Pan Fried Ricotta Gnocchi + Thoughts on Food Writing

I was planning to title this post "The Writer In Me," but didn't want to deter you from the fact that at the end of these somewhat lengthy paragraphs is an elegant yet easy recipe for you to try. So before we get to that, a few things.

In addition to my full-time job in the philanthropy sector, I also have a background in writing. It started in 5th grade, and I haven't stopped writing since. I even have a masters degree in poetry, which is why the transition from poetry and fiction to a life-changing obsession with food came as a bit of a surprise.

Before food peaked my interest, I would carry a notebook in my purse and jot down lines as they occurred to me, going back later to revise and develop my thoughts. I read poetry books during my lunch break, and devoured the bi-monthly Poets & Writers Magazine. Then I started working full-time after graduate school, and finding time to write, read, or even think about anything creatively was overshadowed by my depleted energy. I began looking for ways to find balance, and fell into the routine of having spurts of inspiration, maybe lasting a few days or a week, book ended by long hauls of not writing.

During this period I was also cooking more, and my writing changed directions. I started this blog, and, much to my surprise began writing fiction again. My poetry culminated in a chapbook publication by a university press in 2009, but for the past year or so, I've hardly written a line. I still read poetry (though not as often), and write it (even less often), and subscribe to Poets & Writers. But that notebook has become more of a recipe journal, a place to make note of ingredients and preparation methods, or brainstorm all the dishes I want to make for Thanksgiving. Lately, I've been feeling the need to write recipes the way I used to write poetry. It's an urge that, simply put, just flows out of me.

Fresh from reading Will Write for Food by Dianne Jacob (check out her blog by the same name), my interest in recipe writing has taken a more professional turn, as I now try to be mindful of the details I may have overlooked in the past: listing ingredients in the order I use them, developing strong recipe notes, and finding my voice in the formality of it all.

I considered all this one afternoon when I was searching for a recipe for ricotta gnocchi. I read several, each with appealing elements and clear instructions but no single recipe that I wanted to follow wholeheartedly. I reached for a pen, then my notebook, and began writing my own recipe. It seemed frantic, how quickly I wrote things down, abbreviating as I went while still trying to insert some fresh language. When I paused to review my notes, that's when I realized how profound a shift my writing has taken over the past year. The pleasure I took from brainstorming a recipe was the same euphoria I used to feel when I was editing a poem. It's the satisfaction, whatever your interests, of creating something that excites you and gives you the sense of productivity and possibility in your life. I could go on, but I'll resume this conversation in future posts. If you've made it this far, thank you for indulging me and reading about my journey, and I do hope you continue to enjoy this space as much as I do.


This recipe makes about 75 pieces, enough to serve 4

1 15-ounce container of ricotta
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons of butter
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
About 1 cup of tomato sauce
A few leaves of basil, torn

Mix ricotta, eggs, flour and salt until just combined. Divide dough into four sections. On a lightly floured surface, roll out the first section with your hands to form a 1-inch wide log. Cut into 1-inch pieces and set aside on a large sheet pan or cutting board. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add the butter and olive oil. When the butter is melted and begins turning a light shade of brown, add the gnocchi in an even layer (you might need to do this in two batches). Cook for 1 to 2 minutes without moving, then flip and cook for two minutes more. The gnocchi should be lightly browned and slightly crisp.

When the gnocchi is cooked, add the tomato sauce (half if you are making two batches), a handful of Parmesan cheese, a pinch of salt and the basil. Gently toss to combine. Serve immediately, with an extra sprinkling of cheese.