The Daring Cooks? Yes, that’s the new group formed when the Daring Bakers moved to their new home–a snazzy-looking new website with lots of new perks!. We were given the opportunity to join and be part of a new monthly challenge daring our culinary prowess. Ah, heck! If you love to cook and play around with different ingredients, enjoy learning new cooking techniques and sharing your cooking experiences with other foodies around the world, then the Daring Cooks is just the group for you.
For our first challenge, the recipe chosen is the famous Ricotta Gnocchi from Zuni Cafe of San Franciso. Even before the challenge was announced, I was trying my hand at making these fluffy little pillows of dumplings. At that time, I was experimenting with a recipe to enter in the Royal Foodie Joust. I did end up entering a sweet version of the traditional potato gnocchi recipe. The Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi is a little delicate and requires patience in creating, that much I found out. Because there is no flour or starch that binds the ingredients (just the egg and cheese) like the traditional one, it needed to be handled carefully or you’ll end up with exploded gnocchi in your boiling water! The ingredients are simple: ricotta cheese, eggs, parmesan cheese and whatever flavor you so desire. My first mistake was not making sure that my ricotta cheese was dry enough. I used homemade ricotta and did not drain it long enough to remove most of the moisture before mixing it with the rest of the ingredients. The second mistake was beating the eggs too long. Judy Rodgers of Zuni Cafe stressed that the eggs should only be lightly beaten before incorporating it with the rest of the ingredients. It is during this process that the proteins are separated and allowed to bind with the cheese thus producing a dumpling that is fluffy yet still firm when boiled.
The resulting gnocchis where indeed light. I followed the simple recipe without adding anything else. I wanted my sauce to carry the flavor of the dish. For lunch, we had it with a simple store-bought vodka sauce, warmed and poured over the boiled gnocchi. Lovely! The second time, I tried frying the gnocchis (after boiling) and mixed it with lemon and creamed spinach butter sauce. This was the dish my husband preferred. He liked the crunchy version of the fried gnocchi and the lemony butter sauce with spinach. Of course after enjoying them with different sauces, I ended up experimenting with a flavored gnocchi.
Much like my Royal Foodie Joust entry, I made RICOTTA BEET GNOCCHI. With the potato version, I used roasted beet mixed with the potatoes. Not knowing how the new ricotta gnocchi will hold with a heavy shredded roasted beets, I used beet powder instead. Using 1 tbs beet powder for every cup of ricotta cheese, the resulting dish has a very weak beet flavor unlike the potato version. The colors were also lighter. To make up for flavor, I mixed it with braised oxtail and horseradish white sauce.
Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi from The Zuni Café Cookbook
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)
For the gnocchi:
- 1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
- 2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon (½ 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
For the gnocchi sauce:
- 8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
- 2 teaspoons water
- 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 thericotta, 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 andfluffy 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 andform 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. Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now. With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.