Thursday, May 14, 2009

Daring Cooks Challenge: Ricotta Gnocchi

It's been a while! I've been busy, and under quite a bit of stress for various reasons. But my schedule has finally cleared up as of today, and the pressure should hopefully be gone soon, which means I will have more time to get busy in the kitchen, and write about it here. In fact, I just worked some of that stress out by kneading focaccia for the first time ever. It's rising as I type this; I hope it turns out well.

BUT... That's not what I'm here to write about today. The real point of this post is really much more exciting (although I'm pretty excited about that focaccia, to tell the truth).

Today, we reveal the results of the first ever Daring Cooks challenge! I'm very pleased and grateful to have been able to take part in this new project!

Ivonne, of Cream Puffs in Venice, and Lisa, of La Mia Cucina, who also happen to be the amazing founders of the Daring Bakers, challenged us to make ricotta gnocchi, following Judy Rodgers' recipe in The Zuni Café Cookbook.

I had only ever had gnocchi once in my life: they were potato, and storebought. So I really had no idea what to expect from this recipe. Laurent, however, made a face when I revealed the challenge to him: despite his Italian roots, he hates ricotta in most of its forms. He likes it in cannoli, but only if it's chocolate-flavoured. Nevertheless, he was open to being my taste-tester.

You can find the original recipe and tips at the Daring Kitchen. The main purpose was for us to make and shape the gnocchi - the seasonings and sauce were left up to us.

It was recommended to use fresh ricotta, or make our own (which a lot of impressive Daring Cooks did). I, however, was unable to find fresh ricotta, and was already intimidated enough by this challenge without adding an extra difficulty. So I used *gasp!* the generic variety.

For the sauce, I decided on something I knew Laurent would like, to make up for the fact that I was forcing him to eat ricotta: I made a broccoli cream sauce, with loads of parmesan.

The verdict: I had fun making the gnocchi, but I am still not sure whether they came out the way they were supposed to - there's a chance my cheese was still too wet. The gnocchi didn't disintegrate in the boiling water, which was apparently the biggest risk with this challenge. But, while they were pleasantly light and airy, they remained very mushy, too soft for me to stick a fork in them and lift them. And you know what? I think I agree with Laurent on ricotta: it's not my favourite cheese either. Then again, maybe it's my fault for using generic ricotta...

Also, looking at others' pictures, I realize I could have made more of an effort to form beautiful, smooth gnocchi. I was afraid of overhandling them, so I kept them rather rustic, but perhaps I was being overly cautious.

I froze half of the gnocchi, for future use. Some people pan-fried theirs, and I think I might try the same with my leftovers: I have a feeling the added crunch would be a definite plus.

At any rate, my thanks to Ivonne and Lisa for inspiring us to try new things!

Adapted Challenge Recipe:
Ricotta Gnocchi in a Broccoli Cream Sauce

Yields 48 small gnocchi

For the gnocchi:
454g (1 pound/16 oz/ 2 cups) fresh ricotta
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tbsp (1/2 oz) unsalted butter, melted
15g (½ oz) Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
¼ tsp salt
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

For the sauce:
One head of broccoli
160ml (2/3 cups) heavy cream
120ml (1/2 cup) grated parmesan
Fresh-ground pepper

To drain the ricotta:
Line a sieve with paper towels, place over a bowl and drain in the fridge for 24 hours. It is important for the ricotta to be dry, or the gnocchi will fall apart. (Note: I pressed the cheese every now and then and changed the towels, to get as much moisture as possible out.)

To make the gnocchi batter:
Put the ricotta in a large bowl and mash it with a rubber spatula (you need a flexible tool here). Incorporate the eggs and the melted butter. Finally, add the grated parmesan and the salt. Scrape the bowl with the spatula and gather the batter in the center of the bowl.

To shape the gnocchi:
Before you start making the gnocchi, get a small pot of water boiling, salt it, and keep it at a simmer. You will use this to test your first gnocchi.

Line two baking sheets with parchment or waxed paper and dust with flour. Cover the bottom of a large, shallow baking pan with 1 cm (1/2 inch) of flour.

Collect a tablespoon of ricotta mixture and gently drop it into the flour. Roll it in the flour so that it is coated in it (either by pushing it around with your fingers or by gently shaking the pan). Pick up the ball of batter and shape it into an oval by pressing it delicately in your palm.

Once your first gnocchi is ready, drop it into the simmering water. It will sink, then bob to the surface. Once it is floating, let it cook for 3-5 minutes, until it is firm. If it holds together, your batter is fine. If not, it is recommended to add egg white, or beaten egg. Otherwise, some people added flour to the batter. Run a second test, just to make sure.

Looks lonely, doesn't it?

Shape the rest of your gnocchi in the same way. You can put several balls in the flour-pan at the same time, just make sure they don't touch each other. Place them on the prepared baking sheets when they are formed and coated.

To cook the gnocchi:
Once your gnocchi are all shaped, you can either cook them right away, or put them in the fridge for an hour to firm them up (Note: they may be stickier coming out of the fridge. If so, sprinkle some more flour on them). If you want to freeze them for later, put the baking sheets in the freezer for several hours, then put the gnocchi in airtight bags.

Before you start cooking the gnocchi, make the sauce (see below).

Get a large pot of water simmering and salt it (the pot must be large to prevent the gnocchi from bumping into each other). Drop the gnocchi in and cook them the same way you did with the tester. Remove with a slotted spoon, coat in the sauce, pepper to taste, and serve immediately.

To make the sauce:
Chop the broccoli tips and boil them in salted water until they are very soft (overcooked, in fact). Drain, run under cold water, and reserve.

Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small pan, stirring constantly. Incorporate the broccoli, and mash thoroughly with a spoon. Remove from heat and puree with a hand mixer. Return to low heat, add the parmesan, and stir until melted. If the sauce is too liquid, dissolve a teaspoon of cornstarch in a tablespoon of cream, add it to the sauce and bring back to a boil (or just add a tablespoon of Maizena).


  1. aww, sorry to hear that you didn't like the ricotta. Your gnocchis were beautifully made though! Goreat job!

  2. No way, I like yours! I think next time I will try putting them into the flour with a spoon. If there is a next time! Tell Laurent that he had better shape up, now that you have this blog he has to be the official taste tester! Although with a broccoli cream sauce how could he not like it.

  3. I think you did an excellent job and broccoli cream sauce sounds delicious! My husband loves anything broccoli. Very creative!

  4. I too used the store bought variety for the gnocchi... (shtt... don't tell anyone!) Your broccoli creamsauce actually sounds like something I might be tempting to make for another pasta recipe. I think the ricotta gnocchi are too much of a hassle for me!

  5. Your broccoli cream sauce is so creative! I am going to have to try making something like that sometime :)

  6. I'm sorry that you didn't like them, but your gnocchi look lovely =D. Your sauce sounds wonderful as well!

  7. Glad you enjoyed the challenge even though you didn't enjoy the ricotta that much...Broccoli cream sauce huh? That's something my mom would definitely love.