The Daring Cooks have begun! An offshoot of The Daring Bakers, group members strive to hone our skills by tackling one cooking challenge each month. For this inaugural challenge, our founders Lis and Ivonne chose the Zuni Cafe ricotta gnocchi from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers. I was thrilled to try the challenge because we dearly love gnocchi and though I’ve never been to the Zuni Cafe, I’ve heard wonderful things about it and have had the cookbook on my shelf for some time.
The ricotta cheese makes this gnocchi lighter than the traditional Italian potato gnocchi and the flavor reminded us of a very light omelet. Because we have plenty of chives and sage in our garden, I added both to the gnocchi and use more chives for garnish, a combination we thought worked well. We usually toss gnocchi with our homegrown basil pesto or sun-dried tomato pesto, but this time I decided to keep it very simple and made a browned sage butter.
The ricotta needs to be drained of as much liquid as possible before making the gnocchi, so put it in a strainer over a bowl the day before and let the liquid run off. As the book points out, use the best fresh ricotta you can afford because it makes such a difference in flavor. Check your local farmers market or store or try making your own ricotta cheese.
Thanks to our founders Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice for choosing a delicious and fun first challenge for the Daring Cooks. You gals continue to inspire me with your dedication to all the Daring folks.
Abbreviated from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers with my variations.
Makes about 48 gnocchi.
fine mesh strainer
stand mixer with paddle attachment
shallow baking dish (a pie pan works fine)
sheet pan, lined with parchment and dusted with flour
wide pan, 10 inches or more, at least 2 inches deep
16 ounces (454 g) fresh ricotta cheese
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, chopped (or a few pinches of fresh grated nutmeg or lemon zest)
10 chives, chopped (5 in the gnocchi, 5 for garnish)
1/2 ounce (14 g) Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about 1/4 cup, very lightly packed)
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
unbleached all-purpose flour (for forming the gnocchi)
8 tablespoons (4 ounces/113 g) unsalted butter, sliced
5 fresh sage leaves, chopped
1. PREPARE THE RICOTTA: Whether you have made your own or purchased, you need to drain the ricotta before using. Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth and put in your ricotta cheese in it. Let it drain for 8 to 24 hours in the refrigerator before using. You can also wrap it up like a ball in cheesecloth and give it a squeeze to help it along. Test for liquid by placing 2 teaspoons on a dry paper towel. There should only be a small wet spot under the cheese, otherwise it’s still too wet.
2. Bring about 2 cups of water to a simmer in the small pan.
3. MIX THE GNOCCHI: In the bowl of the stand mixer, beat the ricotta vigorously, then smash a little of the cheese against the side of the bowl. If you still see little firm curds, press the cheese through a strainer to break them up.
4. Stir in the eggs. Add the melted butter, chopped sage, and 5 chopped chives to the batter. Add the Parmigiano and salt and beat until the whole mixture is very soft and fluffy.
5. SHAPE: In the shallow dish, make a bed of flour. Use a spoon to scoop out about 2 to 3 teaspoons of the batter. Hold the spoon at an angle and draw it across the surface of the batter so it makes a little oval shape. Use your finger to flick it off into the flour. Gently shake the pan side to side and flip the gnocchi to coat all sides. It’s ok if the gnocchi has a few wrinkles, dimples or bumps (mine had plenty).
6. Test the first gnocchi in the simmering water. It should sink, then swell, roll, and float to the surface and should cook in about 3 to 5 minutes. If it spreads or starts to fall apart, the ricotta was probably too wet. You can try to fix it by adding a teaspoon or so of egg white to the batter. If the gnocchi seems very heavy, trying add 1 teaspoon of beaten egg. Test another gnocchi to make sure it works.
7. Finish forming the gnocchi and just leave them on a the floured sheet pan. Cook right away or refrigerate uncovered for about 1 hour. The resting and cooling makes them easier to cook and handle. They will keep in the refrigerator for up to 8 hours.
8. Bring 2 to 3 quarts of water to boil in wide pan. Add 1 teaspoon of water per quart. Add the gnocchi one at a time, adjusting the heat as you go to maintain a simmer. The gnocchi will puff and float to the surface.
9. SAGE BUTTER: While cooking the gnocchi, melt the 8 tablespoons of butter over medium heat. Add the chopped sage and cook until the butter browns. Keep warm.
10. Use a slotted spoon or skimmer to remove and drain the gnocchi. Roll them in the browned butter and serve immediately with chopped chives for garnish.