burrell's contribution can be found on page 134-135 of Cook Like A Rock Star by Anne Burrell with Suzanne Lenzer. There are differences in writing style, as I've quoted the text found in the respective books, for the most part.

Mise En Place

2 pounds ricotta cheese
1 10-ounce package frozen spinach, defrosted, water squeezed out and finely chopped
4 large eggs
2 cups freshly grated Parmigiano, plus more for sprinkling
2 or 3 grates fresh nutmeg
Kosher salt
1/4 to 1/2 cup all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
Semolina flour, as needed

1 pound Fontina cheese, cut into 1-inch squares
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup mascarpone
6 large egg yolks


1. Wrap the ricotta in two layers of cheesecloth, secure with string, and put it in a colander set over a bowl in the fridge to drain overnight; the ricotta needs to be really dry.

2. Unwrap the ricotta-the texture should be pretty dry and crumbly-and pass it through a food mill using the attachment with the biggest holes.

In a large bowl, combine the ricotta, spinach, eggs, Parmigiano, and nutmeg and mix well; taste and season with salt if needed. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour to the bowl and stir. If the mixture is still very wet, add the remaining flour-you want this to be firm enough to hold its own shape.

3. Dust a baking sheet generously with all-purpose flour. Coat another baking sheet generously with semolina. Fill a disposable pastry bag (or a zip-top bag with one corner cut out) with the ricotta mixture and pipe 1-inch balls onto the flour-lined tray. Shake the tray around to coat the balls in flour, then gently roll each ball around in your hand to smooth it. Put the gnocchi on the semolina-lined tray until you're ready to cook.

All-Purpose Flour Tray
Semolina Flour Tray

1. In a large bowl, combine the Fontina and cream, cover, and refrigerate overnight.

2. Fill a small saucepan with 1 inch of water and bring to boil, then reduce to a simmer. Put the Fontina and cream in a large heatproof bowl that will sit comfortably on the saucepan without touching the water (a double boiler setup). Whisk the cream frequently until the cheese has melted; then stir in the mascarpone. Beat in the egg yolks one at a time and cook until the mixture has thickened and is hot.Turn off the heat, cover the fonduta with plastic wrap, and reserve in a warm spot.

1. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Reduce the heat until the water just simmers and carefully add the gnocchi to the water; cook the dumplings until they float and begin to swell.

2. While the gnocchi cook, spoon the fonduta onto individual serving plates, using the back of a spoon to spread it into 4- to 5-inch circles. Using a spider or slotted spoon, carefully remove the gnocchi from the cooking water, blot them on a tea towel (you don't want to make your lovely sauce watery), and arrange five gnocchi on each plate in the sauce. Sprinkle with Parm and serve.


I was a little surprised the ricotta could be made from such simple ingredients. Other than a few rookie mistakes, (I forgot to cut the rind off of the fontina before soaking it in the cream overnight. I also under seasoned the gnocchi batter.) I am happy to report that this was one of the most satisfying dishes I've prepared in a long time. It was a very challenging dish to prepare, yet worth the effort.