Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Daring Cooks Very First Challenge... Ricotta Gnocchi

Yeah, I know you've all been wondering what I did with that ricotta, and as usual, I've got a story for you.
Now let's just come out and say it. Do I create drama when I'm looking a challenge in the eye? Do I make something crazy happen, just so I can get a good story out of it and look witty, so that maybe you'll come back here again, looking for some good food laughs?

No! I swear it just happens! And I didn't think that it would. It was the first ever daring cooks challenge and it was gnocchi, something I have always wanted to make but never have, even though I know it's not that hard. Everything seemed perfect.
And I even made my own ricotta, and consciously decided to just go simple, no stress- classic gnocchi in a nice boring sage butter.
I mashed up the ricotta till it was nice and smooth.

Made the batter into nice little balls.
And when I tested one, somewhere in the midst of all of this, the thing dissolved. Completely. I didn't take a picture of this because I was busy swearing. I added an egg white as directed, tested again. Dissolved. Messed with it a little more. Tested, dissolved. The kids started to scream at each other. Joey came to the back door and asked me how it was going.
"GET OUT OF HERE!" (that's me)
Then, "Sadie hit me!" (that's Rosie)
Then, "Girls, can't you see I'm having a difficult time with my gnocchi?!!!" (I swear, these were my exact words, and I spoke them at a very high volume. At this moment. I was not so sure that this whole thing was a very good idea. And you can take "this whole thing" as you like it. Does it refer to the gnocchi? Or maybe the children? The husband? Take your pick.)
The whole thing was going downhill.
Against my better judgement, I just put some more flour on them and threw the damn things in the water. After a few minutes, they floated. Dead? Alive? Hard to tell.

I fixed up the butter sauce.

And, too tired for anything fancy, put them in a bowl.

And they were good. Undercooked, but like little ricotta dumplings swimming in sage butter pool. The emotional roller coaster of the meal prep was too much for me. I ate them too fast, had some leftover rhubarb custard tart, and went into a dairy coma. A daring dairy coma.

Thanks so much to Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice and Lis of La Mia Cucina for bringing us this very first Daring Cook's Challenge! Be sure to check out other gnocchi adventures at the Daring Kitchen.

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
- 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)

Videos 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)
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.

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.



  1. Alana - loved your story and the photo of your little girl digging in is precious! Your gnocchi turned out lovely and I'm glad you enjoyed them, as mine were mush lol

  2. Glad I'm not the only one who ends up yelling at the hubby when in the midst of the challenge being unreasonably challenging! I love the daring dairy coma idea :) Great job on the first Daring Cooks challenge!!

  3. A very trying meal it seems but with a good result and I love how you fixed them on the run this is the sign of a great cook which you are with children and a husband within earshot while cooking a new recipe I'm very impressed. Cheers from Audax in Australia.

  4. wonderful photos - the one with all the steam looks a bit like a science lab or witch's kitchen!

  5. I know that feeling where you are sweating over the stove and can't understand why the rest of the world can't leave you alone! lol!

  6. Looks like the whole thing was worth it in the end. The gnocchi look delicious despite the difficulties. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Hope the next few meals are drama free!

  7. We actually didn't want the kids to be freaked out by term "no-key" and not eat their dinner, so we called them "cheesies" instead. They were very popular.

  8. Mmm, your gnocchi look amazing!! Great job on this challenge =D.