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daring cooks: ricotta gnocchi

Recipe: ricotta gnocchi and butter poached lobster

What? Daring COOKS?! You thought it was Daring Bakers, right? Well, I *am* a Daring Baker. I have the scars to prove it. But, I am also a Daring COOK. That’s right kids, double the craziness – the Daring Cooks have launched, so buckle that helmet and fasten your seat belts!

daring cooks – serving up whoopass soup since may 2009

This maiden recipe is hosted by our very own goddess founders: Lis of La Mia Cucina and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice. Yes, these are the women who brought you thousands of cheesecakes, metric tons (tonnes) of buttercream frosting, and vats of chocolate ganache glaze to your web browsers. Now they will do the same this month, with ricotta gnocchi from the Zuni Café Cookbook.

whisking eggs

combining the gnocchi ingredients

I’ve had potato gnocchi on my list for a couple of years now, so ricotta gnocchi was a good nudge in the right direction for me. As Jeremy likes to say, “It’s always good to know how to do things.” Although the instructions said fresh ricotta was better, I was lucky to even GET ricotta at all because things have been so hectic. I strained my ricotta as directed and not a drop of liquid squoze out in 8 hours. I got nervous because everyone warned that excess moisture in the cheese could tank the whole recipe – that was the last thing I needed. The morning of, I set the ricotta between several dish towels and paper towels and stacked heavy pots and mixing bowls on top to strain out any liquid.

ricotta mixture at the ready

forming delicate gnocchi and rolling in flour

I opted out of adding any flavorings since I was unfamiliar with ricotta gnocchi – I wanted to experience it as-is. My gnocchi formed easily enough and they didn’t fall apart when I rolled them in flour. The test gnocchi held up just fine when I boiled it and the texture was delicate, the flavor mild. I did let the remaining gnocchi rest in the refrigerator for an hour before cooking while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

waiting for the boil

My biggest challenge was deciding on what to pair the gnocchi with. I didn’t want a sauce, per se. I wanted accompaniments that had equally subtle, but wonderful flavors. Something special that Jeremy would enjoy. Because the suggested sauce for the gnocchi in the recipe was a butter sauce, I figured lobster tails could step in easily enough. I searched online and Thomas Keller’s butter-poached lobster kept coming up. Who am I to argue with Mr. Keller? Butter-poaching it would be. He blanches the tails first so it’s easy to remove the meat from the shell before the poaching, but I thought – I’m just dealing with the tails, how hard could it be to remove the raw tail meat? My cut and scratched hands produced one perfectly intact raw tail and one rather mangled raw tail.

prepping two lobster tails (less than 8 oz a piece)

raw tail meat

The third member of the triumvirate gave me the most trouble. I wanted a green, but felt that asparagus, spinach, kale were all rather tired. Nothing screams spring more to me than snow pea shoots. That’s frustrating because not a single store in Boulder carries them. The fellas at Whole Foods? They didn’t know what they were. The lady at the Asian grocer who always shouts at me (even when in a good mood), she says she can’t carry them because nobody buys them. I drove into Denver and was rewarded with gorgeous, lovely snow pea shoots – the little tender leaves at the top and the tiny tendrils that curl off the top of the stem. Precious. These were simply prepared in vegetable oil, a little salt, and smashed garlic cloves. That’s all.

the lovely buttery poaching

a petit chablis with dinner

My dear Barbara gave me several wine recs when I asked her for help. She’s brilliant, and I went to our local wine store to see what they had. No Chablis, but they did have a petit Chablis and I gave it a try. Not bad, not a Chablis, but not bad. Overall, the meal was very nice, but… I think I want to try potato gnocchi as I like the texture and flavor better than ricotta gnocchi. My favorite part was actually the snow pea shoots :) Big thanks to Lis and Ivonne for being such awesome hostesses.

phenomenal: butter-poached lobster, snow pea shoots, and ricotta gnocchi

Ricotta Gnocchi
[print recipe]
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.
Notes: 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.

