This month's, and the inaugural, Daring Cook's challenge was to make Ricotta Gnocchi inspired by the recipe in Judy Rodgers' The Zuni Cafe Cookbook. Aside from my lame, embarrassing photos the challenge was a smashing success. I had such a fun time through the whole process of making these, and the result was little clouds of goodness floating on my plate (I repeat, this is NOT represented by my pictures.) I decided to make an event out of this challenge and invited 10 friends over for dinner. Not only was I amazed that I fit 10 people into my apartment, but also that I made 120 gnocchi and fit them all in my mini fridge.
Yup, now you get it that's the fridge in my "angolo cucina" (tr. kitchen corner). It is just that, a corner of my living room, but last night, I was pretty glad that my kitchen is in my living room. Although the gnocchi were pretty straightforward they did include a decent amount of hands-on time right before serving, which would have kept me in the kitchen and away from guests, that is if I had a kitchen. So not only did I get to make something new and tasty but I also got to spend time with my friends. Given that I was making so many gnocchi and that this is a Daring Cook's challenge I decided to make three different types of: Lemon Scented Gnocchi with Anise Seed Butter (picture above, yuck, don't scroll up), Smoked Ricotta Gnocchi with Arugula Pesto, and Classic Ricotta Gnocchi with Butter and Sage. I wish I could pick a favorite but they were all really tasty and different, personally I was all about the smoked ricotta one's because they were the furthest from anything I have ever tasted before. Also, I got the ricotta at my family reunion so I was excited to use it. Luckily my guests all had different favorites and before I got the chance to take a decent picture, I swear that's the reason, they were all gobbled up.
I really hope some of you are inspired to try this recipe yourselves, because not only is it manageable but it's also fun and it leaves you feeling really accomplished, I mean its not very often I can say I made 120 of something. Like Mitch Hedberg said, "I like rice. Rice is great if you're hungry and want 2000 of something."
Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
Source: 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.
• fresh ricotta. If you can find it, use it. Fresher=better. Always.
• make sure the ricotta is well drained, this is just going to make your life easier. I drained mine for 2 days, but 24 hours will do.
•watch a video, it helps you get an idea of what the forming part should look like.
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
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.
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).
Exclude the sage. Add a heaping teaspoon of lemon zest. For sauce melt a stick of butter with 3 tbsp anise seeds and pour over prepared gnocchi.
Replace half the ricotta with smoked ricotta. Exclude sage.
Make an arugula pesto by combining, 4 c. arugula, 1/4 c. parmiggiamo reggiano, 1/4 c. pine nuts, 1/4 c. olive oil, in a blender, blend until smooth add olive oil as needed.
Pour over prepared gnocchi.
Follow the recipe. For the sauce melt 1 stick of butter with a 1/4 cup of chopped sage, pour over cooked gnocchi.