Our inaugural Daring Cooks challenge is picked by the founders of all things daring in the kitchen, Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice. (I swear, they didn't make me say that!). I was so excited to learn that in addition to Daring Bakers, our fabulous founders had also decided to do the Daring Cooks. Most of my cooking recipes are pretty simple so it is going to be fun to push myself a bit when it comes to the savory side. I have made gnocchi one other time and it was a pretty fun process so I was excited to give this a go. Many of the Daring Cooks made their own ricotta, but I made this on one of those weekends filled with so many other recipes that I didn't feel like adding another one so I just used full fat ricotta from the store. I placed the ricotta in cheesecloth and let it "drain" overnight. I guess store bought ricotta is not as wet as homemade. I got absolutely no liquid out of it, even with wringing the cheesecloth. No matter, I pressed on. I found this challenge pretty easy, but in the end...I just didn't like the gnocchi. I enjoyed the flavor, but the texture was just not for me. I felt like I was eating baby food. For the "sauce" I made a basil oil and some crispy pancetta both of which I ate more of than the gnocchi.
Not everyone in the Daring Kitchen is a member of the Daring Cooks, but if you have a few minutes, scroll through the blogroll to check out how other cooks did on the gnocchi.
(Adapted from The Zuni Cafe Cookbook: A Compendium of Recipes and Cooking Lessons from San Francisco's Beloved Restaurant)
For the gnocchi
8 ounces fresh ricotta
1 large cold egg, lightly beaten
1/2 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) unsalted butter
A few pinches of chopped lemon zest optional
2 tablespoons Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
1/4 teaspoon salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
All-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi
For the sauce
2-3 slices prosciutto
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/3 cup fresh basil
To make the gnocchi:
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.
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). 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. Melt the tablespoon of butter and add to the ricotta mixture. Add the lemon zest, Parmgiano and the salt. Beat all the ingredients together very well. You should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with no streaks.
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 is 1/2 an inch deep. With a spatula, scrape the ricotta mixture away from the sides of the bowl and form a large mass in the center 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. Shake the dish 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 and dust it with flour.
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil and cook the remaining gnocchi and serve with the sauce.
To make the crispy prosciutto:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the prosciutto flat on the parchment. Bake for 10-12 minutes until the prosciutto is crispy. Drain on paper towels and crumble by hand.
To make the basil oil:
Roughly chop the basil and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add oil until the mixture has reached the desired consistency. Season lightly with kosher salt. (Can be made a day ahead and stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before using)