16 oz./450g fresh ricotta
2 large cold eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 oz. unsalted butter
2-3 fresh sage leaves, or a few pinches of freshly grated nutmeg, or a few pinches of grated lemon zest (all optional)
1/2 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated (about ¼ cup very lightly packed)
1/4 tsp salt (a little more if using kosher salt)
all-purpose flour for forming the gnocchi

gnocchi sauce:
I didn’t use this, I just ladled the butter that the lobster was poached in over the gnocchi
4 oz. butter, sliced
2 tsps water

butter-poached lobster
mangled from Thomas Keller’s version at French Laundry
2 lobster tails (about 6 oz. each)
4 oz. of butter, cut into 8 pieces
4 oz. of water (or as some use, champagne!)

The day before: 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.

The day of: 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. Add in any flavoring that you’re using (i.e., nutmeg, lemon zest, etc.). If you’re not using any particular flavoring, 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).

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 half 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.

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.

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. Cook as directed for fresh gnocchi.

For the lobster: You can blanch the lobster in a pot of boiling water for a few minutes to make it easier to remove the flesh from the shell. Me? I just coaxed the meat out of the tails (tails are easier) raw. Remove the meat from the shell and set aside. Heat the water or champagne in a small saucepan on high until it boils. As it boils, whisk in the butter one piece at a time. Turn the heat down to a simmer and continue whisking (to keep it emulsified). Place the lobster meat in the simmering butter emulsion (nominally at 190°F) and cook until it is no longer translucent (but still tender!). Remove and serve with gnocchi. Season the butter poaching with salt and serve over the gnocchi and the lobster.

42 nibbles at “daring cooks: ricotta gnocchi”

  1. Maja says:

    Potato gnocchi … don’t wait to make them, whenever you have some excess boiled or mashed potatoes, you can use that to make the gnocchi. :)
    This all sounds deliciuos, i wish i could decipher what snow pea shoots are … i’ll try googling their latin name. :)

  2. Meeta says:

    ummm! when can i come over?

  3. joanne at frutto della passione says:

    Your pictures are as gorgeous as always! I have joined the tribe of Daring Cooks, the Daring Bakers may have to wait until I retire, or win the lottery, but for now I will be a Daring Cook! Can’t wait for your challenge!

  4. Rosa says:

    OMG, what a perfect dish! Your gnocchi are very pretty!



  5. lili - pikelet & pie says:

    Looks wonderful! Your gnocchi are so smooth and perfectly formed, mine turned out to be like little brains :)
    What a decadent dish.

  6. Aran says:

    looks AMAZING!

  7. Marija says:

    Love how your gnocchi turned out! But those lobster tails! Yum!

  8. Caramelsutra says:

    Pacific Ocean Market in Broomfield sells the snow pea shoots by the ton (tonne). I buy them in these gigantic bags and then, we can never actually finish them…This sounds so delish! Could you suggest an alternative to the lobster? I am “intolerant” to crabs and don’t know whether the same applies to lobster, but I think it may be pan-crustacean…

  9. Esther says:

    Wonderful as always. I must try some pea shoots if I end up with extra plants on the allotment.

  10. Andrea says:

    That was a very special meal and your gnocchi look fabulous!

  11. Macie says:

    I’ve never heard of ricotta gnocchi… but it sounds like something my fiance would LOVE.

  12. Jenny says:

    Very classy! It was a fun challenge and I’m glad I did it, but I dont think I’ll be making them again, rather odd texture!

  13. Lisa says:

    Not only is everything beautiful, but pairing the gnocchi with poached lobster is simply heaven.

  14. Olga says:

    I forgot how gorgeous your photos are. And what a nice way to make this dish fancy. Looks great!

  15. rose says:

    As always, your pictures are perfect and your food looks gorgeous! How did you get your gnocchi so perfectly smooth?!!??! I was afraid of handling them too much, but yours look perfect :) Excellent job! Lobster? YUM!

  16. Caitlin says:

    Those look just perfectly formed! And I wouldn’t argue with butter-poached lobster :) The snow pea shoots sound intriguing – I’ve never had them, and somehow think it would snow in hell before they’d show up in Wisconsin. On to the potato gnocchi, right?

  17. nico says:

    NIce combination!! those look really nice.

  18. Fiona says:

    What a pretty plate. I think your meals are appealing partly because they’re so simple and I always know that you’ve used really delicious products.

  19. Memoria says:

    Beautiful photos as always. I love the photo of the lone gnoccho reclining in your floured hand. :)

  20. Charmian Christie says:

    I’ll take the lobster and wine! My results weren’t nearly as pretty. Well done!

