Yeah, I know, not the most original title, is it? To be honest, I barely pulled this one out. Some life altering stuff has happened in the past two weeks that has frozen me completely. Without getting into details, I NEARLY lost someone I love with all my heart (Dad). It’s a good thing I started this challenge 3 weeks ago; making the homemade ricotta cheese, then the ricotta gnocchi, and freezing them, or else this entry would probably cease to exist.
It started with this…remember this? Very dry Homemade Ricotta is definitely the best option for these fluffy dumplings.
To add insult to injury (literally), I had to see my surgeon today because my knee felt wobbly and it hurt to walk. He fiddled with it and immediately ordered X-Rays. Turns out my knee has weakened because I haven’t done much with it the past two weeks, and I’m not getting enough nutrition due to the usual loss of appetite that plagues a person when they almost lost their Dad. OK, I’m stopping here since I don’t want to depress anyone any longer. However, I’m not feeling my usual chatty self, so anything funny or witty might be in low supply. How funny is it that I’m mixing photos of food in with my tales of woe? Score 1 for the use of the word ‘funny’ twice!
On to the brand new, first ever, Daring Cooks Challenge. I’ll just start by adding THE paragraph. Wait there is no paragraph. Could it be that the DB-Bot has snubbed the DCC? Oh well, I’ll post what they posted in the DBK forum.
We have chosen a recipe from the stunning cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café Cookbook.
I added some black pepper to the batter
When this ricotta gnocchi challenge was announced, I had several sauces in mind, such as an amazing turkey sausage bolognese or wild mushroom ragu. I was also going to add some vanilla bean to another half batch of gnocchi batter (yep, this recipe for gnocchi is literally a batter) and float them in a chocolate soup; a dumpling soup for the sweet tooth. But due to the aforementioned scary circumstance, I lost the desire, so I quickly thought something up this morning, prior to my doctor appointment.
I roasted some fresh corn and then some tomatoes with olive oil (which gave me caramelized tomatoes! The sweet factor was amazing!), salt and pepper (always season!) and sauteed some cremini, oyster, and shiitake mushrooms with butter, shallots and a little dry white wine to deglaze. I also took advantage of my sprouting herb garden and julienned some fresh sage to top off whatever it turned out to be. Finally, I shredded and baked some parmesan cheese (frico) to make little bowls and curled crisps, still not knowing where it was going to end up, but hey, at least I had something percolating for my ricotta gnocchi.
I tried to form little squares or shells, but the batter was too delicate, so I sort of turned them into Gnudi.
As I surveyed everything in front of me, while my mother was in my kitchen under-cooking and annihilating my gnocchi (DAMN), I started to think about what I could do. Using what ricotta gnocchi I could salvage, which was small considering they were not cooked properly, I took a parmesan ‘frico’ bowl and started to build, and build, and build. Soon I had two little towers of wild mushrooms, corn, tomato, ricotta gnocchi and sage. Oooh, pretty – now what would make it better? Of course, a drizzle of white truffle oil! I usually don’t flip over truffle oil because there’s not many that are good, but the one I used was okay, and it just seemed to fit. But, seriously, try not to use truffle oil unless you happen to have one gifted to you and you’re desperate for something; anything!
But what to do with the rest of the ricotta gnocchi? AHA, gratinee! I tossed the rest of the ricotta gnocchi (now known as gnudi) with the rest of the mushrooms, corn, and tomatoes, divided them into gratinee dishes, poured on some cream, black pepper, and a good sprinkling of shredded parmesan cheese, and under the broiler they went. A bit of itty bitty ripped baby sage leaves finished it off. The gratinees were served with the remaining parmesan crisps.
I did it, I managed to pull this one out even though I feel like a zombie. Score another one for me and my almost bleeding heart (insert empty sarcasm).
I really can’t review this ricotta gnocchi properly since most of it was under-cooked, but hey, everyone else seemed to like it, so I’ll just say they are extremely delicate. I wish I had the photos to show you how much so, but at the time I was making them there was no one around to hold the camera and snap away while I scooped with the spoon and rolled them in flour. Not to mention, no boiling photos either, since 1) As you already know, I can’t use the kitchen yet, and 2) I wanted to spare you all the mess dear old mom made of them. BUT, it was sweet of her to help since she hates to cook.
UPDATE: I made the ricotta gnocchi again, at a later time when I was finally able to walk again and cook them myself. So, light, fluffy, flavorful and tender! Zuni’s batter gnocchi is definitely worth its weight in gold! See the photo of them in a tomato butter sauce beneath the recipe!
Finally, I just snapped a few photos this time, as opposed to the usual 100, not even caring about the lighting or settings. Just for the hell of it, even though I knew they weren’t up to par, I submitted one to foodgawker. As expected, it was rejected as ‘dull and unsharp’, and I thought to myself .. Isn’t it amazing how my photo reflects how I feel at this time?
How to Make Zuni Cafe Ricotta Gnocchi
– Cheesecloth or paper towels
– Large mixing bowl
– Rubber spatula
– 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)
Videos that might help:
- 1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
- 2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
- 1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
- a pinch or two of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of grated lemon zest (both 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
- 8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
- 2 teaspoons water
- 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.
- 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 flavoring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, herbs, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavoring, 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).
- 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 center 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 ricotta 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 ricotta 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 ricotta 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 ricotta 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.
- 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 ricotta gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.
Variations: For the ricotta gnocchi, you can flavor them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourself!
Freezing the ricotta 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.
I made these ricotta gnocchi smaller and served them with a simple, but amazing tomato butter sauce. Man, tomato sauce plays so well with butter! UPDATE – I made these last night with an All’amatriciana sauce for an All’amatriciana Gnocchi, which I usually make with spaghetti for a beautiful plate!