In spring, the days suddenly lengthen like the feeling when we unbutton our jeans after a meal: the adjustment is slight, but the relief is immense. We can’t help but take great gulping lungfuls of blossom-scented air or linger irresponsibly in the extra sunlight. Then and only then do we wander inside and confront, perhaps for the first time all day, the problem of dinner.
We are done with root vegetables and braises now; our minds long for things green and fresh, and our palate follows suit. The answer to dinner is to honor the first offerings of spring with simple preparations that put the sweet vitality of early produce front and center.
If you hurry, you can make ricotta gnocchi and an uncomplicated, vegetable-forward sauce to enjoy before the last of the dusky spring light fades. Unlike potato gnocchi, which require time and a practiced hand, ricotta gnocchi are light, quick, and forgiving. The dough comes together in minutes, and you can make speedy work of a gentle vegetable sauté in butter while the gnocchi rest. Just before serving—and I do mean just—go ahead and pour the wine, lay the napkins on the table, and light the candles. Then pop the gnocchi in a pot of well-salted boiling water and wait for them to rise to the top. Consider it a salute to the joys of the season.
Ricotta Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables
1 lb. good quality whole-milk ricotta cheese
¾ cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
1 egg, whisked
¾- 1¼ c. flour, plus more for dusting
1½ tsp. salt, plus more
3 leeks, thinly sliced
1 cup lima beans (fresh or frozen)
1 small bunch asparagus, trimmed and sliced
2 Tbs. chopped fresh basil
1 Tbs. chopped fresh chives
1 Tbs. olive oil
6 Tbs. butter
2 cups vegetable or chicken brother
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1. Drain ricotta well and pat dry with paper towels. Combine the ricotta, grated Parmesan, and 1½ teaspoons salt in a large bowl; add ¾ cup flour and stir until just combined. Stir whisked egg into the ricotta mixture until loosely combined. Generously dust a work surface with all-purpose flour and turn the dough out onto it. Gently knead the dough with floured hands; if it’s very wet and sticky, work in more flour, a little at a time, gently folding it over and continuing to dust the surface underneath until you’re able to flatten it into a 6-inch disk.
2. Cut the disk into 4 equal pieces and shape each piece into a log. Gently roll each log into a ¾-by-15-inch rope, gently pulling and stretching the dough as you roll. Slice into ½-inch pieces and place on a baking sheet dusted with flour. For a fancier presentation, roll the gnocchi off the back of a fork to create grooves, but this isn’t necessary. Place in the freezer until the gnocchi are frozen, about 30 minutes. (If making ahead, transfer to a sealable bag once frozen. Do not defrost before boiling.)
3. While gnocchi are in the freezer, heat oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add leeks and cook, stirring occasionally, until very soft, 8 minutes. Stir in asparagus, peas, and lima beans. Add broth and season well with salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a boil over high heat. Cook, stirring often, until the asparagus is almost tender, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.
4. When almost ready to serve, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the frozen gnocchi and cook, stirring gently, for 4 to 5 minutes. As the gnocchi float to the top, scoop them into a large bowl with a slotted spoon. Be sure to cook the frozen gnocchi in two batches to avoid lowering the temperature of the water.
5. Warm the vegetable sauce, if necessary, and stir in butter, basil, and chives. Pour the sauce over the gnocchi; gently stir to combine. Top each serving with freshly shaved Parmesan.