Thursday, May 14, 2009

The First Daring Cooks Challenge: Ricotta Gnocchi

This is the very first Daring Cooks Challenge - an offshoot of the Daring Bakers Challenges. With the formation of the new Daring Kichen website everyone is given the opportunity to chose to sign up to complete either, or both, of the monthly challenges.

The very first Daring Cooks' challenge is ... Ricotta Gnocchi!
The Daring Kitchen chose a recipe from the stunning cookbook by Judy Rodgers, The Zuni Café Cookbook, named after her restaurant The Zuni Cafe.

On the surface, it is a very straightforward recipe. The challenge was in the forming and handling of the gnocchi. Variations of the recipe were left open for us to try whatever we wanted to do.

I made Sweet Potato Ricotta Gnocchi with a Brown Butter Sage Sauce

The Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi Recipe:

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.

Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6) My recipe was double the amount.

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.

Equipment required:

- Sieve- Cheesecloth or paper towels- 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)

Video demonstrations that might help:
Judy Rodgers Gnocchi Demo-
Making fresh ricotta demo-
Making ricotta gnocchi

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) * see my substitutions below
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 my variation I doubled all amounts above, except I kept the one pound of ricotta and added one pound cooked mashed sweet potatoes. I also added two tablespoons of brown sugar and one teaspoon of ground nutmeg.

For the gnocchi sauce:
8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
2 teaspoons water

*For my variation of Brown Butter Sage Sauce I used one stick of butter, omitted the water, added 0ne tablespoon extra virgin olive oil, fresh chopped sage leaves and a few turns of freshly ground black pepper from a pepper mill.

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.

I have made ricotta gnocchi many times over the years,and I recently posted a recipe for my favorite Spinach Ricotta Gnocchi . This time I decided to use sweet potatoes as part of the ingredients. I roasted three medium sweet potatoes until soft, allowed them to cool, removed the peels and pressed them through a potato ricer as set them aside as seen in the photo above.

The ricotta I used was very creamy, so after it drained for 24 hours to remove any excess water, as directed in the instructions above, it really did not need to be further strained, but I squeezed it through the poato ricer anyway, just to make sure it was smooth, and added it to the sweet pototoes. I am using the one pound of ricotta the recipe calls for and adding it to approximately one pound of cooked riced sweet potatoes.
Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta. I doubled the egg amount since I had double the amount of wet ingredients.

Melt the tablespoon of butter. Again I doubled this and I added 2 tablespoons of brown sugar and 1 teaspoon of nutmeg.
I added one cup of Parmigiano-Reggiano and 1/2 teaspoon 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.
This was a new technique for me, as in the past I always incorporated the flour into the ricotta mizture and then rolled out portions into long rolls and cut pieces. This technique is shown in the third video link above. The Zuni technique is to roll a spoonful of the ricotta mix into flour and handle very gently which create a very light and delicate gnocchi.
To test your gnocchi:
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.
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). I cook mine in three quick batches.

Cook in batches and when the last of the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Brown Butter Sage Sauce:

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter --I used a whole stick and added a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil, and chopped fresh sage leaves, as I had a nice new chop growing (see above)
Swirl it gently a few times as the butter melts, add the chopped sage and a few turns of a black pepper mill. As soon as all the butter is melted turn down heat to very low and allow butter to brown without burning, then 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.

The gnocchi were soft and just melted in our mouth with a sweet and savory deliciousness! All my husband kept saying was "MMMMmmmmm" as he ate them.

This was definitely a wonderful challenge and it was fun learning a new technique!

Please visit The Daring Kitchen website and learn more about Daring Bakers and Daring Cooks and visit some of the other blogs on the blogroll that participated in the May Challenge to see their ricotta gnocchi!

There is now a recipe archive, FAQ's, a forum, cookbook reviews and lots more on The Daring Kitchen web site. You can register to join too!

I hope you'll join in on all the fun and take a Daring Kitchen challenge!


Tracy said...

mmm...sweet potato, ricotta, sage...what a feast! Delicious, Pat...thanks! :o) ((HUGS))

Ciao Chow Linda said...

Brava to you for taking the challenge. I haven't made gnocchi in years and after reading your post am thinking I need to revisit.

Anonymous said...

It looks like you had a lot of fun making those. I hope you are having a lovely week.

Linda Lou said...

Sounds like a melt in your mouth recipe!! Worth a try.

Junie Moon said...

What a wonderful job you've done with this challenge, Pat! I'm super impressed. I love your idea to use the sweet potatoes, yummy. I've never had gnocchi before, so the whole project was super new to me. I'm glad of that as my point in trying the Daring Bakers and Cooks challenges is to learn.

Vee said...

Oh my! It's too much for me, but I loved seeing it and I can just imagine how delicious it must be and I loved the description of your dh mmmming his way through it.

Beverly said...

Oh, oh, Pat. Please adopt me!!!

ARLENE said...

I've made ricotta as well as potato gnocchi, but never formed them in the way you described either. These look incredibly delicious. If I weren't back to week 1 on WW, I'd rush right out and buy sweet potatoes. Sadly, I'm no longer a Daring Baker. After they switched over their site, I was unable to sign in anymore and they couldn't figure out why. I guess it saves me calories, lol. Great job, Pat.

Suzy said...

I know I would love your sweet potato version! I'd be MMMMMMMMMing the whole time too. I wish I had made a bigger batch of ricotta so I would have had extra. Nice job! Thanks for stopping by my blog.

