Daring Cooks inaugural edition: Zuni's Ricotta Gnocchi

We are very excited to tell you that the Daring Bakers now have a sister group: The Daring Cooks! The premises are exactly the same as for the Daring Bakers, except that this is about cooking rather than baking. Cool huh?! Mark the 14th of every month in your calendars, because that's when the monthly Daring Cooks challenge will be revealed, here and on foodie blogs all over the world!

For this inaugural edition, our hosts are the founders of the Daring Bakers: Lisa of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Creampuffs in Venice. They have done a tremendous job these past months with the sparkling new website for the Daring Kitchen and the creation of the Daring Cooks. For the first Daring Cooks challenge they chose Ricotta Gnocchi from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook by Judy Rodgers.

We were sure that gnocchi always includes potatoes, so only by hearing about this challenge we learned something new. After following the discussions on the members-only Daring Kitchen forums, we also learned that it's possible to make your own ricotta! It seemed so simple that we decided to skip the store-bought stuff in a plastic jar, and go at it from scratch. We weren't sorry: we are never buying ricotta again, as making it was dead simple and also much cheaper. We found the ricotta recipe at Eggs on Sunday (it's originally from Gourmet). Seriously, how easy isn't this?!

Homemade ricotta

9½ dl milk
1 dl heavy cream
1/4 tsp coarse salt
1½ tbsp lemon juice

Line a colander with a cheesecloth and set in a large bowl.
Combine milk, cream and salt in a sauce pan. Bring it to a simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to prevent it from scalding in the bottom of the pan. When it has reached a steady simmer, add the lemon juice and stir gently, just to blend. Let the mixture sit for about one minute - turn down the heat if needed - it should be simmering, not boiling. When one minute has passed, stir again, and let it sit for another minute or so. The liquid should now have separated into curds and whey. Drain the mixture in the cheesecloth at room temperature for about one hour. Transfer the ricotta to a covered container and store in the fridge. We got about 220 grams of ricotta from this.

See, that wasn't hard, right? And it tasted really nice; I normally don't care for plain ricotta, but this stuff could be eaten with a spoon! Anyway, after making the ricotta, it was time to get to the gnocchi. The recipe itself is very simple, all you need is drained ricotta (the drained part is very important!), eggs, melted butter and finely grated Parmigiano cheese. Flavorings such as herbs and/or lemon zest are optional. For the full recipe and all the how-tos of ricotta gnocchi making, visit our hosts!

From the forums we had tales of gnocchi refusing to be shaped, disintegrating while cooking and tasting like eggs (the latter is not good in Markus' book). Fortunately, none of this happened to us. The trial gnocchi that we cooked first fell apart a bit when we plated it, but for the rest we followed the advice of a fellow Daring Cook, Audax Artifex, and used boiling rather than simmering water, which resulted in firmer gnocchi.

The sauce was our chance to be creative. We decided to go with mild flavors, as not to overpower the delicate gnocchi. The original recipe comes with a butter-based sauce (as in melted butter+water), and butter is always better so we decided to do a butter-based sauce as well. We wanted something a bit more substantial, and one thing that works well with butter is aubergine - it soaks the butter right up. So thin slices of aubergine went into the pan, together with a big lump of butter, some lemon zest and fresh thyme. After a while the aubergine had soaked up all the butter, so we had to add some more, along with freshly ground black pepper.

We served the gnocchi and the sauce together with grated Parmegiano cheese and toasted pine nuts, plus a twig of fresh thyme for garnishing (its butter-soaked cousins didn't wanna get in front of the camera).

As can be deduced from above, this tasted really good. Just don't make a habit of eating stuff with melted butter on top - we had this for lunch on Saturday, and for dinner we had the mussels in our previous post.... and on Sunday, we rested.

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