14 May 2009

Daring Cooks: Ricotta Gnocchi

For the launching of Daring Cooks, Lis and Ivonne chose a ricotta gnocchi recipe from the Zuni Cafe. The recipe looked easy enough, especially after watching this helpful demo from the cooks at the Zuni Cafe, so I planned on making the gnocchi as a light Sunday night dinner. Since ricotta is the star ingredient of these gnocchi, I made a special trip to Whole Foods to get an artisanal one, instead of the usually grocery store variety. Both the recipe and the video advised straining the ricotta overnight to ensure that the gnocchi wouldn't be too liquidy so I did. When it was finally time to make the gnocchi, my ricotta has firmed up a bit but it didn't look like the video as it was still very soft. What is a daring cook to do but press on with the recipe in the face of possible failure?

I followed the rest of the recipe exactly yet the gnocchi mixture looked more like soup than anything that could be scooped into quenelles. I poured a bit of the soup onto a plate of flour and attempted to jiggle it into some sort of shape and when that didn't work, I used a spoon to scoop it up and into a waiting pot. My test gnocchi promptly disintigrated and I didn't think that one egg white would do much to help it. I poured it back into the strainer and decided to try to drain some additional water out of it. One visit from my aunt and uncle and two days later, I remebered the gnocchi at approximately 10am.

I ran down to the kitchen, certain that the batter would be a solid mass, to find a that it really hadn't firmed up much at all. I prepared a test gnocchi though, determined to salvage something from it, and it held together all right so I had the batch and put them straight into the freezer.

A few days later I made the gnocchi for lunch. The gnocchi held together when cooking but didn't fare so well coming out of the pan. The ones that survived were light and fluffy, if a bit salty, probably from concentrating everything by extracting the water. I served them with a brown butter sage sauce, which was mild enough not to overwhelm the ricotta but still added a bit of flavor.

Even though my my gnocchi fell apart the recipe was easy to make, so I'd like to try them again with a different ricotta in the future.

Note: These gnocchi are gluten free except for a dusting of flour as a very last step. I think that you could easily use an alternative flour and keep them totally gluten free.

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.

- 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 variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:

- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels or coffee filters
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

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

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 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 (mine ended up too salty, so you might want to go light on the salt.

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.

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.


Audax said...

Great effort even if it wasn't to your standards. One tip I found you can add a little gf flour into the mixture and this will firm up a lot and still be very light and tasty. Sometimes you learn more from the 'failures' than your best successes. Hope you enjoyed the first challenge. Cheers from Australia - Audax

kat said...

I've made regular gnocchi & it was tricky, this one sounds like the ricotta gave it an extra hurtle

Connie Weiss said...

I had a bit of trouble with mine too....and I used grocery store Ricotta! I also made a brown butter sage sauce and I thought it was really tasty (my first time making that too). Just saw that some one mixed theirs with tomatoes, basil and lemon zest!

I'm anxious to try them again too.

Anonymous said...

Hey, as long as it tasted good, who cares? I think they look great!

Cheri said...

Oh, I am sorry to hear that you had such trouble. :( I think that homemade ricotta seems to be the way to go. It seems that most people who have been using the store bought have been running into troubles. I hope your next try goes better!

Tina said...

Gnocchi can be tricky! But the point is you attempted the DC challenge - and the next time you go to do it, I am sure it will turn out just perfectly.
Great effort nonetheless!

Christie's Corner said...

I had issues too. As Cheri says, homemade ricotta seems to be the secret. I used store bought and paid the price.

Esi said...

I think you did a good job..and in the end if it tastes good, that's all that matters, right?

art and lemons said...

The brown butter sage sauce sounds delicious!

Megan said...

That is exactly what mine came out looking like! I was so disappointed. But I guess we've got a lot of tips and other posts to learn from!

MaryMary said...

They were a bit of a struggle weren't they? Bet they tasted fabulous--love brown butter and sage!

Jen said...

It's great to hear from so many Daring Cooks on the first challenge- thanks you all for the comments.

Sue said...

Every time I make gnocchi, I have problems and have to add TONS of extra flour, so I can't imagine using no flour. What if you made this but DID add some flour as Audax said?