Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daring Cooks May Challenge: Ricotta Gnocchi

I’ve shared the Daring Bakers’ monthly challenges, now we have a monthly Daring Cooks challenge. Today is our first reveal—Ricotta Gnocchi from Judy Rodgers’ The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant.

May’s challenge is courtesy of Ivonne of Creampuffs in
Venice and Lisa of La Mia Cucina—originators of the entire Daring Kitchen concept.

The point of this experience is learning to form and handle gnocchi. What we do with the recipe, in terms of variations, is up to our interpretation. We’ve never had gnocchi at our house, so I had to do a bit of research to understand the concept and then come up with a plan on what to serve with it.

My decision was to make Chicken Gnocchi Veronese (using the gnocchi challenge recipe supplemented by chicken and sauce recipes from the Olive Garden restaurant).

Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

© June Scroggin, All Rights Reserved

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.

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: Preparing the ricotta (the day before you make 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: Making the gnocchi dough (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi)

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 notice you can still see curds, 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 flavoring you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavoring, that’s fine.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and 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-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 (I opted to use an Olive Garden recipe for the sauce).

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.

The rest of my dinner was courtesy of the Olive Garden’s chicken and sauce recipes.

The Results

My husband pronounced the chicken and sauce delicious, but said he’s unsure about the gnocchi part and suggests I make this dish with pasta next time.

Thank you, Ivonne and Lisa, but whew! I’m plumb worn out and my kitchen looks like a dinosaur stumbled through it.


Anonymous said...

Junie, thank you for your sweet thoughts, every little bit helps. That said, your gnocchi looks delectable and perfect :)

Garrett said...

Mmmmmm, this looks delicious! The gnocchi itself is definitely iffy, especially since you didn't have any experience. Hope you like it better with pasta!

Tina said...

It's a shame your husband wasn't too fond of the gnocchi part. They look great!

Audax said...

Chicken and gnocchi good choice you did a great effort (from the photo) it good to try new things. Bummer that the 'better half' wasn't as thrilled as you. Great effort. Cheers from Audax in Australia

Thimbleanna said...

You're so funny June! We've never had gnocchi either. But I have to say, if I were going to have it, yours sure looks delicious. Was is worth all the work???

Sixpence and A Blue Moon said...

Looks delicious, but...I don't care for gnocchi. I think it is one of those things that you either like or don't like, there is no in-between I was in Poland and watched the two Polish women make gnocchi like they were working an assembly line.:)

It is always exciting to make new dishes and have them turn out. I made a dish the othe night, that I thought was one of the worst things I ever made. I"ll never make it again!

Your dish sure looks good though!

Pat @ Mille Fiori Favoriti said...

June your gnocchi look so good and the sauce looks so rich and yummy!

I usually make my gnocchi using regular cooked and riced potatoes instead of ricotta, as my husband prefers that taste over ricotta, as that is how his mother made them. :-)
When I tried ricotta gnocchi the first time I was surprised how light they were and I always felt they needed more "taste" so that is why I usually add cooked chopped spinach when I make them and admittedly more flour than the Zuni recipe calls for. I always wanted to try sweet potato as a substitution for regular potato so I decided to try blending them into this recipe and they gave it a little more "tooth" than I think they would have alone. Even so, a light butter sauce was almost overwhelming, so I imagine a chicken sauce recipe might have been too heavy for a delicate gnocchi such as these and your husband was right that that type of sauce needs a heartier pasta base.

It's all a matter of learning and experimentation however, and you did a fantastic job for the first time! Now you can proudly say you've made gnocchi! That is not something many people can say --even full blooded Italians! It will also help you understand why a little dash of them is so expensive in a restaurant! Lol!

Storybook Woods said...

Oh I am sorry you hubby did not love the gnocchi's. They are not easy to make (Well I think they are nto easy) but aren't you glad you tried xoxoxo Clarice

Cheri said...

That look absolutely delicious! I am salivating!

Monica said...

Wow that looks delish , but wow DARING is the word .. With a new bebe in the house its quick meals for

Anonymous said...

The choice of sauce sounds like a great combination with the gnocchi, and it looks delish!

Elle said...

Fantastic sauce and the gnocchi look great, too. It IS a lot of work for what you get, but an interesting experiment.

NKP said...

Wow, Chicken Gnocchi Veronese sounds delicious, love the sauce!

Lauren said...

Mmm, your gnocchi looks awesome!! I love your picture =D.