Saturday, May 16, 2009

Daring Ricotta Gnocchi

Two and one half years after establishing the Daring Bakers, Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice have created a whole new outlet for my food addiction with the introduction of the Daring Cooks.

One could never think that these two ladies could be more lovely, but then they astound with you lovely notions such as this one.

The next few months of my life are going to be, in a phrase, completely effing insane. Nevertheless, I plan on participating and enjoying both groups and expanding and honing my cooking and baking skills through their gentle encouragement.

For the inaugural recipe, Lis and Ivonne chose a ricotta gnocchi recipe by Judy Rogers. The recipe is located in her cookbook, titled for her restaurant of the same name, "The Zuni Cafe Cookbook."

I've only ever had gnocchi once before - and to be completely honest I was less than impressed. When I discovered what the recipe was for this month I was vaguely disappointed, but still retained hope that ricotta based gnocchi - and those made by my own two hands - would taste better than the packaged gnocchi I'd tried previously.

I was pleased that this recipe was quite easy. The only time consuming portion is draining the ricotta of the excess whey to ensure a firm gnocchi. Considering that draining the ricotta requires little to no active participation on my part, I was even more pleased.

These gnocchi were most definitely better than the packaged kind I'd had before - no surprise there. I still don't think gnocchi will ever make its way onto my list of favorite foods - but at least I've got another recipe to add to my repertoire of things I can make that will usually impress other people.

I've included below both the recipe for the gnocchi and the helpful tips provided by Lis and Ivonne if you wish to try these out yourself. I highly recommend these for anyone who 1) likes gnocchi, 2) likes ricotta, 3) likes Parmesan (that's what they taste like mostly), or 4) has some spare time and feels like trying a recipe that's entertaining and relatively tasty.

I didn't get too crazy with my version of the recipe, though we were granted latitude in deciding what flavorings or sauces we wanted. I stuck with some good old Parmigiana-Reggiano, sauteed them in French butter, and sprinkled them with some freshly ground black pepper, a few shavings of the PR, and some fresh chopped chives. They were pretty tasty, though a little egg-y in my opinion - something I heard from many people who made this recipe.

Thank you to Lis and Ivonne for not only hosting the first month of the Daring Cooks, but also for creating a super-awesome group for people that are more comfortable with the stove-top portion of the oven. I can't wait to see what's going to get cooked up for next month...

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.


- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.

For the gnocchi:

1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of chopped lemon zest (all optional)
½ ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
about ¼ teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta.

If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. To remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with cheesecloth or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. Cover it and let it drain for at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alternatively, you can wrap the ricotta carefully in cheesecloth (2 layers) and suspend it in your refrigerator for 8 to 24 hours with a bowl underneath to catch the water that’s released. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.

Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough.

To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). As you mash the ricotta, if you noticed that you can still see curds, then press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible.

Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.

Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks (everything should be mixed in very well).

Step 3 Forming the gnocchi.

Fill a small pot with water and bring to a boil. When it boils, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. You will use this water to test the first gnocchi that you make to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

In a large, shallow baking dish or on a sheet pan, make a bed of all-purpose flour that’s ½ an inch deep.

With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the centre of your bowl.

Using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your finger tip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.

At this point you can either shake the dish or pan gently to ensure that the flour covers the gnocchi or use your fingers to very gently dust the gnocchi with flour. Gently pick up the gnocchi and cradle it in your hand rolling it to form it in an oval as best as you can, at no point should you squeeze it. What you’re looking for is an oval lump of sorts that’s dusted in flour and plump.

Gently place your gnocchi in the simmering water. It will sink and then bob to the top. From the time that it bobs to the surface, you want to cook the gnocchi until it’s just firm. This could take 3 to 5 minutes.

If your gnocchi begins to fall apart, this means that the ricotta cheese was probably still too wet. You can remedy this by beating a teaspoon of egg white into your gnocchi batter. If your gnocchi batter was fluffy but the sample comes out heavy, add a teaspoon of beaten egg to the batter and beat that in. Test a second gnocchi to ensure success.

Form the rest of your gnocchi. You can put 4 to 6 gnocchi in the bed of flour at a time. But don’t overcrowd your bed of flour or you may damage your gnocchi as you coat them.

Have a sheet pan ready to rest the formed gnocchi on. Line the sheet pan with wax or parchment paper and dust it with flour.

You can cook the gnocchi right away, however, Judy Rodgers recommends storing them in the refrigerator for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up.

Step 4 Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or pan so that your gnocchi won’t bump into each other and damage each other.

Once the water is boiling, salt it generously.

Drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.


Audax said...

I absoultely love the last picture - large holes and looking so light. Yes the DCooks' is all about gaining new skills and pushing our comfort zones. I am always amazed how skills learnt in one area of cooking/baking can be transferred to another area. Fab pictures and very honest comments. Bravo on this the first DCooks' challenge. Cheers from Audax in Australia.

Anula said...

Your gnocchi looks great! and what a lovely pics :)

A Feast for the Eyes said...

I'm one of the 7 people who reads your blog. Truthfully, I'm sure you have plenty of lurkers. Your gift for foodography is stellar. I'm also your neighbor in Monterey. I posted pix of the Seafood Challenge I attended at the Monterey Plaza, yesterday. So much fun!
Good luck to you, wherever you move. I've lived in Monterey since 1963, and it would be very hard for me to leave. I'll continue to follow your blog, though.


cookiecrumb said...

Hey, wait! MY name is Debby. I'm also one of the 7 people. ;)
Anyway, what a gorgeous experiment. Good.