daring cooks: ricotta gnocchi with lemon & sage pangritata

the daring bakers has evolved into the daring kitchen and there is now a daring cooks group which focuses on savoury dishes. at the moment i am part of both groups but this may evolve as finding the time to make two prescribed recipes each month is not always easy, even though i think i should be able to manage just fine.

the first daring cooks challenge, as chosen by lis and ivonne, the founders of the daring kitchen, is ricotta gnocchi! i was really excited to see this come up even though i’ve never had it before and didn’t really know what to expect other than a lighter gnocchi than the more familiar potato version.

it turns out ricotta gnocchi is very simple – ricotta, flavourings (in this case parmesan, lemon and sage) and an egg to lighten everything up.

so, how did i get on?

firstly, i decided to make my own ricotta which was very easy and very satisfying – the method i used simply involves curdling full-fat milk with lemon juice and draining away the whey. all the flavour comes from the milk so you need to make sure that you choose good quality organic stuff.

making the gnocchi themselves was also very easy, although i chose to make mine much smaller than suggested as they are incredibly rich, reminding me of a cheese soufflé. they are beautifully light and entirely unlike potato gnocchi. they are also much less messy to make (i have bad memories of a kitchen coated in mashed potato and flour, neither of which are easy to clean up).

working out what to serve with them was left up to us and was the point at which we were expected to get creative. having tried one of the gnocchi (the recipe calls for you to make a sample to ensure the mix is the right consistency) i wanted something that wouldn’t overwhelm the delicate gnocchi flavour. as a result i chose crispy sage and lemon breadcrumbs cooked in butter (aka pangritata). this worked quite well but only added to the richness of the dish which i struggled with as a result. something lighter and fresher would be my choice next time – perhaps a fresh tomato and basil salsa.

the final verdict:

  • would i have tried this recipe if it hadn't been part of the daring bakers challenge? yes, it would have intrigued me.
  • would i try this recipe again in the future? yes but i’d want to fiddle about with it, perhaps upping the flavours in the gnocchi itself as well as trying different sauces. i’ve also seen recipes when the gnocchi are poached and then fried which would be interesting to try.

judy rogers zuni café ricotta gnocchi (makes 40 to 48 gnocchi which serves 4 to 6)

450 grams fresh ricotta*

2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 or 3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of grated lemon zest (all optional)

2 tablespoons parmigiano-reggiano, grated

about ¼ teaspoon salt

plain flour for forming the gnocchi

step 1 (the day before you make the gnocchi): preparing the ricotta

if the ricotta is too wet, your gnocchi will not form properly. judy rodgers recommends checking the ricotta’s wetness by placing a teaspoon or so on a paper towel. if you notice a very large ring of dampness forming around the ricotta after a minute or so, then it is too wet. to remove some of the moisture, line a sieve with muslin or paper towels and place the ricotta in the sieve. cover and let it drain over a bowl for at least 8 hours (and up to 24) in the fridge. if you are making your own ricotta this step is unnecessary as it forms part of the process of making the cheese.

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 (i used a rubber spatula – it was helpful to have something with a bit of flexibility in it). 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. as it melts, add in the sage if you’re using it (i used it). if not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture. add any additional flavouring that you’re using (i used lemon zest) plus the parmigiano-reggiano and the salt.

mix all the ingredients together - you should end up with a soft and fluffy batter with everything mixed in very well.

step 3: forming the gnocchi

bring a small pan of water to the boil, salt the water generously and keep it at a simmer. you will use this to test the first gnocchi to ensure that it holds together and that your gnocchi batter isn’t too damp.

in a large shallow dish make a bed of flour that’s ½cm deep.

using a tablespoon, scoop up about 2 to 3 teaspoons of batter (i found this made gnocchi dumplings which were much too large so only used c1 teaspoon of mix per gnocchi) 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 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 which will 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 and place them on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and dusted with flour.

you can cook the gnocchi right away, however, judy rodgers recommends putting them in the fridge for an hour prior to cooking to allow them to firm up (i did this).

step 4: cooking the gnocchi.

prepare your sauce**

bring a large pan of water to the boil - you need a large wide 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.

with a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and serve with your sauce (if you want to mix the sauce with the gnocchi be very careful as they are very delicate). serve immediately.

* i made my own ricotta, look here for details

** my sauce (lemon and sage pangritata)was very simple – for 2 people, i melted 25g butter, added 6 shredded sage leaves and breadcrumbs from 1 loaf of bread. this was fried until the breadcrumbs were crispy (which took about the same length of time as it took to cook the gnocchi) and added the grated zest of half a lemon. i then topped the gnocchi with this plus parmesan and the zest from the other half of the lemon. season well and serve.