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Chef Walter’s Flavors + Knowledge: Gnocchi with Spring Lamb Ragu

Wednesday, April 02, 2014


Spring lamb is usually marketed at a weight ranging from 20 to 40 pounds. There are many market ready cuts from a spring lamb including chops, leg of lamb, rib roast (rack of lamb), rolled boneless roasts, and tenderloins. For this recipe select lamb shoulder. The word ragu stands for “long-simmered sauce."

Spring Lamb Ragu

Serves 4


• 1 pound ground lamb or hand-cut in cubes
• 1 medium-sized onion, diced
• A 4-inch sticks celery, diced
• 3-inch piece carrot, diced
• 2 tablespoons butter
• 1 ounce pancetta, diced
• 1 large clove garlic, minced
• 4 leaves sage, minced
• The leaves from a 3-inch sprig of rosemary (about 1 teaspoon, minced)
• 1 tablespoon olive oil
• 1 pound canned plum tomatoes, put through a food mill
• 1/2 cup red wine (Cabernet, Red Zinfandel etc.)
• 1 teaspoon all-purpose flour
• 1/2 cup cold water
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 1 pound potato gnocchi
• 3/4 cup grated Pecorino cheese


• In a medium-size sauce pan heat butter and olive oil for 2 minutes, and add onion, carrots, celery, garlic, sage, rosemary and pancetta. This particular method is called “soffritto”, the base for a very good ragu’.
Gently sauté the mixture for about 8 minutes, stirring occasionally; do not let it brown.

• Add the ground lamb and increase the flame; brown it for about 5 minutes. Stir in the wine and continue cooking over a lively flame; when it is almost completely evaporated sprinkle in 1 teaspoon of flour, stirring to keep lumps from forming, and then stir in the tomatoes and water. Season lightly with black pepper, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a slow simmer, cover, and cook for at least an hour and a half, adding more hot water if necessary to keep the sauce from drying out.

• When the sauce is almost done, boil water for the gnocchi. Stir the sauce into the pasta and serve it with the grated Pecorino.

Potato Gnocchi

Potato gnocchi are easy, fun, and delicious dumplings. This recipe uses no egg—a method that results in a lighter, more delicate product.

Serves 4


• 1 1/2 lbs. boiling potatoes (Yukon gold suggested)
• 1 -1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
• Salt to taste


• Scrub potato clean and put in a large pot. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil. Add enough salt to make the water taste salty. Cook the potatoes uncovered, until tender all the way through, about 20 minutes after the water has come to a boil. (Insert a fork through the potato to check doneness).

• Drain potatoes and let cool slightly. Once they are cool enough to handle but still warm, use a paring knife to scrape off and discard the skins. Push potatoes through a ricer or food mill into a large bowl or mash with a large fork or potato masher thoroughly.

• Stir in flour - it will seem like it won't combine at first, but keep working it - eventually it will become a smooth, play dough-like dough.

• Divide dough into four parts and work with one section at a time. Roll a section of dough into a long, inch-thick snake on a well floured surface. Cut this thin log into bite-size (1/2- to 3/4- inches) pieces.

• Take each dumpling and push it down the tines of a fork with your thumb, letting it drop onto a floured surface at the end. It should have tine marks on one side and a thumbprint on the other. This motion will take a few gnocchi to practice to get down, but then is quite easy. Arrange gnocchi on a very well floured baking sheet or tray. Repeat with remaining dough.

• Gnocchi can sit, covered loosely, at room temperature for several hours. Or, loosely cover and refrigerate overnight. (For longer storage, place the gnocchi on a baking tray and freeze them. Once they are frozen, transfer gnocchi to a resalable plastic bag and keep frozen until ready to boil for up to six months.)

• When ready to cook dumplings, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add only as many gnocchi as can comfortably cover the surface of the water. They will sink immediately. Give them a quick but thorough stir. Within about a minute they will float to the surface. Let them cook 10 to 20 seconds on the surface and then remove them with a slotted spoon. Place gnocchi on a warm serving platter and repeat with remaining gnocchi. Toss with lamb ragu’ and serve immediately topped with a generous dusting of Pecorino cheese.


Master Chef Walter Potenza is the owner of Potenza Ristorante in Cranston, Chef Walters Cooking School and Chef Walters Fine Foods. His fields of expertise include Italian Regional Cooking, Historical Cooking from the Roman Empire to the Unification of Italy, Sephardic Jewish Italian Cooking, Terracotta Cooking, Diabetes and Celiac. Recipient of National and International accolades, awarded by the Italian Government as Ambassador of Italian Gastronomy in the World. Currently on ABC6 with Cooking Show “Eat Well." www.chefwalter.com / http://www.chefwalter.blog.com/


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