Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Welcome the Daring Cooks!

The Daring Bakers have been a roaring success, growing like kudzu, throught the efforts of the lovely and talented Lis ans Ivonne, and plenty of enthusiasm and help from their supporters and all the Daring Bakers.

Now a long held dream of our founders has come to pass in the time of new beginings, spring. The barn swallows are building their nests, the zucchini plants are putting out hopeful yellow male flower to entice the endangered bees to put them on the bee list of places to visit, lots of new beginnings come at this season of the year. Lis and Ivonne have wanted to have a companion group of Daring Cooks for many months. With the inauguration of the Daring Kitchen website, they announced the sign up for this merry group.

Daring Cooks will follow the successful Daring Bakers format, all using the same recipe and posting on the same day, with allowances for dietary and health restrictions, plus lots of room for creativity. The challenges give us an opportunity to explore new techniques, try out foods that we ordinarily wouldn't try, and to build community with the other Daring Cooks. Come join us! Just click HERE to go the the Daring Kitchen site when it is all explained.

When I was just a little too young for kindergarten, my older sister and brother were at school all day and my younger sister wasn't old enough to play with. Always content with my own company, I would spend hours in the sandbox in the back yard creating sand patties which I presented on the large maple leaves from the tree that grew over the sandbox. The patties were decorated with forsythia and azalea flower in the spring and dandelions later in the year.

This month's challenge took me back to those days. The May Daring Cooks recipe is for Ricotta Gnocchi from the Zuni Cafe. Once you have mixed together the drained ricotta, egg, melted butter and Parmesan cheese, you get to play with your food! Spoonsful of the dough are dropped on a bed of flour and then you use your floured hands to shape them into delicate ovals.


I found when I did my test simmer that if I froze the gnocchi first that they held together better for cooking, so a sheet of formed gnocchi, resting on some flour, went into the freezer until dinner time.

I chose Mother's Day to make these little puffballs of deliciousness.
It couldn't have been a better day: an extra hour of sleep was followed by Sweetie's best-in-the-world scrambled eggs. Then I got to play in the garden, take the Baker's Dog for a walk, buy paperback books for our trip, come home and play in the kitchen making the gnocchi to freeze, enjoy phone calls with my darling daughter, my lovely mother, my youngest brother and my closest sister, then more fun in the kitchen boiling the gnocchi and making the chard to go with. It would be hard for me to plan a more perfect Mother's Day (except if all the folks I talked with on the phone were here in person helping me eat the gnocchi!) and sharing this food with Sweetie and the Sharpshooter was just the best!

To go with the morsels of delight I chose to use fresh from the garden, first harvest of the season rainbow chard (if you look at the stems, you will see that they range from pale yellow to pink, yellow, orange,and red). I lightly sauteed some yellow onion in butter, washed and chopped the chard, then steamed it atop the onions. A little more butter finished it off. Being young and fresh, the chard was tender and almost sweet. It went really well with the Parmesan flavored gnocchi.

Glad that you visited this first post for me for the Daring Cooks! Hope you will visit the Daring Kitchen to sign up for next time and to check out the efforts of the other Daring Cooks. This blogroll is for the Daring Bakers, but some of them are also Daring Cooks like I am.


Zuni Ricotta Gnocchi

Source: From The Zuni Café Cookbook.
Yield: Makes 40 to 48 gnocchi (serves 4 to 6)

Prep time: Step 1 will take 24 hours. Steps 2 through 4 will take approximately 1 hour.

Tips:
- If you can find it, use fresh ricotta. As Judy Rodgers advises in her recipe, there is no substitute for fresh ricotta. It may be a bit more expensive, but it's worth it.
- Do not skip the draining step. Even if the fresh ricotta doesn't look very wet, it is. Draining the ricotta will help your gnocchi tremendously.
- When shaping your gnocchi, resist the urge to over handle them. It's okay if they look a bit wrinkled or if they're not perfectly smooth.
- If you're not freezing the gnocchi for later, cook them as soon as you can. If you let them sit around too long they may become a bit sticky.
- For the variations to the challenge recipe, please see the end of the recipe.

Equipment required:
- Sieve
- Cheesecloth or paper towels
- Large mixing bowl
- Rubber spatula
- Tablespoon
- Baking dish or baking sheet
- Wax or parchment paper
- Small pot
- Large skillet
- Large pan or pot (very wide in diameter and at least 2 inches deep)

For the gnocchi:
1 pound (454 grams/16 ounces) fresh ricotta (2 cups)
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon (1/2 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 rainbow chard sauce:
2 tablespoons butter
½ medium onion, chopped
15 – 20 leaves fresh rainbow chard (or similar), rinsed and chopped (leave the water on the leaves after rinsing
salt to taste

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). 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. If not, just melt the butter and add it to the ricotta mixture. (I didn't use any flavorings other than the butter, egg and Parmesan cheese.)

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.

Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and the salt.

Beat all the ingredients together very well. 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 and dust it with flour.

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.

Step 4: Cooking the gnocchi.

Have a large skillet ready to go. Place the butter and water for the sauce in the skillet and set aside.

In the largest pan or pot that you have (make sure it’s wide), bring at least 2 quarts of water to a boil (you can use as much as 3 quarts of water if your pot permits). You need a wide pot or 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 (as in the case with the test gnocchi).

When the gnocchi float to the top, you can start your sauce while you wait for them to finish cooking.

Place the skillet over medium heat and melt the butter. Swirl it gently a few times as it melts. As soon as it melts and is incorporated with the water, turn off the heat. Your gnocchi should be cooked by now.

With a slotted spoon, remove the gnocchi from the boiling water and gently drop into the butter sauce. Carefully roll in the sauce until coated. Serve immediately.

Variations: For the gnocchi, you can flavour them however you wish. If you want to experiment by adding something to your gnocchi (i.e., caramelized onion, sundried tomato), feel free to do so. However, be forewarned, ricotta gnocchi are delicate and may not take well to elaborate additions. For the sauce, this is your chance to go nuts. Enjoy yourselves. Surprise us!!!

Freezing the gnocchi: If you don’t want to cook your gnocchi right away or if you don’t want to cook all of them, you can make them and freeze them. Once they are formed and resting on the flour-dusted, lined tray, place them uncovered in the freezer. Leave them for several hours to freeze. Once frozen, place them in a plastic bag. Remove the air and seal the bag. Return to the freezer. To cook frozen gnocchi, remove them from the bag and place individually on a plate or on a tray. Place in the refrigerator to thaw completely. (I cooked mine without thawing) Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

9 comments :

MyKitchenInHalfCups said...

That is really gorgeous. Love that chard, so impressed it's from your garden.

tanita davis said...

Oh, wow. Daring Cooks will be a lot harder, I'd think -- in some ways. This looks tasty!

A_and_N said...

Wow, we are on it too, Elle! I thought we should post tomorrow. It was so tough for us to make this :)

But yours look so effortless!! We stuck to the basic recipe since this was our first time :)

Katie said...

Love the sound of your gnocci and the rainbow chard is so pretty. I've never dared attempt making my own.

Andrea said...

This looks like a lovely Mother's Day meal! And your chard is beautiful with it.

lisamichele said...

Nothing like being able to use homegrown goodness in your cooking, and you did an exceptional job with the chard and gnocchi. Delicious!

Jenny said...

Wow, these did not really appeal to me much but yours make me hungry. Think I should have had yours instead of mine.

Mary said...

Your gnocchi turned out well. Love that chard!

Dharm said...

Ahhh! I Thought i could and i though I would but I just couldnt find the time. Your Gnocchi looks just perfect!