This weekend we celebrated Lobster and my father-in-law's birthday and it was a glutinous night of eating. Apparently this seems to be the ongoing theme in my life ever since I got married. We feasted on steaks, pizza made with my favorite dough, and these ricotta gnocchis. I've never been a fan of ricotta anything, but after making my own cheese at home, I am now a believer! Who knew how simple it is to make your own ricotta?! It is so different then anything you'd get from the store and there's absolutely no comparison. The gnocchis cooked up to be light pillowy puffs of tasteless clouds that literally dissolved in your mouth. While I was pleased with the texture of the gnocchi, I found them to be quite bland (i.e. the tasteless cloud analogy) and the brown butter sauce didn't add much flavor to the finished dish. That was probably my own fault though, but I imagine this would be fabulous with a stronger flavored sauce, so I'm determined to revisit this recipe! I'd say for my first attempt at gnocchi it was a semi-success, but a tremendous labor of love. So if you're looking for a weekend project, this would be a great start. If you're intimated by the gnocchi - do not forgo the the ricotta, it was simply delightful.
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated
Makes about 3 cups of ricotta
1 gallon whole organic milk (Horizon brand)
1 tsp kosher salt
2/3 cup lemon juice
Using a large heavy bottomed pot heat the milk over medium heat for about 15 minutes until temperature register 185F on a candy thermometer stirring continuously so milk does not scorch. Take pot off the heat and slowly stir in lemon juice until fully incorporated for about 10 seconds. You will begin to see curds forming. Stop stirring since you don't want to disturb the curds separating from the whey. Leave undisturbed for 5 minutes. If milk does not turn translucent and is still milky add one more tablespoon of lemon juice and stir slowly until incorporated and leave to set for another 5 minutes. Continue this process until liquid turns opaque. After curds have formed, leave undisturbed for 20 minutes.
Line colander or large strainer with double layer of cheesecloth and set over sink. Drain the liquid into cheesecloth and allow to drain until you see no more liquid draining from the colander. Use immediately or transfer to an air tight container and refrigerate up to three days.
Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi 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 (do not over beat)
- 1 tablespoon (½ 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
For the gnocchi sauce:
- 8 tablespoons (227 grams/1/4 pound/4 ounces) butter, sliced
- 12 sage leaves
- Step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): Preparing the ricotta. If the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. In her cookbook, Judy Rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness. To test the ricotta, take a teaspoon or so and place it on a paper towel. If you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then the ricotta is too wet. 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. Either way, it’s recommended that you do this step the day before you plan on making the gnocchi.
- Step 2 (the day you plan on eating the gnocchi): Making the gnocchi dough. To make great gnocchi, the ricotta has to be fairly smooth. Place the drained ricotta in a large bowl and mash it as best as you can with a rubber spatula or a large spoon (it’s best to use a utensil with some flexibility here). Push the ricotta through a strainer so you make it as smooth as possible. Add the lightly beaten eggs, melted butter, parmesan and salt to the mashed ricotta. (If you are using other fixin's - when you melt the tablespoon of butter. As it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture.) Add in any flavouring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavouring, that’s fine. Beat all the ingredients together very well. (You want to quickly beat the mixture when you begin beating. When I watched the video of them making this they first began beating the mixture by scooping along the side of the bowl then began using a scooping motion starting at the sides of the bowl and scooping in towards the middle while turning the bowl. Keep beating like this until you start to see the mixture cleanly pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Here is a link to the video.) 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. 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. 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.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. You can keep them covered in the fridge for about 6 hours.
- Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi. Place the 8 tablespoons of butter in a 12-inch skillet; set aside. Bring 2 to 3 quarts water to a simmer in a wide pan, 10 or more inches in diameter, so the gnocchi won't crush each other too much as they push to the surface. You want them to be able to float in one even layer. A sauté pan, flared brasier, or saucier pan will work, as long as it is at least 2 inches deep. Salt the water liberally—about 1 teaspoon per 4 cups of water. Add the gnocchi one by one, adjusting the heat to maintain the simmer. Dip your fingertips in water if you find they are sticking to the gnocchi, but don't fret if the gnocchi stick a little to the paper. Do avoid holding the tray of gnocchi in the steam. Cook the gnocchi as you did the sample, until just firm, 3 to 5 minutes from the time they float. You can taste it to check that its done or hold it up with your fingers and the gnocchi should be able to hold its shape and not fall on itself. Meanwhile, as soon as the gnocchi float to the surface, place the pan of butter and water over medium heat. Swirl the pan as the butter melts and begins to seethe. As soon as the butter is completely melted and has turned into an opaque pale yellow sauce, turn off the heat. Let it get golden brown but not dark brown or else the butter will burn. Turn off heat, add the sage leaves and swirl the pan a few more times. Lift the gnocchi out with a slotted spoon or skimmer, slide into the ready skillet, and roll in the warm butter sauce. Serve instantly in warm bowls.