Creamy melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi pair with a tart, peppery lemon sauce.
I absolutely love making (and eating) Gnocchi di Ricotta (or ricotta gnocchi). They're my favorite type of gnocchi because they're much simpler (and more foolproof) than the potato version.
I even successfully taught 12 and 13-year-olds how to make these luxurious little pillows of ricotta through Zoom.
What is Gnocchi di Ricotta?
Dive into the history of Italian gnocchi, and you will find dozens of varieties, from gnocchi alla romana to gnocchi di patate (potato gnocchi) to gnocchi di ricotta (ricotta gnocchi).
Ricotta Gnocchi vs. Potato Gnocchi
Potato gnocchi and ricotta gnocchi are similar in terms of ingredients but vary significantly in technique. The main ingredient is a potato with potato gnocchi; with ricotta gnocchi, the pasta is made from drained ricotta instead of potatoes, plus eggs, cheese, and flour.
In terms of method, gnocchi di ricotta requires no special equipment, just a bowl and a spatula to mix everything into a thickened batter. The consistency is between a batter and a dough because of its looser texture.
The batter is cut into sections, and each section is rolled into a long rope and cut into small, pillow-shaped pieces. The finished gnocchi is boiled for just a couple of minutes until they float to the surface.
The result: Pillowy, soft, melt-in-your-mouth gnocchi!
What is "Al Limone" Sauce?
The sauce I pair with these gnocchi is a lemon butter cheese sauce, also known as al limone. It's one of my go-to sauces for spaghetti and gnocchi. It's buttery, salty, and just tart enough from the lemon. The butter, cheese, lemon, and pasta water combine to form a creamy sauce that clings to the gnocchi.
The inspiration for this dish comes from ndunderi (a type of ricotta gnocchi) from the Amalfi Coast of Italy. Some versions of ndunderi add lemon zest to the batter, so why not make a lemon sauce to go with it?
You may not be surprised to hear that the quality of your ricotta plays an essential role in the success of this recipe. Here are some of my tips on purchasing ricotta:
- Look for whole milk ricotta cheese products with minimal ingredients (ricotta, vinegar, salt), such as Calabro brand.
- Lower quality ricotta has additional stabilizers that make it more difficult to drain. More watery ricotta leads to using more flour in the dough, creating denser gnocchi.
- You can also use homemade ricotta!
Follow these guidelines, and you should be good to go! You will notice that the recipe has a range of amounts for particular ingredients because different brands of ricotta have different amounts of moisture and texture. We'll use visual and tactile cues to get the dough to the right consistency.
I use one egg and one yolk to bind everything together and provide a bit of extra richness.
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese provides a bit of saltiness and cheesiness for added flavor.
Flour is vital in this recipe, as it helps give structure to the gnocchi. The key to making pillowy gnocchi is adding enough flour until the "batter" holds its shape. More flour creates a denser gnocchi, so I always start with less flour and add more as needed.
The gnocchi and the sauce are loaded with lemon, including the zest and juice of the fruit.
A little bit of minced parsley adds brightness to the dish; you can also use basil or dill!
How To Make Gnocchi di Ricotta al Limone
For the gnocchi di ricotta:
Drain the ricotta. You can either use paper towels or a cheesecloth to do so (detailed instructions in the recipe card).
Make the batter for the gnocchi. Into the mixing bowl, add the batter ingredients and mix together until homogeneous.
Add a bit of flour at a time, until the dough just comes together into a ball. It will feel moist, tacky and just barely sticky. As you can see in the images below, with ½ cup of flour, the dough is coming together but still somewhat sticky; with ¾ cup, it's formed into a mostly homogeneous ball and is barely sticky.
On a floured work surface, form the dough into a rough square.
Add another generous sprinkle of flour on top of the dough. Cut into 4 equal sections.
Roll each section into a long rope about ½-inch thick.
Cut each rope into ⅔-inch pieces; they should naturally form the shape of a pillow. Place each piece on a floured baking sheet until ready to cook.
For the sauce (al limone):
Melt the butter in the skillet. Add half of the lemon juice, zest, and black pepper to the skillet. Let that all reduce for a couple of minutes.
Add the gnocchi to salted boiling water. Once they float to the surface, let boil for another 30 seconds (in total, they should take about 1 to 3 minutes to cook). Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet, reserving some pasta water.
Add some pasta water and a couple spoonfuls of the cheese at a time, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to emulsify and looks creamy. Let the sauce reduce for a couple of minutes until it clings to the gnocchi.
Taste the sauce, and add the additional reserved lemon juice if you want it more tart. Season with salt and pepper and garnish with cheese and parsley. Serve hot!
Tips and Tricks
- Use a high-quality whole milk ricotta for the softest, most pillowy gnocchi.
- The trickiest part of making the sauce is to create a homogenous, creamy emulsion. Make sure to add the cheese slowly, whisking constantly, on low heat. If you find that the sauce doesn't emulsify and the oil begins to separate, you can add a bit more pasta water (or even a touch of cold cream) to help bring the sauce together. And regardless of what it looks like, it'll still be delicious!
- The sauce should taste lemony and peppery. The pepper helps cut the acidity of the lemon and round out the flavors, so don’t skimp on this!
Unfortunately, these gnocchi are a bit too delicate to create a ridged shape so I wouldn’t recommend it!
This recipe has been cross-tested by an in-house recipe tester.
