Gnocchi are Italian dumplings usually made of potatoes, spinach or ricotta, although I’ve also made them with pureed squash, pumpkin or herbs.

At their most simple, these soft, delicate pillows are a wonderful foil for a quick, brilliant tomato sauce or glistening with basil pesto. With a bit more effort, they can also stand up well with strongly flavored ingredients such as sausage, broccoli raab, peppers or fennel.

While they can be delicious and a huge treat, I won’t fool you – they can also be dense and sticky, or so loose that they fall apart in the boiling water. They require a light hand and an eye to the moisture content of the ricotta, balanced with the amount of flour needed.

Be not afraid, however. With a little focus and attention, soft, delicate gnocchi can be yours. Until you get the hang of what the dough should feel like, work the dough together and then cook only a few gnocchi as a test to make sure you’ve got the balance correct.

I created a few extra recipes for which there wasn’t space here. You can find them on my blog, athomeatsea.com – Baked Gnocchi with Garlic and Cream; Chicken, Basil and Sundried Tomato Sausage; and Broccoli Raab with Garlic and Lemon.

RICOTTA GNOCCHI

If you use homemade ricotta for this recipe, the water content may vary. In this case, either strain the ricotta for 30 minutes in cheesecloth or, if it’s drier than the commercial varieties, add a little milk.

This recipe is similar to that in the cookbook “A16: Food + Wine” by Nate Appleman, Shelley Lindgren and Kate Leahy. I’ve made many of my own adjustments, of course, but it’s always important to give credit to the germ of an idea.

2 cups ricotta

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 cups all purpose flour

1/4 cup semolina flour; more if needed

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil while you make the gnocchi. Whisk the ricotta, olive oil and salt with either a stand mixer or hand mixer until the ricotta is smooth and the large lumps have dissolved, about 1 minute. Add the egg and egg yolk, and whisk again to incorporate.

Make a mound with the all-purpose flour on the counter. With your hands, make a well in the center and scrape the ricotta mixture into the well with a spatula. With a bench scraper, fold the flour into the ricotta using a scraping motion and then a chopping or cutting motion on the top. Continue to scrape and chop until the flour is just incorporated. (Be sure to not work the dough too much, as this will create tough gnocchi.)

Take several pinches of dough and form them into small balls. Drop them into the boiling water to check for the dough structure. Wait until they float to the top and cook for another 2 minutes or so. If they fall apart a bit, add a little more flour to the dough.

Cut the dough into 4 separate pieces, and sprinkle the counter with some of the semolina flour. With your hands, roll the dough into a long tube just as if you were making mud worms like a child. They should be about 1/2-inch in diameter.

Repeat with the other three pieces of dough and then roll the logs close to one another. Using the bench scraper, a knife or a pizza cutter, cut the logs into 1/2-inch-sized pieces. Sprinkle them with more semolina.

At this point, you can freeze them on a sheet pan lightly dusted with semolina. Once they are frozen, transfer to an airtight container.

If you are ready to use them immediately, prepare the rest of your ingredients and when everything else is set, transfer the gnocchi to the boiling water. Stir well, and watch for them to float to the surface. Cook for another 2 to 3 minutes and drain.

Serves four to six.

ITALIAN SAUSAGE WITH BROCCOLI RAAB

If you can’t find broccoli raab, spinach would be a good substitute. Use about 4 cups or 5 ounces in place of the broccoli raab. (Don’t blanch before adding to the sausage, but simply add directly.)

If you have any leftovers, they are terrific the following day as a soup. Add the leftovers to a pot, and cover generously with chicken stock. Bring to a boil and serve with grated Asiago as a garnish.

10 ounces broccoli raab, stem ends removed and chopped into 1- to 2-inch lengths

3 tablespoons olive oil (2 for the sausage pan and one to drizzle on the gnocchi at the end)

1 cup yellow pepper, seeded and sliced, about 1/2 pepper

1 cup red onion, peeled and sliced, about 1/2 red onion

1 pound Italian sausage, casing removed

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Several grinds of fresh black pepper

Zest from one lemon

3/4 cup grated Asiago cheese

2 to 4 tablespoons of the gnocchi water

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and blanch the broccoli raab for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the water with a slotted spoon or basket strainer and set aside. Reuse the same pot of water to cook the gnocchi when you are ready.

Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. On one side of the pan, add the sausage and the other, the onions. Use tongs to break up the sausage and stir the onions. When the onions are beginning to turn brown on the edges, add the peppers on top of the onions and stir.

When the peppers are tender but still firm, about 4 minutes, make a space in the sausage and add the garlic to use the fat from the sausage to help saute the garlic.

Saute 30 seconds to 1 minute and mix it all together, adding the salt, pepper and lemon zest. Add the broccoli raab, turn with tongs, and remove from heat. Add the gnocchi water to loosen the sauce if needed.

When the gnocchi are done, add them to the skillet to combine with the broccoli raab and sausage if there is space. If not, transfer to a large serving platter. Gently combine and serve with Asiago.

Serves four to six.

Anne Mahle of Rockland is the author of “At Home, At Sea,” a recipe book about her experiences cooking aboard the family’s windjammer. She can be reached at: [email protected]