Happy post-Thanksgiving Monday to you!! Are you all "turkeyed" out? If so, then you are going to love today's total flavor swing. These tender ricotta dumplings topped with a spicy homemade vodka sauce and blanketed under a swath of melted mozzarella will be sure to rock any sleeping tastebuds and jumpstart you into the rest of the holiday season!
In Italian, these are known as gnudi, which translates to "nude" (racy little devils, huh?). Basically they are like ravioli but without the pasta exterior which not only means they're a lot lighter but also a heck of a lot easier to make too! Totally doable on a calm weeknight and no special equipment is necessary.
Basically you make a ricotta/flour dough that's heavily infused with freshly grated Parm, roll it into little balls, flatten and boil. It's kinda fun and hands on. My kids would have LOVED to help with this when they were little guys! Now everyone is just too busy!
Once the dumplings boil up (which happens in just a few minutes) you top them with an easy-to-make spicy vodka tomato sauce, a layer of mozzarella and pop the whole thing into the oven so that everything gets all melted and gooey and...fantastic!!!
An added bonus is that you could make the whole casserole (minus the baking part) early in the day or even the day before and then just stick it in the oven when you get home. Serve a green salad on the side and you've got a comfort food dinner that will not only make everyone happy but leave you plenty of time to Cyber Monday shop (do you go that? I'm too scattered right now to think about holiday gifts even though I know I should!!!) Yikes! Can't believe it's about to be December in only a few days!!!
Ricotta Dumplings with Spicy Vodka Sauce and Mozzarella
Makes 6 generous servings
Prep Time for dumplings: 15 minutes plus about 8-9 minutes boiling time; Prep Time for Sauce: 5 minutes, plus 30 minutes hands-free simmer time; Bake Time for casserole: 25 minutes
For the sauce
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 5 large garlic cloves, minced
- 3 tablespoons tomato paste
- One 28-ounce can San Marzano crushed tomatoes
- 1 teaspoon dried basil
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2-3 shakes red pepper flakes
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup vodka
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
For the dumplings
- 2 cups ricotta cheese (I used part-skim)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 ¼ cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese, divided
- 1/2 tablespoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 tablespoon black pepper
- 1 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
For the casserole
- 8 ounces mozzarella, sliced thinly or freshly shredded
1. To make the vodka sauce: Heat the oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook for about 30 seconds, stirring constantly so that it does not burn. Add in the tomato paste and stir for about 1 minute. Add in the crushed tomatoes, basil, salt, red pepper flakes, bay leaf and water. Stir well and bring mixture to a simmer.
2. Turn heat to low and partially cover pot. Simmer for 25-30 minutes, stirring often. Once sauce has reduced a bit and thickened, heat a separate medium pan over medium-high heat and add the vodka. Let it cook for 3-4 minutes to reduce it by half. Add the vodka to the tomato sauce carefully so that it doesn't splatter and let simmer for a couple of minutes. Pour in cream, simmer for a minute or two and remove from heat.
3. To make the dumplings: into a large bowl, place the ricotta, eggs, 2 cups of the Parmesan, the salt and pepper and mix together gently. Add the flour in 2 additions, mixing gently so as not to overwork the dough. It will be sticky. Flour your hands a bit and break off small pieces of dough (a rounded tablespoon's worth) and roll them into balls. You should get about 36 or so. Flatten the balls gently into discs and let sit.
4. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Use a spoon to swirl the water and create a little whirlpool. Add in the dumplings and continue to mix the water for a minute to help ensure that the dumplings don't stick to the bottom of the pot. Boil them for about 6 minutes or so. Basically you want them to float and then cook for a couple of minutes after that. Test one. If it's not cooked enough, leave in for another minute or two. When dumplings are done, remove them with a slotted spoon to drain.
5. Turn the oven to 400 F. Spoon some of the vodka sauce onto the bottom of a baking dish (I used a 9x9-inch one). Top with a layer of dumplings and then some more sauce. Place the rest of the dumplings on top and cover with the rest of the sauce. Arrange the mozzarella evenly over the top and sprinkle evenly with the remaining ¼ cup Parmesan.
6. Bake for about 25 minutes until everything is heated well and the cheese is melted. If you like the cheese browned, place under the broiler for a minute or two but watch carefully. Serve immediately.
7. The sauce can be made and kept chilled up to 3 days in advance. The entire casserole can be made up to one day ahead, unbaked, covered well and stored in the fridge. Heat as directed but might take a bit longer to cook.
Note: Recipe adapted from Food52. I tinkered around with some ingredients and cooking techniques and especially cut the salt. The first time I made it was delicious but way too salty.