For even more cozy recipes, be sure to subscribe to my newsletter.Happy eating! Love, Karishma
Gnocchi di Ricotta al Limone
For the gnocchi di ricotta:
- 12 ounces high-quality whole milk ricotta cheese, store-bought or homemade | about 1 ½ cups
- 1 egg plus 1 egg yolk
- 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, about ½ cup, loosely packed
- Zest from 1 lemon
- Salt and black pepper
- 125 grams all-purpose flour, about 1 cup | plus up to 31g (¼ cup) more for dusting
- Semolina flour, for dusting
For the al limone sauce:
- 1 lemon
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- ¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more for topping
- 1 ounce finely grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese, about ½ cup, loosely packed
- A handful of freshly minced parsley or basil, for garnish
For the ricotta gnocchi:
- Drain the ricotta: You can either use paper towels or a cheesecloth to drain the ricotta.If using paper towels, start by stacking two paper towels on top of a plate. Spread the ricotta with a spatula evenly across the paper towel layer. Place another paper towel on top, then press down with your hands to allow the paper towel to begin absorbing excess moisture. Let sit for 10 minutes, then remove the top paper towel and place the drained ricotta into a medium mixing bowl.If using a cheesecloth, lay out the cheesecloth and add the ricotta in one mass into the center of the cheesecloth on top of a plate to catch any liquid. Grab the ends of the cheesecloth and bunch them together, forming a pouch. Squeeze the cheesecloth over the kitchen sink, draining any excess liquid. Place the drained ricotta into a medium mixing bowl.12 ounces high-quality whole milk ricotta cheese
- Make the gnocchi batter: Into the mixing bowl, add eggs, cheese, zest, ½ teaspoon Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt (or ¼ teaspoon Morton Kosher Salt), and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and mix together until thoroughly combined, mashing with your hands if necessary.Add a bit of flour at a time, until the dough just comes together. It will feel moist, tacky and just barely sticky, but should not be overly sticky on your hands. You may not need the full 1 cup (I typically use about ⅔ cup to ¾ cup).Note: The amount of flour is based on two things: (1) how much ricotta you ended up with, with more ricotta requiring more flour (2) and how easily you can handle a stickier dough. Less flour will yield a lighter gnocchi, but even if you use the full cup, the gnocchi will still be light and delicious!1 egg plus 1 egg yolk, 1 ounce finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, Zest from 1 lemon, Salt and black pepper, 125 grams all-purpose flour
- Test the gnocchi: I highly recommend testing one gnocchi to ensure it’s seasoned properly and has the right texture. Scoop a small ½-inch x ½-inch piece of the batter into a rough square. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Season the water generously with salt, then drop the gnocchi in the pot. Once it floats to the surface, boil for another minute (in total, they should take about 1 to 3 minutes to cook). Remove with a slotted spoon, allow to cool slightly, then taste it. If it disintegrates, you need more flour. If it tastes bland, you can add more salt.
- Shape and cut the dough: On a cutting board or work surface, set aside the remaining ¼ cup of flour. Generously sprinkle the work surface with a bit of the flour. Place the ricotta dough on top of the flour and shape into a rough square.Add another generous sprinkle of flour on top of the dough. Cut into 4 sections. Roll each section into a long rope about ½-inch thick, then cut each rope into ⅔-inch pieces. They should naturally form the shape of a pillowPlace each piece on a lightly floured semolina-dusted baking sheet until ready to cook. Tip: To roll each section into a rope, place each palm on opposite ends of the dough and spread your fingers wide. Use your palm to roll the dough outwards and lengthen the rope. It can take a bit of practice, so keep at it and refer to my step-by-step photo instructions if needed!Semolina flour
For the al limone sauce:
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil if you haven’t already.Zest the lemon, and juice half of the fruit. Set aside.1 lemon
- Meanwhile, melt butter in a large skillet or Dutch oven over medium-low heat.4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- Add the zest, half of the lemon juice, and the black pepper to the skillet. Stir frequently, about 1-2 minutes, until the black pepper is slightly toasted and aromatic and the lemon juice has reduced slightly. Reduce the heat to low.¾ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- Once the pot of water has come to a boil, season generously (if you haven’t already) and add the gnocchi. Once they float to the surface, boil for another 30 seconds (in total, they should take about 1 to 3 minutes to cook). Remove immediately with a slotted spoon and transfer to the skillet, reserving about ½ cup of pasta water.
- Add ¼ cup of the pasta water to the skillet, and increase the heat to medium-low. Let the sauce reduce for a minute, occasionally stirring the gnocchi.
- Turn the heat off, then slowly sprinkle ¾ of the cheese evenly over the gnocchi, stirring constantly until the sauce begins to emulsify, appear creamy, and clings to the gnocchi. Add any additional pasta water if the sauce is too thick.Note: If the sauce is not thickening, you can turn the heat on the lowest setting to help it thicken slightly. Make sure to keep vigorously stirring or the sauce won’t emulsify properly.1 ounce finely grated parmigiano-reggiano cheese
- Taste the sauce, and adjust seasonings as needed; season with salt, pepper, and/or additional reserved lemon juice if you want it more tart. The pepper should really come through, as it will help balance the acidity of the lemon juice and add a bit of heat, so I like to give the dish a generous grind at the end.Garnish with the remaining cheese and herbs. Serve immediately.Salt, A handful of freshly minced parsley or basil