Ricotta Gnocchi with Charred Corn & Tomato Sauce
The passage of fifteen years has done little to diminish chef Craig Levy’s memory of one particular honeymoon dinner in Italy. That evening, the three-cheese gnocchi in light cream sauce at Ristorante Le Vecchie Mura, in the small Tuscan town of San Gimignano, became his Holy Grail of gnocchi perfection. Inspired by the flavor and texture of that meal, Levy is on a constant quest to produce equally memorable gnocchi dishes at Rocca—his farm-to-table Italian restaurant in Glen Rock.
“I had never tasted anything like what I had there. Between the texture and the flavor—and it being so simplistic—it was unbelievable,” Levy says. “It just resonated with me that sometimes simple is better. Things don’t always have to be complicated or extravagant.”
Levy prefers to make gnocchi with ricotta cheese because it creates a fluffy, delicate texture—provided, he says, that the dough is not over mixed. (He recommends gently folding all of the ingredients together until they are just combined.) Levy uses Calabro whole-milk ricotta because it is drier and more dense than most other ricottas. “I don’t care how much flour you add or how many eggs,” Levy says. “If people use a wet ricotta, the gnocchi will fall apart in the water.” If Calabro is not available, he recommends straining the ricotta before using to remove excess water.
Before rolling out the dough, Levy coats his hands and work surface with a small amount of flour. This creates a thin skin that helps hold each gnocco together while cooking. After cutting, the gnocchi are placed on a flour-coated sheet tray, which is then kept in the freezer until each piece is frozen through. Freezing makes the gnocchi easier to handle, and a quick bang of the tray will separate any pieces that are stuck together.
The gnocchi go directly from the freezer into the boiling water.
“It only takes a minute or two to cook. Once you feel one and it is elastic—almost spongelike—it’s finished,” Levy says. “Even if it’s a little frozen in the middle, once you toss it with the sauce, it will cook the rest of the way.”
At Rocca, Levy makes all of his sauces to order. “A lot of people think pasta should be swimming in sauce,” Levy says. “That’s not the way my Italian cooking is. Once the pasta is in the pan, I reduce the sauce enough so that it’s coating the pasta and that’s it.”
One of his favorite gnocchi sauces includes corn from Katona Farm in Chesterfield and sweet yellow grape tomatoes from Jersey Legacy Farm in Cedarville. The corn gets lightly seasoned, coated with a bit of olive oil and roasted in the oven until it is halfway cooked. It is then finished on the grill until well charred with a nice, smoky flavor. To assemble the sauce, halved cherry tomatoes are added to sautéed garlic and cooked until lightly blistered. The pan is deglazed with white wine and chicken stock before adding butter, the roasted corn kernels and cooked gnocchi. The dish is tossed until the gnocchi are coated and then cooked a little longer to thicken the sauce. After plating, each serving is topped with basil gremolata, and, if desired, a sprinkle of grana Padano.
Looking back on that honeymoon meal, Levy acknowledges that the quality of Italian cheese, butter and cream elevated his dining experience. He is eager to return to Ristorante Le Vecchie Mura to once again taste the magic that happens when such high-quality ingredients are handled with culinary precision and skill. “There has got to be a way where something so simple has so much complexity to the flavor,” Levy says. “Part of it is because of where it’s coming from. But, part of it is how they produce that dish.”
203 Rock Road, Glen Rock