  21. Jenn says:

    mmmm lobster! What a great combo with the gnocchi!

  22. Sherry says:

    Oh my god, snow pea shoots! It’s one of my favorite greens! Thankfully, I’ve been able to find them easily enough at Chinese grocery stores but they’re always so expensive… T_T

  23. tigress says:

    i really can’t take this! it looks AMAZING!
    like heaven on a plate. SERIOUSLY!

  24. sabina says:

    how divine…

  25. Manggy says:

    That is just WAY decadent. Five-star! :) (I of course am emphasizing the lobster… Poached in butter. OMG.) Glad to see that the gnocchi worked out without a problem. You must’ve gotten the driest ricotta in the land! :)

  26. absley says:

    pesky lobster tails! it all looks delicious though and so different from my take on the gnocchi.

  27. Irene says:

    My mom used to make these for us when I was a kid. She would sweeten them with a bit of sugar and serve them for breakfast with butter and sour cream. yuuuum.

  28. Maggie says:

    Jen, I abolutely love your site, but I never comment for some reason. I had to today because you managed to use “squoze” in a sentence and I think that is hilarious! Ha ha ha!!! It’s a good word.

  29. Wendy says:

    How decadent! Your gnocchi look wonderful.

  30. katie says:

    lobster…YUM! Your gnocchi looks so perfectly shaped! How did you do it? Nice work!

  31. Tartelette says:

    Lobstah!! Love this!! I’ll have to censor myself in a couple of weeks and try not to shoot the woman in action all the time. There is going to be a lot of click click click, tap tap tap on keyboards and cameras I think!
    Can’t wait to get new produce and stuff people don’t get here like pea shoots if they are still around (prob not, dunno) A trip to the Asian store is a must also!
    The gnocchi sound and look absolutely delicious! You are a DB/DC stud!

  32. Asianmommy says:

    Looks beautiful!

  33. cindy says:

    i’ve never had lobster…something about eating an animal out of its body cavity, but i’m working on getting over it :) this looks FANTASTIC!

  34. Mrs Ergül says:

    Wow! Look at that plate! It looks so pretty awesome! Jeremy is a lucky lucky man to have you as his wife!

  35. Audax Artifex says:

    What a wonderful effort you put into this challenge and teaming the ricotta gnocchi with lobster and snow pea shoots is inspired I think people forget that seafood is excellent with delicate ricotta gnocchi. I found this recipe were little cloud bursts of yummmmminess! Also the shaped gnocchi looks so nice beautiful infact. Superb photos. Hope you have many more happy DCooks’ challenges. Your man is so fortunate to have such an excellent cook at home. Cheers from Audax in Australia

  36. sweetbird says:

    Snow pea shoots make me weak in the knees.

    As does Thomas Keller…

  37. Simone (junglefrog) says:

    Your gnocchi look absolutely beautiful and soooo nicely formed!! That was one of the hardest parts I think but you’ve done remarkably well. And what a great idea to pair it with the lobster! Looks delicious!

  38. Lauren says:

    Yum! Your gnocchi look amazingly good!! I love your photos =D.

  39. Chickiedoodle says:

    How wonderfully original…. I have been dying to try butter poaching. You might like the gnocchi better with an herb added.

  40. Madam Chow says:

    Beautiful – the lobster was a fantastic idea. And I agree with Jeremy – it IS good to know how to do things! :)

  41. Melissa says:

    I saw so many people who paired them with something tomato-y. I LOVE that you didn’t simply because tomato based is never my preference. And with the lobster and delicate greens, this just adds up to something amazing.

    Perhaps I should look into the Daring Cooks. I shy away from the Daring Bakers since I am hugely inexperienced in that department, but this other venture might be a really fun way to challenge myself.

  42. jenyu says:

    Thanks all for your kind comments!

    Maja – I found a nice picture of pea shoots here

    Joanne – I think I may go insane being a member of both!

    Caramelsutra – thanks! I wasn’t sure if they would have any or not b/c their produce tends to be very hit or miss. I’ll have much less driving to get my snow pea shoots now :) Certainly try something like broiled, grilled, or pan fried fish with the gnocchi? Should be something fairly simple and light.

    rose – I think I sort of jiggled each one in my palm until the sides were smooth b/c I’m OCD ;)

    Melissa – maybe you should consider it! Because I *know* you cook :)

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