Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ricotta Gnocchi

There are no ricotta gnocchi more heavenly than the ones served at Zuni Cafe in San-Francisco.  There is a recipe for them in the Zuni Cafe cookbook by Judy Rodgers.  Here is the unfortunate thing -- it is either a recipe for bliss or suicide.  The only time I got it right was with ricotta I made myself.  Even an experience cook can try to do it just right, yet after spending hours and dirtying half the dishes in her kitchen end up with  ricotta explosions instead of ricotta gnocchi.

When I was testing recipes for my upcoming Gnocchi and Spaetzle class, Zuni Cafe gnocchi were out of the question.  But I came up with a recipe that is 90% as heavenly with only 10% of work.  My recipe was inspired by Cook's Illustrated ricotta gnocchi.  It can be served with a savory sauce (the one in the picture is chive cream) or fruit and sugar (the one in the picture is nectarine).

Ricotta Gnocchi 

Since ricotta quality and wetness varies tremendously, it’s important that you stick with Calabro Whole Milk Ricotta at least for the first time to get a good feel for this dough. After that, feel free to substitute home-made ricotta, or other high quality brands, draining them as necessary to achieve the right texture.

Serves 4

16 oz container Whole Milk Calabro Ricotta, see note above
1 large egg
1 tsp Diamond Crystal Kosher salt (or 1/2 tsp table salt)
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1.25 oz all-purpose flour (about ¼ cup scooped and leveled)
3/4 oz panko bread crumbs
1/2 oz parmesan cheese, grated

Optional flavorings:
2 Tbsp finely minced fresh basil leaves
2 Tbsp finely minced fresh parsley leaves
1/4 cup cooked leeks (see the Sauces page for recipe)

  1. Find a 10-12 inch cast iron skillet to use as a weight. If none is available, stack a few Calculus books and place into a plastic shopping bag so that you don’t mess them up. Place a triple layer of paper towels on a rimmed baking sheet (12x17 of whatever size will fit a square piece of paper towel). Spread ricotta on paper towels into a shape that is slightly smaller than your cast iron skillet (or books). Cover with a triple layer of paper towels and a piece of plastic wrap. Place the weight on top and let sit at room temperature for 1 hour. Once the excess liquid is removed you should have about 12 oz of ricotta. 
  2. Break an egg into a medium bowl. Add salt and pepper and whisk lightly to combine. Add drained ricotta, flour, bread crumbs, parmesan, and any optional flavorings. Stir well to combine. Refrigerate dough for at least 15 minutes or up to 1 day. 
  3. Lightly dust work surface with flour. With floured hands, roll lemon-sized piece of dough into 3/4-inch-thick rope, rolling from center of dough outward. Cut rope into 3/4-inch-long pieces and transfer to parchment paper-lined rimmed baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough, dusting work surface with flour as needed. Cook immediately or refrigerate for up to 24 hours uncovered. 
  4. Bring 4 quarts water to boil in large pot over high heat. If planning to serve with a savory sauce, salt the water. If planning to serve with fruit, leave water unsalted. Reduce heat so water is simmering, then gently drop half of gnocchi into water. Stir with a slotted spoon to make sure no pieces are stuck to the bottom and cook until all pieces float to surface. Continue to simmer until gnocchi are cooked through, about 2 minutes longer, adjusting heat to maintain gentle simmer. Using slotted spoon, scoop gnocchi from water, allowing excess water to drain from spoon; transfer gnocchi to skillet with sauce and cover to keep warm. Repeat cooking process with remaining gnocchi. Using rubber spatula, gently toss gnocchi with sauce until uniformly coated. Serve immediately. 
Fruit and Sugar variation
Warm up sliced fruit or berries in a small saucepan or microwave just until warm. Toss with cooked gnocchi, butter, and sugar to taste.

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