Anonymous said...

Good job, Pat!

Junglefrog said...

It looks delicious Pat! While I loved the taste of the ricotta gnocchi, I did think it was a lot of work, but it could also be my inexperience in making them! Having seen so many wonderful recipes today I am tempted to try again!

Anonymous said...

Hey gal, out of sight. I do not think I could do this much work for food again. Aging has limitations that one must accept. I will enjoy your pictures and hearing about your family. Thanks for sharing.

Diane@A Picture is Worth.... said...

It does look like a challenge that is a little too deep for me! I agree with Beverly...I want you to adopt me! LOL

Looks delicious! Congratulations on pulling it off.

:) Diane

Tina said...

Wow! Those gnocchi look so DELISH! What wonderful classic flavours you used!
They were incredibly delicate... so much lighter than their potato cousins!
Great job!

Cheri said...

Wow! Sweet potatoes. What a great idea! That sounds sooooo good! I wasn't brave enough to venture that far from the recipe. But, I'm glad you did. I just might have to try that sometime.

Anonymous said...

Pat, I was going to do a sweet potato-ricotta gnocchi too, but there were protestss to the sweet potato, so I ditched the idea. However, I'm so glad you made it that way, and you did a beautiful job as usual - mouth watering to the 1000th degree :)

anjelikuh said...

Woww, great twist on the recipe! Love what you did with the sweet potatos, great job!

Hilary said...

Hi Pat - thanks for commenting on my blog. I've been wondering if I should have joined Daring Cooks in addition to Daring Bakers- this challenge looks so yummy!

Sarah said...

Wow I'm impressed! I love gnocchi and these look good!
Thanks for visiting me!
Sarah :)

Lauren said...

Mmm. your gnocchi looks amazing!! I love that you made it with sweet potatoes and ricotta, that sounds divine =D.

Lisa's RetroStyle said...

Ohhh, that looks so good! I wish I had time to play along with you daring cooks...I bet my husband does too;)

Sandi @the WhistleStop Cafe said...

Ricotta Gnocchi is a daring challenge!

I will try to post as I am traveling in Italy~ stop in and visit!

Claudia said...

Oh! Part of my wishes I threw down the gauntlet and took up the challenge (or am I backwards) and part of me remembers my last gnocchi dinner which was quite tasty and amazingly ugly. This looks so fabulous! I love all the ingredients and butter-sage sauce is one of my favorites.

Audax said...

One of the few posting where a flavouring was added into the ricotta and it looks so successful. I will be trying this soon and it is an easy way to get veggies into very reluctant children (and adults). Love all the photos and the sense of enthusiasm you developed in the post. Great work on this first DCooks' challenge hope you have many more happy challenges. I just love these little clouds of yummmmmminess. Cheers from Audax in Australia.

The Quintessential Magpie said...

Man oh man! Pat! This looks killer good! I will be right over with my fork! :-)


Sheila :-)

Sharon said...

Wow, this looks complicated, but very worth the effort! I've only had sweet potato gnocchi once and I'll never forget!

Nola @ the Alamo said...

If you weren't half a country away, I'd be eating over at your house daily! I just had breakfast, but those made me hungry all over again. Lord, that sage butter sauce sounds like I could drown in it~

Donna Longenecker said...

Oh my, Pat! Would you like to come and cook at my house!

Joyce said...

These look amazing. What a challenge but a fun one. My family NEVER made Gnocchi. Infact, it was not until the mid 80s that I heard of them. My neighbor in KY said her husbands Italian grandparents made Gnocchi and I was clueless. Never heard of it and never heard of any Italians in KY either:) I think perhaps it was a regional thing in Italy and obviously my grandparents did not live in that region to learn this art. I should try it one day but I have visions of all that hard work and my nutty husband putting hot sauce on them:) Then my Italian temper would flare for sure!

Connie Weiss said...

Your Gnocchi sounds delicious! I love the sage butter sauce I made.

Great job!

Olga said...

You definitely took a creative approach :)
How cool that you grow your own herbs...I tried several times, but they just weren't happy.

Penny @ The Comforts of Home/Lavender Hill Studio said...

Wow! Those look amazing! It looks like a very intensive recipe. I am in awe! Can I come for dinner?

Mama said...

Hello Pat Gnocchi is Hayley's favourite thing to eat, with all of these delicious flavours she would be as happy as can be, happy weekend, hugs, Kathy.

Judy ~ My Front Porch said...

Now that sounds like quite a process...but the end result looks amazing! I'll just come to your test kitchen to sample...if you'll have me.

Poetikat said...

They look delicioso(a), but I'll be honest, I haven't the patience for all that work. Send me a batch "Special Delivery" and I'll make short WORK of them, though.


MaryMary said...

I popped over to check out your challenge and so my hometown peeking from your latest post. Were you ever able to visit the Cherry Creek Tattered Cover? It was 4 floors and so fabulous!

Your gnocchi look so fabulous, and I have to admit to a bit of sage envy. Great job on your challenge!

Laura @ the shorehouse. said...

Oh, MY! This looks like it could be a keeper. I've never made gnocchi but have always wanted to give it a try. And I loooovvveeee brown butter sage sauce on my gnocchi, so that part would be a definite. :-) There's a resataurant at the shore that pan sears the gnocchi before adding the sage butter...mmm, mmm, good.

creampuff said...

I'm so glad that you enjoyed them! They look lovely!