I was very excited to learn about the Daring Cooks, a new group added to the Daring Kitchen family. Based on the same guidelines as the Daring Bakers, but diving headfirst into the wonderful and amazingly varied area of cooking. I signed up right away and couldn’t wait for the first challenge to be announced. However, when I found out it was Ricotta Gnocchi, I felt a little unsure. Ricotta is one of those foods I am trying to like, but I’m not quite there yet. It didn’t help that last year I made similar ricotta dumplings to go into a vegetable soup and I disliked them so much, I never blogged about it!
But, in the spirit of the Daring Cooks, I decided to give the recipe a go anyway. I am not one to back away from a challenge! I am so very glad I did because it was great! It is a nice thing to be surprised at how well a recipe turned out, far better than all of your expectations, and that is how I felt with this dish. The whole process was very simple and only took about an hour of actual hands on time.
Pushing the ricotta through a sieve gave it a lovely smooth texture. I flavoured it with fresh thyme because I wasn’t able to find sage, and it’s one of my favourite wintery herbs. I imagine that this mixture would also make a great filling for ravioli. I decided to lightly pan-sear my gnocchi and made a simple butter and thyme sauce based on the recipe given. I also threw in a handful of walnuts for some extra crunch.
Next time – and I think there will be a next time – I will make the gnocchi a little smaller as they expand while cooking and try to shape them a little more uniformly so they all cook evenly. I really enjoyed this challenge, much more than I originally thought I would, this is a killer recipe that can be tinkered with in so many ways. I am already thinking about what I’ll do differently next time, but that is a story for another day.
Adapted from The Zuni Café Cookbook by Judy Rogers
• 450g fresh ricotta
• 2 cold eggs, lightly beaten
• 15g unsalted butter
• 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, finely chopped
• ¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
• ¼ teaspoon salt
• Pepper, to taste
• Plain flour, for forming the gnocchi
Brown Butter Sauce
• 8 tablespoons butter, sliced
• 2 teaspoons water
• Thyme leaves
• ¼ cup walnuts
1. The day before you made the gnocchi, test the ricotta. If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. 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.
2. To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Press the ricotta through a strainer to smooth it out as much as possible. Add the lightly beaten eggs to the mashed ricotta.
3. Melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the thyme. 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).
4. 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.
5. 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 teaspoon, scoop up some batter and then holding the spoon at an angle, use your fingertip to gently push the ball of dough from the spoon into the bed of flour.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Bring the water back to the boil and drop the gnocchi into the water one by one. Once they float to the top, cook them for 3 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon.
11. Heat some olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat. Add about half the gnocchi and fry until lightly golden. Remove from the pan, and repeat with the other half of the batch. Set aside.
12. Add the butter, water and thyme to the frying pan. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts and the butter starts to brown. Add the walnuts, and return the gnocchi to the pan, swirling to cover them with butter. Serve immediately.