Thursday, May 14, 2009

Inaugural Daring Cooks challenge - ricotta gnocchi

The Daring Bakers group, which has been running strong for nearly three years, now has a new component - the Daring Cooks. I'm not technically sure of the difference but I think the bakers concentrate on baking (eg cakes, pastries etc) while the cooks tend to focus more on, well, cooking things.

The inaugural Daring Cooks challenge was Ricotta Gnocchi, using the recipe from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers. Our hosts this month were the wonderful DB and DC founders, Lis and Ivonne.

Ricotta gnocchi was a nice, easy challenge for us to ease our way into this new endeavour. I find ricotta gnocchi fractionally easier and less time-consuming to make than potato gnocchi. It's a simple concoction of ricotta, eggs, melted butter and finely grated cheese. The only fiddly bit is that it's best to drain the ricotta for at least eight hours, and up to 24 hours, before you make it, as wet ricotta will mean the gnocchi won't form properly. But this is only a slight hitch; it just requires you to plan ahead.

Ricotta gnocchi has a lovely silky texture and I find it more forgiving of a less-than-perfect technique than potato gnocchi. If the potato mash is not pushed through a food mill or potato ricer (or sieve if you're desperate), or if too much flour is added, or the temperature of the cooking water is too hot or too cold, potato gnocchi tends to be claggy, stodgy or fall to bits, thus ruining your dish. I also find ricotta gnocchi has a light, airy texture and taste, and it is a good partner for a buttery sage sauce, which I find too rich with potato gnocchi.

Not having any sage in my herb garden at the moment, I served my gnocchi with a simple butter and leek sauce, made by sauteeing finely sliced leek in a large hunk of melted butter until it was soft and melting. I mixed the cooked gnocchi in this sauce and served it topped with shaved parmesan. I was worried that this dish might taste too buttery and rich, so I served it with a very untraditional side dish of broccoli and peas, as I thought some greens would help alleviate any richness.

Thank you to Lis and Ivonne for adding a cook's challenge to The Daring Kitchen and for choosing a delicious recipe to kick things off.

Ricotta gnocchi (from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rogers)

For the gnocchi:
500g fresh ricotta
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon 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)
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
1/4 teaspoon salt
plain flour, for forming the gnocchi

You need to prepare your ricotta the day before you plan to make the gnocchi. The gnocchi will not form properly if the ricotta is too wet. Place the ricotta in a sieve lined with paper towel, cover and stand over a bowl so it can drain. Refrigerate for at least eight hours, and up to 24 hours.

The next day, place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash as best you can with a rubber spatula or large spoon. Add the lightly beaten eggs and mix in. Melt the tablespoon of butter (add in the sage here if you're using it) and add to the ricotta and egg mixture. Add in any other flavourings you're using (eg nutmeg or lemon zest), then 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.

Fill a small saucepan with water and bring to the 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.

Fill a large, shallow baking dish with a bed of plain flour. 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.

Rest the formed gnocchi on a baking tray lined with non-stick baking paper and dusted 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. (Note: I rested half my gnocchi for an hour or so and these held their shape much better than those that I cooked straight away).

Fill a large, wide saucepan with water and bring to the boil. Salt generously and then 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.

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.

To make my butter and leek sauce: melt a large hunk of butter (the amount is really up to you and how rich you want the sauce - I probably used about 100g) in a fry-pan. Finely slice a leek and saute until soft and caramelised. Mix in the cooked gnocchi, pile onto plates and top with shaved parmesan.


Audax Artifex said...

Nice job on this the 1st challenge for the DCooks' it like how kept it simple which is best for these little pillows of yummmmmmminess. I think the only hard thing in this recipe is drying the ricotta. Nice pixs of the formed gnocchi. Leeks, butter and veggies a great choice. Incidently I just love Melb I visit as often as I can. Cheers from Audax in Sydney.

Eat My Cake Now said...

Excellent idea with leeks, this must be absolutely delicious!
My cheese was very dry too.
Great job!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful gnocchi, so perfectly shaped and cooked! Nicely done!

Lisa said...

Oops, lost my post before I filled out the info. SO, here I go again. Your gnocchi turned out gorgeous and looks delicious! Nicely done!

Maria@TheGourmetChallenge said...

I love making ricotta gnocchi, you're right they are much easier to make, and I think more delicious! I'm getting hungry just thinking about them!

Suzie said...

Looks delicious - I have just joinbed daring kitchen, so I am looking forward to joining you next month.