Eat Peas With Ricotta Dumplings
When peas appear in the farmers market, Jackie and I return home with bags full of them and set about the pleasant task of shelling, with music in the background as a counterpoint to the little pop each pod makes when it springs open. Every year, we have one or two all-pea dinners like the one I described last summer, and they are highlights of our dining-table calendar.
Soon enough, the novelty (if not the deliciousness) ebbs, and we start introducing other foods to share the plate. A pea risotto, for instance, is something to look forward to — and so is that old standby: egg pasta with peas and prosciutto. And no one is stopping us from simply serving them as a side dish with … anything.
We’ve long enjoyed dumplings made from fresh cheese. This covers a lot of ground: Jackie makes unbeatable Polish-style “lazy pierogi” using farmer’s cheese, and I’ve used other fresh cheeses for dumplings/gnocchi in the same family, as well as for pancakes and dessert tarts.
An excellent cheese option is good well-drained ricotta (including the totally untraditional homemade version I picked up in London). Most ricottas are mild in flavor, and they can be used in both sweet and savory dumplings.
This year, we added something new to the line. Our summer 2020 model was made with a well-drained sheep’s-milk ricotta that we buy at New York farmers markets. It is appealingly bouncy and fluffy and tastes distinctly of ewes’ milk — a flavor you’ll know in a more matured form from other sheep cheeses such as manchego and the whole family of Italian pecorinos. This ricotta is delicious drizzled with honey and topped with toasted walnuts, and also delicious in these savory dumplings, which are excellent served with melted butter or with breadcrumbs that you’ve browned in butter. But here I took the opportunity to serve them with peas (supplemented with a few fava beans and strips of sweet red pepper, which are entirely optional — indeed superfluous).
The peas and optional fava beans I cooked in a covered skillet with a tablespoon (15 grams) of butter, salt, and just one or two tablespoons of water — just enough to get them started. When they were done — a matter of minutes, but how many minutes will depend on your peas: Start checking after 60 seconds, but be ready for them to take as long as five minutes — I vigorously stirred in another scant two tablespoons (25 grams) of butter, which made the cooking liquid nice and viscous.
When the dumplings were done, I tossed them with the peas, checked for salt, and served. Their light cheesiness and soft but substantial texture (I prefer a firmer consistency than the pillowy insubstantiality prized by many gnocchi experts).
On to the dumplings: You can make the mixture a few hours in advance and store it, tightly covered, in the fridge. In fact, chilling makes it easier to handle, so you might as well aim to get an early start.
- 1 scant cup (200g) dry-fluffy ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (or ½ tsp fine salt)
- Pepper — just two or three grinds of the mill
- 2 tablespoons (10g) grated pecorino (or parmesan)
- ¼ cup (60ml) whole milk or half-and-half
- A small handful of chopped fresh mint or basil or a good tablespoon of slivered sage leaves
- ½ cup (75 grams) flour, possibly a tablespoon or so more
Note: If your ricotta is very wet (as much supermarket ricotta is), leave it to drain in a fine strainer, refrigerated, for three or four hours, or overnight.
1. Using a rubber spatula or a spoon, thoroughly beat together the ricotta, egg yolks, salt, pepper, and grated cheese.
2. Stir in the milk and mix well. Add your herb of choice: I prefer mint here; my second choice is sage. Basil is fine, but it loses potency too readily.
3. Vigorously stir in about ¾ of the flour and check for consistency: Moisten your hands and delicately roll a tablespoon of the mixture between your palms; you should be able to form a soft but coherent spheroid. If it is too loose, continue to add flour until this can easily be done.
If you have time before dinner, cover the mixture and refrigerate it for at least an hour, but preferably two or three.
4. Put a pot of salted water on to boil. In a skillet or sauté pan, cook your peas as described in the text above — prepare as many as you’d like to eat — and set the pan aside while you shape and cook the dumplings.
5. Thoroughly wet a flat plate or glass platter (the water will make it possible to slide the dumplings into the cooking pot). Wet your hands and scoop up enough mixture and gently roll it between your palms to form a ball a little less than an inch in diameter. Set it onto the wet plate and continue for the entire batch.
6. Being careful not to splash yourself, slide the dumplings into the boiling water, if necessary using fingers or a spatula to ease them on their way. Lower the heat, and simmer, covered, for 4 minutes; they will float to the surface and will swell modestly. After 3½ minutes, taste a dumpling: There must be no raw-flour taste, but the consistency should be pleasantly firm, not insubstantial.
7. Return the peas to the heat; add the dumplings using a skimmer or big slotted spoon and toss or stir to combine. If you like, you can sprinkle the dish with more of whatever chopped herb you used in the dumplings.