This is a the first challenge of a new group I've joined, The Daring Cooks- a Daring Bakers spin off. Check out my Daring Bakers category for a round up of the previous posts. The Daring Cooks focus on cooking, vs desserts that the Daring Bakers do.
This is a rather famous dish from the Zuni Cafe in San Francisco. I remember seeing Chef/Owner, Judy Rodgers make her fabulous Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi on Martha Stewart many years ago. The idea of this gnocchi with no flour intrigued me and while I came across them again over the years in passing and then about a year ago when I finally acquired the fabulous cookery tome, The Zuni Cafe Cookbook (one of my prized cookbooks) I had not made it a priority to try them out. Which is why groups such as this are so important to a cook like me, always looking for something new and spectacular.
After making these beauties I'm excited to add another recipe to my repertoire. This is a rare thing in fact. With a large cookbook collection, the magazines I subscribe to and the dozens of food blogs I frequent, as well as my own thoughts and ideas, I'm overrun with recipes. The truth is with the number of dishes I cook, only about 5% of them make it to my permanent repertoire - that valuable recipe file in my head of tried and true classics that will never let me down. This is one of them and what an exciting addition it is.
So what about this dish makes the grade? Well, for one, the ease of the dish. Now I say this with reserve, because to be honest this was a tricky dish to get right. The ingredients are few, the technique is sparse, but with a little practice these are indeed one of the easiest, fastest items I've ever made. The other reason this becomes a classic is the taste. They are ricotta cheese, pure and simple. They can be flavoured like I did with lemon zest, but mostly its about the ricotta. The last reason this recipe is so special is its adaptability. The number of ingredients, especially vegetables, it pairs well with are never ending and it is one of those dishes than indeed will elevate that special bunch of fresh picked asparagus or sweet cherry tomatoes and make those vegetables better than they are alone.
Now, I don't want to brag, but I did make my own Ricotta for this recipe. Since I've made Ricotta a few times now, it seemed appropriate that for a recipe completely based on one ingredient,well that ingredient should really shine. Since my access to artisanal ricotta is non existent, and my homemade version is sublime, I went ahead the day before to curdle my own organic milk and get the essential ingredient in place.
I enjoyed these Gnocchi in two different ways. The first was the essential leftover dish. I emptied a refrigerator full of fabulous odds and ends into a saute pan with a splash of chicken stock, olive oil and lemon juice to make a fresh, oh so spring like Vegetable Ragout, nestling in some gnocchi. While I wouldn't say this was making something out of nothing, it was certainly a spontaneous dish that turned out splendidly and is really some of the most satisfying way to cook.
The next time I served it to some friends for a special dinner. Thinking these beauties would make a great first course, I again, looked into my freezer for inspiration. Well it is indeed spring and what could be more spring like that Wild Nettles. I had boiled and pureed a couple large bags of nettles a few weeks earlier and stashed them away for a sunny day. Ricotta and nettles seemed destined to be on the menu that night. The nettles were combined with butter, olive oil, a dash of chicken stock and lemon juice and then lightly tossed with the gnocchi. Another simple dish in which one ingredient elevated the next and vice versa.
I'm looking forward to continuing to perfect these gnocchi to something worthy of the restaurant they are named for.
Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi
Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)
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):
If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. 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.
Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi):
Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon. 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.
Add the rest of the ingredients, beating 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.
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.