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DARING COOKS FIRST CHALLENGE - RICOTTA GNOCCHI

For those of you who follow my blog, you probably know that I belong to Daring Bakers. This is an International group that bakes a monthly challenge we are presented with, then we post our results on our blog on a given date. The challenges vary in difficulty, and have been a lot of fun. They often move you outside of your comfort zone into something new to try that you probably wouldn't have tried otherwise.

The Daring Bakers have evolved, and their website is now The Daring Kitchen. Check it out-it's a great site. And now, in addition to the Daring Bakers, we have the Daring Cooks. It will work in the same way-one of the members chooses a recipe for us to make that month, we are given the rules of what we can change and what part of the recipe has to stay the same, then we all post on our blogs on the given date.

The first month's challenge was chosen by the 2 ladies who started the Daring Bakers 2 1/2 years ago. Ivonne, of Cream Puffs in Venice, and Lisa, of La Mia Cucina. For the first ever Daring Cook's Challenge, they chose...

RICOTTA GNOCCHI

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They chose a recipe from the cookbook by Judy Rodgers, named after her restaurant, The Zuni Café Cookbook. They say that on the surface, it's a very straightforward recipe. The challenge is in the forming and handling the gnocchi. What we do to the gnocchi, and the sauce we use is totally up to us.

Since we had full reign of what we wanted to flavor our gnocchi with and what type of sauce to make, I had a big decision. Do I make a shrimp and saffron sauce, or maybe add herbs to the gnocchi and top with a light tomato sauce? After some thought (and looking through my pantry for what ingredients I had on hand) I decided that I would make a Porcini Mushroom Gnocchi with Leek Truffle Butter Sauce.

I began by making the gnocchi, and to the mixture I added porcini mushroom powder. I just took some dried porcini mushrooms, and ground them to a powder in a spice grinder. You can add to taste. I didn't measure, but added around 1-2 tablespoons. I didn't have any trouble with forming these little puffs. They held together well, and were much easier and faster to work with than potato gnocchi. I did have to cook them a little longer than called for to get them to be firm enough.

For the Leek Truffle Butter Sauce, melt a stick of butter in a skillet. Add one leek that has been cleaned, sliced in half, then thinly sliced. Saute until the leeks are soft, then add Black (or White) Truffle Oil to taste(try about a tablespoon). When your gnocchi are cooked, add to the truffle butter, stir to coat, and serve.

Okay, what did I think about Ricotta Gnocchi? They were not my favorite. I love potato gnocchi, but I didn't care for the texture of these. They are definately lighter than the ones made with potato, and were much easier to make also (if you don't count the time it takes to make and drain the home-made ricotta). I used home-made ricotta, and it was extremely dry when I started ( I really squeezed out the moisture). I did not have to add any additional egg whites to get the correct texture. I don't want to discourage anyone from trying these, especially if you've had ricotta gnocchi before and enjoyed them. But for me, I'll stick with Potato Gnocchi.

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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.
Tips:

- 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.

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 (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.

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).

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into a butter sauce or sauce of your choice. 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.

Comments (10)

Your sauce sounds delicious!

Lisa:

Your gnocchi looks so delicious and perfectly executed! Great job!

nancyhol:

You do so many interesting challenges, Cindy.

I think the gnocchi and the sauce sound wonderful.

Regarding your ricotta being dry, that is what happened to mine when I made it. I wasn't sure what to do about it, though.

Good job on the challenge! I may have to check out those websites.

Nancy-that's interesting that your ricotta was so dry when you made it. When I made it the first time, I did stir in a couple of tablespoons of heavy cream. For the gnochhi, the ricotta was supposed to be really dry-I drained it, squeezed it, etc. Next time you make it, if it's not for a recipe where you want really dry ricotta, try stirring in heavy cream until it the creaminess you are looking for.

Jenn:

This is such a creative variation! I love the idea of incorporating mushrooms into the gnocchi, and that leak truffle sauce sounds fantastic!

I am sad that I never made the challenge. One would think that with a month and a fridge full of ricotta I might have done better! ARGH

I've made ricotta gnocchi a few times and loved it.

Marcia:

Delicious, delicious, I truly wish you lived next door and I could show with a small empty plate every now and then.

Mmm, your gnocchi look amazing!! Great job =D.

sheri:

They look wonderful, Cindy. I love Ricota gnocchi. Not long ago I tried to make them. Now I realize that the Ricotta was not dry enough!They were really hard to handle.

Your gnocchi look delicious, and I love the flavors you used. I enjoyed the challenge, but like you, definitely prefer potato gnocchi. Nice work!

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